5 Essential Ingredients of Optimal Family Life

Paul Anderson, PhD Psychologist, Overland Park, KS

Children must be taught what is and is not acceptable in society. We are not born with the ability to speak a particular language, eat a certain diet, and interact with family members in appropriate ways. Humans learn from their elders how they should behave and conform to cultural norms. The majority of what we learn as civilized, law-abiding citizens comes more from modeling than direct instruction.

However, a person’s family life is configured by circumstances, ethnicity, and other conditions, and the parent figure(s) attempts to have a family that can produce and foster a viable next generation. The bottom line is that parents want their children grow up to be practical, adaptable and capable of supporting themselves as adults. The quality of the emotional and relational environment children grow up in will determine how these outcomes are achieved.

Five Essential Ingredients to Cultivating Optimal Family Living

Here are the five foundational bonesa happy family life. While there is much more to the story, understanding these basic traits will help guide you in the right direction.

1. Adult role models and parents should be able to show how to deal with conflict and accept diversity. Respect for each other is essential to avoid conflict. Abuse of emotions.

  • Fair Fighting rules are understood and used by adults in the household.
  • Clear, direct, and non-blaming communication is valued and used frequently. Children are taught to be active listeners. Children are taught skills that allow them to express their emotions in a healthy way.
  • Family members value mutual understanding and reciprocal validation more that agreement and pushing everyone to be on one page.

2. Clear interpersonal boundaries are maintained within the family and out of the family with respect to larger communities like the neighborhood, state, or nation.

  • A functional or useful boundary clearly defines who is best qualified to do what, when, where, and with whom. The family understands who the parents/adults are and who the children are and what’s expected of each in relation to other family members.
  • Clear boundaries are established between family members and family members. Each family’s leaders establish boundaries with long- and short-term consequences. Boundaries can be changed over time to accommodate changing values and family needs.
  • The use of boundaries helps to clarify responsibilities, obligations, as well as privileges. For example, the parents or other adult family members are responsible for raising the children, paying the bills, and providing protection. The children are expected play, to go to school, to learn how to be productive adults, socialized and productive. It is not their job solve adult relationships. Children play, compete, and collaborate more with their siblings than they do with their parents. Children are expected to respect the rules and regulations of their families.

    Parents have the right to sexualize their relationship as they wish and may reproduce if they consent. Single parents are responsible for their adult needs and will share them with other adults, not with children.

    Parents and adults within the family still have the right/obligation of making final decisions about family life. Families are not democracies.

3. Families are valued for their relationships, which they cultivate and maintain with regular attention.

  • Parents often go on dates. Each adult plans time with each child on a regular basis and fosters one-on-one interactions.
  • Siblings may squabble, but they need to have each other’s backs outside the family (say, at school).
  • The family takes vacations together and does other family activities. This helps to build a rich family history and vault of cherished family memories that they can refer back to when times get difficult.

4. Children learn that, regardless of what goes on in their parent’s marriage (including divorce or separation), they can count on these four guaranteed facts:

  • They are loved for being who they are and should not be expected to become clones of their parents.
  • As they grow up, their parents will provide for all their needs, including provisioning, protection and encouragement to follow their unique path.
  • Each parent has a unique relationship with their child that is not influenced by the other parent. Children have no role as intermediaries or mediators between their parents.
  • Whatever happens in their parent’s marriage affects them to one degree or the other, but the marriage is none of their business: they did not cause it, they cannot control it, and they cannot change it. The marriage must be kept off-limits to all children of the marriage. Children don’t take sides with either parent or play the role of a substitute parental partner.

5. Parents/adults can help repair any damage to the family relationships if they are hurt or broken.

  • Children learn from what they see that it’s okay to seek emotional and mental health help, say “I’m sorry,” and deal with problems head on rather than with avoidance or denial. Parents model conflict resolution skills.
  • Family members don’t blame, judge, and criticize each others for their troubles and problems. Instead, they look at the part they play in the drama and work to improve that, rather than trying to point out each other’s faults and change them.
  • Family members are committed to fostering growth, progress and maturity in each other and themselves.

6. Bonus Tip: What to do when your family is in a hot-mess moment?

  1. Adults/parents can find healthy ways to be calmer and more peaceful than their children.
  2. As soon as possible, it is the parent/adult’s responsibility to call a family meeting. Everyone in the family must attend.
  3. The crisis is discussed in an open, direct and non-judgmental manner. Each family member is asked to identify at minimum one thing they can do to restore calm and normal functioning to their family. It may be helpful for the family leader to review the appropriate and necessary roles and boundaries that each family member must adhere to.
  4. Encourage family members to thank each other for their contributions to making the family a safe, supportive place to live.
  5. We discuss the need to find solutions to problems. Family leaders use their wisdom to find the best solution to the problem at hand.
  6. A family meeting may be called to review and assess progress and to make any necessary adjustments.

Health and Wellness in the Family Life

Although the above portrait shows a functioning family, it is definitely optimistic. These traits are possible with persistence and effort. Give it your best shot and don’t give up. It takes conscious and mindful practice to create and maintain clear, productive patterns of family interaction.

A family is an organic unit that can live, breathe, and grow. To keep it alive, it must be taken care of, fed, protected, and nurtured.

When learning new skills or procedures, it is always a good idea to consult a coach. For guidance and help, you might contact Paul W Anderson, PhD or find a family therapist in your area.




© Copyright 2021 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Paul Anderson, PhD, Psychologist, Overland Park (KS), granted permission to publish

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