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3 Ways to be a Happier Family

Updated: Jul 7, 2020

Being a cohesive and balanced family is not easy but it is something I have aimed to achieve for a long time. And so it was with some amusement when I picked my son up from his friends house recently and heard him telling me how great it was that everyone mucked in to help in their family and what a great team they were.  This was the child whom I had asked so many times for help and the same one who had so often wafted past the dishwasher that clearly needed emptying.  Suddenly, just like that a reformed character, he has become a team player and rallies his brothers around to so that we all work more as a team.

But most families aren’t teams. So let me start by asking you a question. Are you a dysfunctional family?  I mean one that argues and there is stress and poor communication and so forth? Don’t be afraid to admit it - so many families are.  It's hard not to be in our ridiculously full on world, so many of us rushing around multi-tasking, trying to fit a million things in on an endless and relentless treadmill. But the parents bear the brunt of this, and consequently the family suffers.  

But lets put it another way, because I don’t think the seemingly terminal connotation of words like disability, dysfunction, depression etc that we use in our society helps. Being stressed out, angry and arguing indicates a lack of balance, and this is fixable. You need to see what’s going on and understand how to rebalance. Think about things in a different way. Understand what’s going on. Dysfunctional = out of balance.

And you know what, the whole world is ..... out of balance. I saw it a lot presenting in many different forms when I was a practicing clinical psychologist with ‘patients'. They aren’t really patients at all, but people just like you and me. My job has always been to understand the challenges that have led to a person being referred and it generally all comes down to two things - what's happening within their environment and how they think about things. In families (and in fact in any relationship) there are frequently the same issues arising:

Someone isn’t pulling their weight..... But take it from me, not being fair or sharing is not caring and it sucks.   Over time it takes it's toll on the marriage/relationship, and there's nothing like resentment to kill not just your sex life but your marriage..

The kids aren’t mucking in.  Whilst one or both parents race around doing everything for everyone, far too often the kids are on their computers or watching the TV expectant of their dinner on a plate - forgive the pun.  Obviously a toddler can’t unload the dishwasher but if you want them to be fair as they get older and start to help you, then you need to recognise that for a sustainable and happy balanced family relationship you need to be good roll models from the start - why? Because children learn through observation from a very early age.

And so in this blog I am going to make the case for teamwork.  Building an effective, cohesive family team is hard though, but that's what you want to aim for - a team. There need to be parents who share and are good roll models and children once they are old enough, mucking in too.. Rake it from me, I have learnt the hard way. The story is told in 'Balance of Power: A Cautionary Tale’ available on Amazon.

But it’s a big problem that so many families aren’t already a cooperative team, because we are passing on the same problems to the next generation that we have had. We have all been brought up to follow the traditional roles far more than we realise, and that”s the rub. We emulate our parents and only realise what’s gone wrong when it’s too late. Or never.

Perhaps ultimately the important thing is that this is not just about you, or your family, it’s about evolution. It’s about creating a better society for everyone, person by person. A house is not built in a day, first the right foundations are put in place and then it is built brick by brick. And that is what we have to do if we want out children’s lives to be more balanced than ours, because remember they learn from us. It’s not good enough to think you aren’t part of one of the major challenges we have to solve, because unless you care, are fair and share in a balanced way, then you are.

Just to be clear I am not a feminist, I like to be a feminine woman and I have no intention of power dressing or trying to compete with men. I dont want the power, or for women to have the power, but neither do I want men to have the power. I want a balance of power between men and women because that’s simply the only way it should be. There’s still too much mysogyny.

And so I urge you to think about it early on and remember that children learn everything from their environment. The role models they see are YOU. It’s all too easy to forget that, and in the meantime we are inadvertently creating yet another generation like us. What's the point of training the girls alongside the boys only for them to fall out of the work environment a few years later? Men and women have to share, and kids should learn to muck in early doors. And yes, the world of work has to change to being a very different one to accommodate this, but what better time than now to think differently and bring about ’the new normal’.

One could make the argument that a child is a child and should have a childhood.  But what does that mean?  An adult is an adult and should have an adulthood, not be a slave within a family. Children need to learn, parents need to work and everyone needs a life. It’s the responsibility of the schools and the parents to engender change - adults first, children second. But there is a long way to go before we are anywhere near a better future if we carry on the way we are.

I can tell you with confidence that teamwork is almost always absent in families that fail and almost always present in families that succeed. Gone are the days that dad went off to work and mum stayed at home. Personally I wish I had learnt a few more life skills because they would have come in handy now. I am working hard to teach my children. Nothing will change without insight, choosing to work together and getting the whole family involved is the only way. Let’s stop the loop of repeating the same patterns over and over again.

So what does an effective team look like? Well... that will have to wait for another day. I have to go be a team now with my kids.


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