How do you create a close family? To begin with, it is always wise to make sure you are prepared to start a family.
Perhaps Stanford University's 12 Simple Tests for Expectant Parents will help you decide. Here are a few of my personal favorites:
These "tests" remind me of the importance of humor in the creation of a close family... Too much seriousness locks everything into place creating an atmosphere of tension and fear. The emotional climate that humor provides allows us to take a step back and ask... "How important is this really?"
And believe it or not, what seems like a nightmare today becomes a treasured memory tomorrow... a story to be told over and over again at every Thanksgiving Dinner for years to come. All thanks to our ability to step back and laugh at our own foibles.
So, there is a time for seriousness and a time for humor... knowing when to lighten the mood is an art form that pays very big dividends. Creating a close family is like anything else that's worthwhile... it takes awareness, commitment, and action - but the return on investment is tremendous!
So what do close families do to achieve their cohesiveness? They have a Weekly Family Meeting and do the things outlined below.
Procreation is that instinctive drive in each of us that ensures survival of the human race... and contrary to popular belief - it's not just about sex. It's about selecting, courting, mating, nesting, teaching, nurturing and protecting... and it lasts throughout the life cycle of the family.
Another often used term for it is "parenting".
In the ideal situation two people find each other, fall in love, settle down and raise a family... Children are planned for and anticipated with joy and excitement. Other times a pregnancy is not planned and children show up way too early in the process... Two people then marry out of obligation rather than love and compatibility - or they split up and another single mom joins the legions of others.
Either scenario is a bad set-up for the parents as well as the kids. Still it's possible to have a close family, but creating it will be more difficult due to wounded kids. What makes two people "click"? All we really know is that something draws them together... this "something" has been called chemistry, mysterious forces, and mother nature.
A more likely reason for our coming together is that we are compatible on two levels... a conscious level and a subconscious level... We have been programmed by our parents with three primary neural networks for relationships and family...
Our Parents show us:
They either teach us "how to do it" or "how not to do it" depending on the decisions we make along the way. But whichever direction we go it's based upon our neurological imprinting of their behaviors - i.e. our programming or "Map of the World".
In other words, we tend to behave like them or just the opposite of them. Living "just the opposite" is like trying to un-bake a cake... Simply reversing the process doesn't guarantee that we'll have a better cake. It's much more effective to start from scratch and use a different recipe - which means creating a different network.
A close family begins with a couple's ability to create healthy intimacy and partnership...It's easy to get close during the courtship period. But on the day we get married the neural network for "husband and wife" fires up... sometimes dramatically.
I've worked with people who have said..."The day we got married he changed - Just like that!" Frequently it turns out that they both changed because their programming for husband and wife gradually took over their relationship.
Many of us have had the "omigod...I'm becoming my father/mother!" and/or the "omigod!...I married my mother/father" moments. This does not mean one is doomed to relive their parents relationship... it simply means one needs to make choices about how they want to do these relationships...
You can pro-actively-create the patterns you want... even if that means reaching out for help early on. If your programming is not what you want it to be then get help - go to counseling, a community support group, or a church group where they work on self-awareness and change.
When a couple becomes pregnant, another neural network kicks in - the mom and dad network. Now there are two relationships evolving between them. The husband/wife relationship is supposed to be were the couple get their adult needs met... like recharging their emotional batteries.
The dad/mom network is draining because it has to be all about the kids. Keeping a good balance between these two relationships is essential. A trap many people fall into when they have their first child is to neglect the husband/wife relationship as things get busy...
This is a mistake because the patterns we set early on soon become ingrained into the neural networks being formed at the time... better to set good patterns in the beginning than to unlearn them later on.
The neural networks of a couple tend to "synchronize" over time... This synchronization is often described as the "dynamics" of a relationship. It has also been referred to as the "Dance" that we learn to dance with each other.
Family dynamics are that set of behaviors that are played-out repetitiously between members of a family. It's these dynamics that determine the nature of our relationships...and whether or not we have a close family. For example, the quality of our communication is a result of the communication dynamics that take place between us. If I refuse to open up and share what I really think with you then we cannot have close, authentic communication.
But if I do choose to allow myself to be open and vulnerable we can enjoy healthy intimacy - provided that your response reinforces my choice to open up. If you - on the other hand - repeatedly respond in a hurtful way to my attempts to be open then I soon decide its not okay to be open. In other words - we co-create our close family through the attempts we make at healthy dynamics and our partner's supportive and authentic responses to those attempts.
In a dysfunctional family the "Dance" is called the Drama Triangle. The unspoken rules are "Don't talk", "Don't Trust", and/or "Don't Feel"...none of these dynamics foster a close family atmosphere. Both parties share responsibility for co-creating their close family by co-creating healthy intimacy in their husband/wife relationship and teamwork in their mom/dad relationship.
What you co-create is up to you... and it will be at the core of your new family.
Most people are already aware that good communication is essential to a close family - or any other close relationship for that matter. What many can't seem to figure is why it's so hard to communicate. There are several reasons for a break-down in communication...
In order to create a close family it's necessary for all members of the family to participate and cooperate in making it so. The Family Meeting offers a great environment to meet the many needs of the close family while also involving everyone in ways that gain their support.
Qualities that help to gain the participation and cooperation of family members include:
Again, the Family Meeting is an excellent time and place to accomplish many of these things.
"Families that play together, stay together"... or is it... "Families that pray together, stay together"? It's probably both! The close family does things together as often as they can. Granted - the developmental tasks of the teenager gradually takes them away from family activities... but in a close family they still need, value, and make time for family no matter how old they are.
In a dysfunctional family teenagers may not care to be home at all... especially if they are not getting what they need. The basic emotional needs of children include time, attention, affection, and direction. For teens, increasing needs for freedom, fun, and power begin to surface as well.
Families can have lots of fun together if they take to time to include it. If you hyphenate the word you get a more accurate idea of what it means... Re-creation... We re-create ourselves when we play and have fun together. Remember that kids learn through play. When they are playing they are in learning mode so it's a great time to teach important things like teamwork, sharing, sportsmanship, etc.
Playtime is also considered "quality time" by most children... Their needs for time, attention, and affection get met during these periods where the god-like creatures in their life take time to play with them. The quickest and strongest bonds are the ones created through sharing fun times. Play is also how kids connect with others. It isn't necessarily the activity that they enjoy most... it's the connection - Playing with them is like joining them in their world.
Play is also essential to adults. Remember that laughter is the best medicine. Regular playtime not only ensure a close family, but it is also extremely healthy... Chronic stress gets washed out of the system with fun, laughter, and exercise.
And finally, take it from me... every fun time you ever have with your kids becomes a priceless gem after they grow up and leave home. Make as many of those memories as you can... you only get once chance.
Close families take time to evaluate how they are doing as a group and what they can do better. Perhaps one Family Meeting every quarter can be devoted to such an evaluation. Family and individual goals can be reviewed and updated to meet the ever changing needs of family members. Again, family business is just as important as any other business... what business would not take the time to review how they are doing every quarter or so?