I've read a lot of books about family dynamics. To some extent, they all seem a bit similar. Recently TLC Books asked me if I'd be interested in reading The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler. I said sure - I'm always up for a few new ideas to improve the way our family is functioning. I think one of the ways to keep your family happy is just to be consistently thoughtful and intentful in how your family is operating.
I started reading this book with the assumption that it would be similar to others that I've read. But I was pleasantly surprised. Feiler approaches different areas of family functioning by searching out experts in various fields and looking for new ways of improving the family dynamics in a way that works for you. I love how much he emphasizes open family communication and including each family member. Often, he applies innovative business tactics that have been very successful in social networking and businesses. He tackles touchy topics like resolving conflict, setting an allowance, family reunions, and talking about sex.
My boys are still a little young to become firmly involved in some of the suggestions. For example, my 3 year old twins aren't exactly ready to start brainstorming on a family mission statement. However, I did want to put one of the techniques to the test. I chose Feiler's suggestions on family dinner. You've probably all heard the research about how important family dinners are for kids - I've always taken this to heart. Besides, I grew up in a family where dinner was every night at 5:30, so it's kind of ingrained. Feiler says that it doesn't have to be dinner though - if your kids are off to sporting events and such in the evenings, make it a family breakfast or a family lunch instead. The key thing is that everyone is coming together for a meal for the purpose of talking.
Feiler's suggests that you have discussions of each individual's high and low points from the day. For a couple of years now we have gone around the table to talk about the favorite part of our day. But we have never discussed the low point. I liked this idea, because it gives kids an opening to talk about things that may have bothered them in school or even at home. Feiler also suggests family meals are a wonderful time to improve vocabulary. So I've started to try to bring a new word to the table each evening - the first night it was orzo, which was in our soup! The other idea I liked from The Secrets of Happy Families was to use the family dinner to teach kids about their history - to tell family stories which give kids a feeling of connection and of knowing where they come from. Do your kids know where their parents met? Where their grandparents grew up? Of an illness in the family and how it was handled? The answers to these questions and more give a child a sense of being part of a larger family. According to Feiler what has been found in studies is that, "The more children knew about their family's history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned."
I found this book full of valuable and unique ideas that I plan to try to implement in my family. We won't use all of them, but I do think we'll be putting several to use. It's a book I'll be hanging on to, to refer to in the years to come. If you are looking for new positive ways to improve your family (and who isn't?) this is certainly an excellent choice.
Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free for review purposes. The opinions stated above are my own.