for release Friday March 28, 2003
by Melodie Davis
Key Ingredient for a Happy Family
What is the key element that can make your home and family happier? Or are you wary of people, books, or advice that seem too deceptively simple?
Author Paula Noble Fellingham is the mother of seven children, and now grandmother of six. She preaches the gospel of "kindness" as the undergirding value for family life. She was impressed by research that indicated kindness was the lubricant that could help families deal with the difficulties, frustrations and the daily rub of family life.
If you can't imagine raising seven children, Paula says she always wanted to have even more children, but had five miscarriages and decided not to have any more for health reasons. Born into a large family herself, she and her husband were both musicians and decided they would have their own "orchestra." Their children played 10 different instruments, and while they were all still at home they toured professionally for 12 summers in the U.S., Canada, and other countries.
Somehow she and her husband Gil also managed to set aside time to hold regular family meetings. She is convinced that such meetings-and family fun activities growing out of them-add immeasurably to happy family life and form the basis for creating and following family goals and guidelines.
As Paula and Gil toured with their large family, people would come up to them after a program and ask, "How do you manage such a large family? How are they so well behaved? What are your secrets?" Paula had read literally hundreds of books on parenting over the years and had lots of ideas from raising her own children. But she had never run across a book with actual lessons and activities that could instill the kinds of values every family hopes to teach their children, such as responsibility, problem solving, physical/mental/social well being, belief in God, service, and positive communication. So she wrote,
Solutions For Families: 24 Lessons To Strengthen Relationships At Home, which is designed to be used in a family setting, preferably in connection with a "family night." I'll confess that my family never managed to have a family night. We were never that organized and formal. If I were raising my children again, maybe I'd try harder, because those who do manage to have a regular family night in the home feel very good about it. But it should be possible to intentionally work at the values highlighted in the book even apart from a regular family meeting. Paula has helpful communication tips for children and parents. So often the words parents use, sometimes thoughtlessly, communicate negative messages and compound the problem. Think back to this morning. Did you leave your child with negative messages, like "For pity's sake don't forget your lunch again"? This reinforces the child's self-image as forgetful, a loser. If, instead, you say "I know you'll remember your lunch today because you were so upset the time I had to bring it to you and you had to pay me $2 for gas."
Or, if kids are bickering, rather than just saying, "Quit your fighting," start speaking in a way that is positive and encouraging. Children will (we hope) absorb your way of talking by example. You can say, "It's not like you to quarrel, you usually get along so well." Then the child might think, "Oh, yeah," and maybe find a way to work out their problem, or at least be reminded of their good behavior.
If, on the other hand, your kids are always bickering, you shouldn't lie and say "It's not like you to quarrel." Rather you can say something like "I'm sure you want to get along better. It disappoints me to see you two fighting. Remember, we decided this is unacceptable. I will separate you until you can both get along," or some other pre-decided consequence. Of course, this means that you have talked about misbehaviors as a family and decided on logical consequences.
Family life is never perfect nor will these conversations "play out" like some expert tells you they should. But we can all learn from the idea that practicing kindness begins in families-and spreads out from there to those around us, in the community, school and in the world.
Here is Paula's website, and another one emphasizing the value of kindness especially as it relates to forming persons who interact with each other in kind and positive ways: www.solutionsforfamilies.com <http://www.solutionsforfamilies.com> and <http://weinholds.org/kindness/>
For a free book on parenting, Parenting Without Guilt, or other titles as long as supplies last, write to:
Write to: Melodie Davis, Another Way c/o Name\Address of YOUR newspaper; or e-mail: Melodie@mennomedia.org.
You can also visit Another Way on the Web at www.thirdway.com.
Melodie Davis is the author of seven books and has written her column since 1987. She taught feature writing and has won awards from the National Federation of Press Women, Virginia Press Women and the American Advertising Association. She and her husband have three daughters.
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