The Secret Joyful Families Know

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It is often far too easy to fall into the trap of believing “the grass is greener on the other side”. I have to look no further than my own front lawn to remind me of this old axiom! Even after two years of learning the essentials of in-ground sprinklers, there never seems to be any lack of brown spots in my front yard. In the same way, it can also appear that other families around us have it all together; while we are struggling to get along and there seems no end to arguments and strife, the Smiths next door are seemingly always laughing and happily spending loads of time together. Do they know something we don’t, but should?

The reality, thankfully, is that no family in the world gets along 100% of the time, and sails along with nary a bump in the voyage. Sooner or later, everyone must deal with the rougher waters of life, where disappointments can occur and feelings can and will be hurt. I say thankfully because it is always a relief to know that perfection is not a reasonable goal for family life, since we are all human and all imperfect by nature. In fact, allow me to suggest that arguments and disagreements are part of any healthy family from time to time, and not necessarily indicative of deeper problems that need to be addressed.

So what is it that decides whether disharmony is a short-lived period where problems are solved and life returns to normal, or alternatively, that disharmony becomes a seed of discontent that grows and festers for months or years to come? There must be some secret joyful families know that allows them to prosper in spite of (or because of) those challenging times! Here is that secret: never allow your love or support of any child, or your spouse for that matter, to appear conditional in any way. In other words, showing your displeasure with something your child or children have done can easily be confused with not loving or accepting them, if we are not careful. This is most common with younger children, but also holds true with pre-teens and teenagers as well.

Here is a scenario to help illustrate this point. Terry asks his son Josh to mow the lawn one afternoon. Josh groans, saying he will do it later, which in turn causes Terry to give a terse response.

“I ask you to do ONE thing all week, and this is the respect I get? Unbelievable!”

Dad has made a significant statement in his moment of frustration, overshadowing what may actually be a valid point on his part. Rather than express his disappointment in a constructive way by suggesting a deadline for the job’s completion, or even offering to get the mower fuelled and ready first, Terry makes it clear he needs greater respect, and that his son’s response is unacceptable. Most importantly however, Terry’s statement appears to draw a firm connection between the lack of enthusiasm from Josh in getting the lawn cut, and an apparent disapproval of his son on a much more generalized and deeper level.

Chances are good that Dad did not intend to turn this moment into an opportunity to make his own love and acceptance of his son seem to hinge on yard work. Nonetheless, it is equally likely that Josh felt hurt on some level by Dad’s sentiments, and resentment could grow as a result. To go further, it may well seem to Josh that his father is inauthentic; “I only love you when the lawn gets cut” tends to dilute any belief that this parent truly cares about him, and is a thought that can easily cross the mind of many young people, regardless of its absurdity. We need to be aware of just how easily this can occur, and the fact that it is shockingly common, if we wish to be able to create a healthier and happier family.

What would have been another approach in this scenario that Terry could have taken, and how might Josh’s response have been different?

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