How Healthy Families Focus on Their Strengths

Peggysue WellsBy Peggysue Wells12 Minutes

In the kitchen, I stirred cocoa while my second born practiced piano.

“Mama,” she called from the living room. “Was Bach a nice man?”

I sprinkled cinnamon. “From what I’ve read, I believe he was.”

“Good,” she said. “Then he won’t mind that I’m fixing his music.”

Each of my seven children learns differently. Each has unique interests. Home functions best when it resembles an art studio, a safe place to discover and nurture  potential. When a child’s strengths became robust, their weaker areas naturally improve.

As a parent, focusing on weaknesses proved frustrating for me, and a negative experience for my children. Sandwiched between outspoken siblings, this quietly artistic child needed another way to communicate. I phoned the only person I knew that played piano.

Side by side on the piano bench, teacher and student played music theory games, my daughter discovered a creative venue of expression, and music became a vital part of our family.

Screenwriter David Swift wrote, “If you look for the bad in mankind expecting to find it, you surely will.”

The opposite is also true: if we look for the best in others, we will find it. Families in distress can fall into negative jags where all we see are shortcomings—our own and the annoying traits of others. God chooses to see us through his perfect Son, Jesus Christ. We can decide to notice the best in people, beginning with those closest to us.

Relationship Glue

According to resiliency experts, healthy families:

  • Stay connected rather than isolate themselves.
  • Handle challenges as a team, with calm problem-solving skills.
  • Value and respect one another. Their words and actions are kind even when family members don’t agree.
  • Communicate openly about any topic. There are no secrets.
  • Trust one another. Confidences are protected and relationships are unconditional.
  • Pass on solid values. Family members can be described as appreciative, affectionate, honest, and honorable.
  • Share a spiritual focus, believing a loving and benevolent God cares about them.
  • Have family holidays and traditions, consistent touchpoints where family members communicate and celebrate life together.

Each family develops traditions that foster a sense of connectedness. Consistent thoughtfulness wrapped in longstanding traditions frequently prevent a crisis entirely, and provide a bridge for reconnection for that family member who has drifted away or been offended.

Characterized by familiar flavors, smells, and activities, particular calendar dates remind us to take a break from the daily-ness and focus on the importance of relationships. Weddings and the arrival of babies make each holiday the same but different from the previous year. To foster memorable celebrations:

  • Ask each family member what one activity they would most like to do on the upcoming holiday. The goal is not to squeeze in every tradition to the point of exhaustion but to enjoy a delightful few that facilitate fun with those you love.
  • It’s okay to rotate out those creamed baby onions that no one likes anymore. Skip traditions that are no longer fun.

Role Free

Families are weakened when family members play specific roles such as the comic, the fixer, the peacekeeper, and the problem child. Taking on these identities are a response to unwritten rules that scream louder than verbalized instructions. Consider having an open conversation as a family to talk about what each person views as the rules of your family.

Connected Families Commonly:

  • Come apart (spend time away from one another) or you will come apart. Rest and refreshment are vital for soul and family.
  • Take reading breaks. Read books aloud at bedtime or enjoy audiobooks in the car and when doing chores together.
  • Come together regularly in the form of Friday night pizza and movie night, Saturday sports, or a Sunday walk.
  • Share experiences including church, sports, music, and visiting with friends.
  • Monthly or quarterly, attend community cultural and parks events (think orchestra performances, museum exhibits, theater productions, or high school football games).
  • Enjoy vacations. This may be as simple as camping for the weekend or tossing kitchen plasticware into a laundry basket for the kids to play with at the beach or a nearby lake.
  • Take photos.
  • Pray together often.
  • Try one another’s interests, or at least be present to watch and cheer others on. Bicycling, jogging, paintball, or stamp collecting may not be your first choice, but you create common experiences and provide support when you come along.
  • Reflect a world of possibility for children by saying yes as often as possible and exchanging an instant no for “How can we make this happen?”
  • Find opportunities to laugh together.
  • Keep in touch. Family members have the security of knowing the schedule, what to expect in the day, where you are, and how to reach you.

Do the Dos

Doing the dos of Scripture, we create win-win settings for us and those around us. Focus on what the Lord instructs us to do rather than tripping into legalism about what Scripture says we ought not to do naturally makes life a lot more fun, and the don’ts rarely become the center of attention. Jesus reduced the dos of Scripture to two.

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments,” (Matthew 22:37-40 NIV).

  • Love God
  • Love others

As a parent, my desired outcome is that my children trust God, develop healthy relationships, and grow into responsible, functioning adults that contribute to society. Home is where children explore, grow, learn, and experience love. Family is the place where God teaches us about himself, and polishes us into better versions of ourselves where he is clearly reflected.

For parents, and especially single parents, the list of tasks demanding our attention is overwhelming. How do we decide where to invest our limited time, energy, and funds?

Consider These Priorities:

  • Bible Time: Learning who is God and how to know him.
  • Daily read Scripture aloud and pray. Prayer is talking to God.
  • Character: Develop life-long integrity.

Integrity is doing the right thing even when it is hard and even when no one is watching. Character development is concern for others, and self-care including personal hygiene, getting adequate sleep, eating well, and exercise.

  • Academics: Become adept at reading, writing, and mathematics

These skills prove valuable for life as an adult and being ready for God’s call.

The Don’ts List for the Children is Short:

  • No hitting.
  • No stealing.
  • No lying.
  • No name calling.
  • No deliberately disobeying mom.
  • Come the first time mom calls.

Dos For Mom Involve Being a Student of Our Child

Get to know this special person God purposely placed in your temporary care.

  • Be clear with what you expect. Inspect what you expect. And be consistent, even when it is hard and even when you don’t feel like it.
  • In word and deed, treat your child with respect. This teaches a child how to be respected and how to give respect.
  • Encourage your child to ask. Good responses include, “Good question.” “Good idea.” “Not this time and thanks for asking.”
  • Tell your child what to do. Instead of, “Don’t put your feet on the furniture,” say, “Feet belong on the floor.”
  • Be creative in correction. Always correct with respect and with the goal of guiding your child to make his own wise choices in the future.
  • Teach your child how to do tasks. Chores provide opportunities to learn life-long skills, demonstrate mastery, and be a participating and important part of the family. Have fun working together.
  • Prepare your child to be independent. For instance, invite your child to help fill out paperwork on everything from an application for a library card to medical forms to the college FAFSA. Guide your future adult to know how to find information.

Reflecting on 38 years of parenting, I introduced my children to a vast menu of experiences and topics from archeology to zoology. Everyone can learn something about anything. Some will be prodigies. Others will be generalists – good at multiple skills. Some of us perform best in a narrow field.

Perhaps our most vital role as parent is to help our child see the unlimited potential in himself and others through heart-felt words of recognition and appreciation. Focus on strengths, the As and Bs on the report card, a child is probably going to make a career in the area of his or her strengths.

Feeding the children’s strengths prepares them for career fields they plan to pursue. It is a delightful process of recognizing each one’s uniqueness and equipping them with the confidence to even fix Bach’s music.