“We are Family”

“We are Family”

grandpa and grandaughter

Rebecca Mallory

If you remember this great number 1 hit from “Sister Sledge” in the ’70’s, then that dates us both!  (I always thought it was “The Pointer Sisters” who sang that. Nope!)  We are family. Sometimes I sit in church looking at the congregation. Sweet and loving families behaving perfectly, and dressed in Sunday’s finest. Is this what perfect families look like? Or is this an illusion?

What does the “perfect” family look like? I have no idea. In fact, I’m pretty sure they don’t exist! We’ve all heard talks, read stories, or have even known families that were darn close though, right? Do you notice common themes in these families?  I recently heard an interview between Glenn Beck and Bruce Feiler, that I found most fascinating about successful families. I’ll bet you’ll be surprised at what they discovered.

Bruce Feiler is a nationally recognized author and TV personality that writes about contemporary life. He is one of “only a handful” of writers to have six consecutive New York Times nonfiction best-sellers in the last decade. He writes the “This Life” column in the Sunday New York Times and also hosts a show on PBS. It was his latest book, “Secrets of Successful Families,” that he was discussing with Glenn on his morning radio show one day.  Fieler’s findings were pretty amazing.

There are common threads that run in most successful families.  Some of these include:  Successful families learn to adapt all the time. They talk and communicate. They often discuss what it means to be part of a family. They go out and play together. Very simple things but with our ever-increasing crazy busy lives, easy to let slip.

Feiler lists three typical family narratives:

1) Ascending: “We started with nothing, we worked hard and climbed to the top. Now we have everything.

2) Descending: We started off with everything. We had it all. But then our house burned down, my wife died of cancer, we lost everything.

3) Oscillating: grandfather was president of a bank, then the bank collapsed. His son was a professional baseball player but was killed in a plane crash, etc. Life ebbs and flows. We have ups and downs. Those who understand that most families fit into this narrative, take comfort in knowing that they’re not alone; that past family members have dealt with similar problems and have just plain figured it out and weathered those storms.

Understanding these crucial solutions is vital but, the number one indicator of a successful family was that they knew their family’s history. Isn’t that interesting? Feiler referenced a test that was done by Emory University and administered to hundreds of children. They were asked questions like,

“Where did your dad grow up?

How did your parents meet?

Did you ever have a relative that overcame a serious illness or other tremendous odds?

Where was your grandmother born?

The children who were best able to deal with stress and difficulty in their lives were the ones with the highest scores on this test -those who knew their family history. These children believed that they could control their own lives; that they could figure life out and come up with viable solutions to their problems. These were children that when in “crisis” mode, they figured it out instead of continuing, and thinking that life would surely end with this seemingly insurmountable  problem. In fact, Emory University went on to say that compared to most other psychological tests given to these same children, knowing their family history was the # 1 predictor of a child’s well-being and ability to adapt to different situations they faced through life. Everyone has these oscillating life experiences. They are what build our character and prepare us with the “armor” we need as life gets even more challenging.

What kind of a parent are you?

As a parent it pained me deeply to see one of my little girls “walking into a fire” or heading straight for a cliff otherwise known as a potential problem. I realize now that I was probably the poster mother for “helicopter” parent before that term was popular in describing one who flies to the rescue to save their little darlings from every potentially harmful situation.

WHY Do we do that? Obviously, we do not want to see our children hurt but these valuable life experiences are what they personally need to learn, gain character, stamina, and be able to face a tough world on their own someday.

Feiler strongly warns against stepping in to bail out our children in these situations. Like when they fail to study for a test or choose not to do their homework or fulfill an assignment. Let them suffer the consequences for their actions. Otherwise, you could be teaching your kid, “Hey, nothing is your responsibility. Mommy will take care of everything and protect you from all the boo boos and owies in the world.”  How unrealistic is that?

I remember playing an unsuccessful game of “chicken” on icy Utah roads with a high school friend until we hit head on and wrecked both cars. I was way more afraid of my dad than any policeman. He was in no way abusive but demanded respect and a certain behavior from his daughter. Especially when behind the wheel of a car! I paid for that one for a while. Guess what? It never happened again. I was held responsible. I love my dad for teaching me that life lesson. And I’m grateful that I know his history of hard work, success and failure in business, and that he managed to pull himself up by the bootstraps to figure it out. I also felt loved and secure in who I was and what was expected.

They won’t know unless you tell them

This Christmas season I would challenge all of us to give the gift of family history to our children and families. I do a “12 Days of Christmas” with my children and grand children. Last year I typed up a little story about how their Papa and I met. They loved it! I was mildly surprised at the reaction. Some things you just assume your kids know. Pretty sure they weren’t there at the time! They won’t know unless you tell them. These are valuable and priceless stories.

So let’s return to good old American ingenuity and rugged individualism. Let your kids know of your own successes and failures and the faith and hope that got you through. What lessons did you learn through child and adulthood that got you to where you are now? You’ll be giving a priceless gift to them as well as yourself. Hey! Get out your platforms and bell bottoms and boogie down to “We are Family!” The kids will dig it.

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