Category Archives: Relationship

Secrets of Happy Families

From the Brady Bunch and Partridge Family to the Cleavers, Cunninghams, and Cosbys, images of happy families have rarely been in short supply. We all have ideas about what they should look like.

Does yours fit the portrait of a happy family? If not, don’t despair. Now WebMD is letting you in on a few of the secrets to a happy family. You, too, can experience some of the domestic bliss that seemed previously reserved just for TV families.

Enjoy Each Other
The essence of a happy family is that they truly uplift each other and that all comes down to how they treat each other, says Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, a New York-based family and relationship counselor and host of The Learning Channel’s Shalom in the Home. “There is a joy that characterizes their interaction,” says Boteach, father of eight children and author of several books, including the forthcoming Shalom in the Home. “Parents come home and the kids are happy to see them and when kids come home, the parents are happy to see them.”

Swap Stories
“When your kids come home, ask them what happened in school and have a story for them,” he says. “If you come home dejected and not really interested and then five minutes later the TV is on, why would they be happy to see you?”

The bottom line, he says, is that when you come home, your kids have to come first. “You must drop everything you are doing and always come home with something to share with your kids, whether a story or even the smallest vignette,” he says. “This way you give your kids something to look forward to. The great bane of family life is boredom and that is what leads to dysfunction, affairs, and kids wanting to be with their friends over family.”

Put the Marriage First
“Set a real example of love,” Boteach says. “The relationship and marriage must come first.” Think Carol and Mike Brady of the Brady Bunch and Cliff and Clair Huxtable of the Cosby Show.

There are many families where kids always come first, says Boteach. Then they become substitute providers of love, he says. “That’s an unfair burden to put on a kid.” It’s also bad for families, he says, “because kids will move out of the house eventually.”

Put Family Before Friends

Families that eat together, stay together. It’s that simple. “Family dinners are essential,” Boteach says. “It’s a time to connect.” Have a minimum of four family dinners per week, he suggests.

Play Together
“Have one or two unifying activities that the family does together on a nightly basis,” Boteach says. He suggests bedtime stories for young children or reading a chapter from a novel to an older child. “In happy families, family comes before friends,” he says, “The camp counselor understands something that parents don’t and that is that caring for kids also has to be fun. Give rules, but understand that kids need fun, too. When kids get bored and listless, they start looking for excitement out of the home and that is when friends become more important. Friendship is important, but subordinate to family.”

Limit Children’s After-School Activities
Today, growing numbers of kids are overscheduled and participate in six or seven after-school activities per week. The mother becomes a chauffer and the children are never home at the same time. This is not a recipe for a happy family, Boteach says. “If your kids grow up not knowing how to do ballet, they will be OK. No after-school activities is an extreme and too many activities is the other extreme, but moderation is where we should aim.” Create your own after-school activities as a family, he suggests. For example, take your kids rollerblading, bike riding, or swimming after school as a family.

Build and Honor Rituals
“Families need rituals,” Boteach says. Rituals can be religious, national, or even family-specific, he says.

Barbara Fiese, PhD, professor and chair of psychology at Syracuse University in New York, agrees. “Happy families have meaningful rituals and are not stressed out by them,” she says. “They can be unique to your own family such as going for bagels on Saturday morning, a weekly pizza night, or even a family song. Rituals tend to bring family members close together because they are repeated over time.”

To work, rituals need to be flexible, she adds. “They can’t be rigid,” Fiese says. “If the bagel place is closed, you have to go someplace else.”