Since Mothers' Day is on Sunday, I thought it would be a good opportunity to look again at the most important social group in our lives — our families.
So, what is a well-functioning family and why is it so important to grow up in one?
According to noted counselor and author, John Bradshaw, "A functional family is the healthy soil out of which individuals can become mature human beings."
Bradshaw explains that each person in a functional system has access to his or her "natural endowment." Quoting family therapist Virginia Satir's definition of natural endowment, developed by her as the "Five Freedoms," they include: "freedom to see and hear what is here and now, instead of what was, should be, or will be; freedom to think what one thinks, not what one should think; freedom to feel what one feels, rather than what one is supposed to feel; freedom to desire and choose what one wants, not what one should want; and freedom to imagine one's own self-actualization, rather than playing a rigid family role, or constantly playing it safe."
Because the Five Freedoms encourage full self-acceptance, they not only permit enormous personal power, but provide for full functionality as human beings — being and expressing who you really are.
As a result, the roles of functional family members are both self-chosen and flexible allowing an individual to be encouraged and supported by a loving family group rather than the reverse. In dysfunctional families for example, a child may take the parental role of having to care for his or her siblings because a parent is absent mentally or physically.
In a happy, well functioning family parents behave as parents; and children behave as children. Communication is clear and direct with parents saying what they mean and meaning and standing by what they say. Rules and consequences are clear and upheld.
The family atmosphere is spontaneous and fun. Each member is allowed to be different, not under the thumb of parental expectation that he or she follow a particular mold, and the group helps the individual's needs to be met.
The family system is in place to help the people within it and provides for the growth of each family member including the parents. Well functioning parents have a good sense of self-worth and self-acceptance, and do not use their children to give them a sense of power or adequacy. Because they do not take on the unresolved conscious or unconscious conflicts of the parents, the children are free to grow without those emotional hindrances.
In a society that can be stressful and sometimes discouraging, especially in the current economic climate, a solid family offers the best love, support, understanding and encouragement for parents and children alike.
Maintaining a functional and responsible family atmosphere is a delicate and ongoing process. The emotional rewards, however, are truly priceless.
It is important to note that since a family is a growing, living entity it is constantly changing and evolving, and as a result, all families experience some degree of dysfunctionality.
Ninety-six per cent of all families experience dysfunction — some to an extreme degree in the case of verbal and physical violence and some to a minor degree. Most families fall somewhere in the middle with the degree of functionality frequently shifting.
The important element is that parents always present an allied front keeping their parenting differences between them and coming to a resolution out of earshot of the children. This prevents the childhood ploy of divide and conque— when the child appeals to one parent because they did not get the response they wished from the other parent.
Regular family meetings, in my view, are critical in engaging all family members in determining the House Rules and expectations as well as the rewards and consequences for helpful or not helpful behavior.
Family meetings, at least once per week, are the foundation upon which happy, healthy families can be built.
Celebrate your mother and your family members often!
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Based in Rockport, life and relationship coach, Susan Britt, M.Ed., a psychotherapist and former university director of career and counseling services, teaches individuals, couples and families to resolve relationship conflicts, clarify and achieve life and career goals, and accelerate personal growth. Questions and comments may be addressed to her at email@example.com or by telephone at 978 546-9431.