What is A Healthy Family?

by David Lansky, Ph.D.

I was asked the other day what I thought were the qualities of a healthy family….

Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.

–         Leo Tolstoy.

“I shall not today attempt further to define [obscenity]; and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it….”

–         US Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart

Defining a healthy family is a little like Justice Stewart’s definition of obscenity: Hard to define, but you know one when you see one.

–         David Lansky

That being said, there are a few consistent qualities that seem to characterize what we call healthy families:

  • LOVE: Love, appreciation and positive regard are expressed by family members toward each other.
  • EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATION: Family communication is clear, open and frequent.
  • ENCOURAGEMENT: Mutual support, recognition, and respect are given by family to family.
  • COMMITMENT: One observes a sense of family identity and unity,  and sacrifices are made to preserve family well being.
  • FLEXIBILITY: The family demonstrates an ability to adapt to change, as change inevitably occurs.
  • SOCIAL CONNECTEDNESS:  The family values friends, extended family, neighbors and community.
  • CLEAR ROLE DEFINITION: There is a role for everyone and everyone has a role in achieving the common good.
  • AFFINITY: They like being together.

And from my colleague Craig Aronoff, with whom I discussed these points, one last quality…

  • COMMON GOOD: a shared sense of common good, common goals and collective well being.

If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I would say:

A healthy family promotes the well being of each individual family member by creating a sense of loving belongingness, by enabling access to resources both within and without the family, by adapting to changing circumstances, and by encouraging open and honest communication amongst its members.

 

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