By Bev and Phil Haas
My wife and I both grew up in families that survived intact but certainly didn’t thrive. What qualities would you suggest we focus on to help our family survive and thrive?
We all have our beliefs and doubts about what constitutes a healthy family. Who hasn’t found themselves doubting that they are good parents? We certainly have! Most families share this common parental pitfall—they focus on disappointments and weaknesses rather than joys and strengths. The families we’ve worked with can tell us in a minute what’s wrong with them, but they aren’t sure what’s right. We’re glad you’re asking the question about the good qualities in families.
Back when we were beginning our family, Phil was working on a master’s degree in family studies. He likes to point out, “No one masters family life!” One of the most helpful books he discovered in researching “What’s right about families?” was Traits of a Healthy Family by Dolores Curran. Curran’s book was based on a survey of over 500 professionals who worked with families, from teachers and ministers to family therapists and youth counselors. She identified 15 qualities shared by families that these experts call “healthy.”
Some Common Traits of Healthy Families
Instead of listing all 15 traits from Curran’s book, we want to focus on the ones that have meant the most to our family over the years.
1. Healthy families spend time together. How a family uses or misuses its time together is so crucial that it impacts all the rest of the traits of healthy families. Many family professionals view lack of time as the most pervasive enemy of the healthy family. Families that thrive make time for one another and don’t allow work or other activities to routinely infringe upon family time.
2. Healthy families talk and listen to one another. Curran’s survey respondents chose communication as the number one trait found in healthy families. We’ve noticed that families who do a good job of both talking and listening make the dinner meal an important part of their day. Dinner was the daily gathering place for our family. It was a time to talk, to listen, to respond, to disagree, to challenge, to think. (We enjoy that both of our kids ended up in vocations where communication is a key. Amanda is a teacher and Brian is a preacher.)
3. & 4. Healthy families have a common faith and a set of values that are evident in everyday life. Teaching values requires that parents reach a consensus on what are the most important values. Our family had a distinct advantage because we may differ in many areas, but we share the same values in life. And our shared faith in God provides both a common set of values and a sense of purpose in our family. Faith in God plays a foundational role in daily family life for the healthiest families. Sometimes this faith is spoken and taught, and sometimes it’s not. We felt a strong responsibility for passing on our faith, and we tried to do so in positive and meaningful ways. But the best way faith is passed on and values taught is through a parent’s example.
The Remaining Traits
We figured you’d want to know what the other traits were. Curran discovered 15 traits, but her table of contents combines several so that her list is reduced to 12. The four traits of healthy families we mentioned above include sharing time, communicating, teaching values, and sharing faith. The traits we didn’t list include affirming and supporting, respecting others, trusting, fostering responsibility, enjoying traditions, respecting privacy, valuing service, and getting help.
There you have it—a list of qualities that will help your family survive and thrive! But we want to end with a word of caution. We’ve all heard about the perfect family and often fall into the trap of comparing ourselves against that fantasy. When we do that, we set ourselves up by trying to imitate a model that doesn’t exist.
The Bible is full of stories about families, and all of them are far from perfect. Knowing these qualities can be immensely useful, but be careful that you don’t consider your family as not thriving if you fail to excel in all areas. All healthy families are a work in progress!
Bev and Phil Haas are involved in education and family ministry in Cincinnati, Ohio. They have two children and four grandkids. Send your questions about family life to Bev and Phil Haas in care of The Lookout (firstname.lastname@example.org). We regret that personal replies are not always possible.