Sally Connolly, LCSW, LMFT has been a therapist for over 30 years, specializing in work with couples, families and relationships. She has expertise with clients
Does it seem to you that life is more complicated than when you were a child and your parents were rearing you? Certainly seems that way to me.
Not only has technology increased opportunities, both good and bad, but there are also a lot more complicated relationships in families as well as increased temptations for drugs, alcohol, and early sex. Bullying is another problem that is seen with increasing frequency in our schools and neighborhoods.
Families change and evolve over time. What we used to think of as a “normal” or typical family (2 birth parents and 1 – 3 children) is no longer the “norm”. Today we have step-families (parents and grandparents), same sex couple families, adoptive families, bi-racial and multi-ethnic families, single parents, grandparents rearing grandchildren, and many others.
Parenting does not come with instructions, either, and it is often hard to figure out how to rear emotionally healthy and intelligent people, and yet this is an important skill required of parents even more today than in the future. Children have to learn how to think clearly and make healthy decisions for themselves.
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A new book, The Secrets of Happy Families, by Bruce Feiler was recently reviewed on NPR and that story, along with my experience with many families over my years as a therapist, leads me to suggest 5 habits of emotionally intelligent families.
Emotionally Intelligent families have:
1. A sense of identity as a family is evident in emotionally healthy families. There is a sense of “we-ness” and of pride in being part of the family. Family members have ways of standing up for each other and, while there clearly may be disagreements or sibling rivalry, there is also security in the sense of belonging. These families stick together.
2. Nurture optimism while embracing realism. Emotionally intelligent families have a way of nurturing positivity and optimism while also recognizing and accepting reality. There is a belief in themselves and in each other that tough times happen and they can get through them. There is not a sense of isolationism, they will reach out to others for help; however, they believe in their own ability to work through or grow from experiences. In addition, they are more likely to see the good in life rather than to dwell on the bad.
They are happier and each person contributes to and finds happiness within their family.
3. Parents and grandparents teach by example as well as by stories. There is a sense of history in the family that creates learning and growth. Through conversation and example, parents teach children how to create an emotionally intelligent life. Lessons might include resolving conflict, handling finances, handling tricky relationships, alcohol use or even ways to handle problems like anxiety or depression. Rather than lecturing, parents are appropriately vulnerable as they share their stories with their children.
4. The opinions and ideas of the children are elicited and honored in decision-making. Family meetings, formally or informally are often present in emotionally intelligent families. While parents continue to guide and direct, children are encouraged to share their thoughts and opinions. Arguing is often allowed although there are guidelines for how to demonstrate thoughtful opinions. Children might be asked to determine their own consequences for problem behavior. Rules might be negotiated. Parents recognize that their children must learn to think for themselves and they do not want to rob them of that chance by being dictators.
5. Recognize and acknowledge feelings, even negative ones, and learn ways to handle them effectively. Parents recognize and teach their children to recognize that feelings that are “negative” such as anger are normal and even expected in many situations. The problem is NOT with having those feelings, rather it lies in how those emotions are handled. Parents teach children how to calm themselves down when experiencing strong emotions and, when calm, determine what, if any action they may need to take to resolve a problem or make themselves feel better.
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