What Defines a Healthy Family?
Family is one of the strongest terms we have.
From books and movies to political campaigns and everything in between, family is a concept that transcends other labels as being of paramount importance to our social fabric. Family itself can have any number of definitions, mean different things to different people, and affects our lives in different ways. We have different relationships with different family members, and those dynamics can help shape us for the rest of our lives.
Similarly, the notion of health is something that shapes our lives. Good health and bad health, mental and physical health, metaphorical and literal health—we are surrounded by notions of healthy and unhealthy and the pursuit of one over the other. And like many things in our lives, we want a healthy family.
With all this importance on family, what does it actually mean to have a healthy one? How does one gauge if a family is healthy, and what should you look for to know the dynamics of yours?
Qualities of Healthy Families
Though it can vary and not all definitions are alike, some common factors for a healthy family situation include:
- Good communication
- Wanting to spend time together
- Being committed to one another and the family unit
- Being able to feel and show love or affection
- A shared sense of purpose
Good communication is, of course, exactly what it sounds like: the ability to communicate openly and make yourself heard and understood. It is also simply the ability to have and encourage an atmosphere where others are empowered to speak up equal to you, and to ensure no one feels left out of crucial conversations. Families are steered carefully; listening to the views of those who are going with you on life’s journeys will help keep everyone on the same page and not feeling left out, uninvolved, unimportant, or unloved.
Many families struggle to make good communication a part of their dynamic. We might assume those who don’t speak up are disinterested or being passive aggressive. But it’s always possible to work on communication skills, and there are a host of classes and sessions available to help families strengthen their communication and their bond.
Honesty is the ability to talk with the members of your family openly without feeling like you’ll be shut down, laughed out of the room, belittled, or otherwise persecuted. Family should be a safe space for all views both agreeable and dissenting. You should feel you can tell the members of your family anything that is important to you, and that they’ll listen and try to understand or empathize with your views and actions.
It can be easier said than done. Often, members of our families have views we disagree with, possibly passionately. We might find their opinions are hurtful or critical of us in ways we don’t agree with or simply don’t like to hear. But part of what makes a family strong and healthy is the ability to listen to and entertain other views besides our own. It can be a struggle to find honesty in communicating with family, but the rewards make it worthwhile in the end.
Wanting to spend time together is equally important but can be tricky in practice. As we get older, we find we have many time commitments outside the family, be it work, school, or social clubs, that keep us from spending time with our families. There are, after all, only so many hours in a day. But it helps families stay healthy to make the time for the ones most important in their lives.
Find ways to involve your family in activities you like, or bring them along to events they might not otherwise be interested in. Share about what you do, and why you do it. Plan vacations, events, outings, or other excursions to reinforce the family bond and show that despite the many busy calendars you all have, you can still take time to show you care.
Being committed to one another and the family unit is possibly the most important element of a healthy family. For any of it to work, you must want it to work. If you have no interest in your family or in spending time with them or have no desire to communicate clearly or honestly with them because the outcomes make no difference to you, then all the work and effort doesn’t mean much.
Being committed to the family means you want to take all steps required to ensure good health and a positive outlook. It means you see a future with your family as key components, and you want them to want that with you, too. All the steps you take to strengthen the family is in pursuit of a shared sense of purpose, or the desire to work together with your family for your mutual or overlapping goals. You don’t have to walk in lockstep with your family to achieve this; just let them know that you support them as they follow their own course, whether you agree with it or not.
For example, if a family member is having a health crisis, physical, mental, or other serious event, being there for them can be one of the strongest elements in their recovery. If a family member is going through an educational period, such as college or high school, helping them study or learn can be a positive boon that they otherwise wouldn’t have. In a healthy family, you’d want them to achieve that, and they’d want your help because they value it.
All these factors work together to reinforce your family and its dynamic, no matter how big or small or who is involved or not. Some families might be only two people; others might have a dozen or more. Family is defined in numerous ways, but the above factors carry over no matter the size or the dynamic.
Honesty, good communication, sharing goals and purpose, and spending time together are like a wheel that all feeds into one. They can’t be excluded or tossed out one day, used the next, or inconsistent. They must be ongoing projects you work at together. You must make them work and want them to work to get the best results. And you must approach them all as a mutual challenge for the whole family to do together.
A Healthy Family in Action
When all these factors are considered and worked on, a family can be strong and healthy. It can meet its challenges and stay together no matter how hard it can seem. In a recent survey, 60% of Americans defined family as the most important value in their lives; another 31% said it’s one of the most important. Only 4% defined it as “not important” at all. The metrics are clear: Americans, and people from all over and the world and many different cultures, view family as a foundationally important cornerstone of their daily existence.
Having a healthy family is essential to our wellbeing, mental, emotional, and physical. We need families as a lifeline in our world, to cope with even the bad times and to share the good. We need a healthy family to best navigate that path, and to help us shape our futures in positive ways.