Building a Happy Family

"Sure Dan. I'm sure you've discovered the key to marital bliss and familial utopia."

No, I haven't. In fact, sometimes my wife and I argue. We disagree. I lose my temper and say stupid things. My son can get on my nerves, and stress can give us all headaches and restless nights. This post isn't about perfection or paradise-on-earth, it's about making conscious decisions for the best of your family and starting a circle of love that reciprocates among everyone in your household.

"Life does not have to be perfect to be wonderful." 
-Source unknown.

Why aren't happy homes more common? I have my opinions, none of which are provable; at least not with the research capacity available to me in my spare time. 

I'll give you one theory though. Did you notice the first word in the title of this post? It is 'building'. That word is a verb, and more specifically, an 'action verb'. It requires work. But building a happy family is a different kind of work than your 9-5. It's not paperwork. It's not cold calls, or construction projects. It's not writing or capturing Kodak moments (pretty sure people under 25 don't even know what that is). The kind of work required to build happy families is a work that is quite often despised in our society today. It requires something that most people put on the same level as cleaning toilets or cleaning up trash after a NFL football game. That something is humility.

Love is a funny thing. It eludes so many. Why? Because love is the opposite of selfishness, and some people (including myself at times) are so completely saturated with selfishness that they render themselves incapable of performing love. Because after all...

Charity [Love] suffers long and is kind. Charity envies not. Charity vaunts not itself [and] is not puffed up; [it] does not behave itself unseemly, seeks not her own, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. [Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes [in] all things, [and] endures all things. Charity never fails.
(I Corinthians 13:4-8)

Translate this recipe into family life. Do I suffer [endure] for a long time with my family members? Am I consistently kind to them? Do I boast to my family about how hard I work and how indebted they are to me? Gag me. Am I seeking for what is best for me or for what is best for my family? Am I easily angered at my family? Do I bear all things? Does my love fail under certain circumstances? 

Someone in the family must decide to take the lead and infuse love into the home. If not, the family will die. It's not that it might die--it certainly will. If you remove blood from a part of your body, it dies. Love is blood in the "body" of the family.

"Okay, great Dan; love more. Like I haven't heard that before! You're lack of creativity makes me never want to read you're blog again!"

Tough crowd. Alright, give me a few more minutes.

Who is going to step up in your family? Who is going to start the cycle. It seems that often when I perceive a cycle in life it is prefixed with a rather sad adjective--vicious. You've heard the dooms-dayers say it fifty times a day, right? "It's a vicious cycle." Well, life is full of vicious cycles, partly due to the fact that not enough people are initiating "loving cycles". Forgive the ridiculousness of how that sounds--I could invent no better phraseology. But really, what are you doing to make your little part of the world better?

There is probably no place on earth that you have a greater influence than in your own home and with your own family. This is why family life matters. It is a high resolution image of how you influence people. What do you see? What does everyone else see?

Here's where the rubber meets the road. Talk is cheap. Actions are expensive. What are you going to do NOW to build a happier family? I have a few recommendations.




#1 Serve without conditions.

It is sad that family can become a place of conditional service. I will only do this if you do that. I will only allow you this privilege if you give me what I want. Now I know marriage is a give-and-take, and compromise can be a wonderful problem solver. I'm not arguing against that. I am, however, disgusted with the idea that I will only do kind things for my wife if she agrees to do kind things for me. That's not love. That's bartering. 

I would be happy to tell you that I take my own advice all the time, but I'm somewhat opposed to lying publicly (or privately). But as best as I can at this point in my life, I serve my wife and son without calculated expectations of reciprocation. Do I like it when they do things for me? Yes! But I'm not pitching a fit to have it written in a contract. I enjoy cleaning up rooms for my wife so I can see the smile on her face when she enters the room. I like that the most rigorous level of car maintenance my wife must perform is pumping gas. I like taking care of her in the ways that I am capable of.

Sometimes I do nice things, and I don't get the response I hoped for. That doesn't justify quitting. If I expect my family to behave a certain way in response to my service, I am actually setting up conditions. Serve them just for the sake of communicating love. It might sound crazy to you, and risky; and that's because it is. But if you do it willingly, you might find out that they will follow your lead, and a good cycle will begin. People in your family may suddenly start doing unprompted nice things for each other without contracts written in blood.

#2 Apologize.

Dads can be the worst at this. But really, anyone can be terrible at it. My son is already pretty bad at it; but he's 2, so I'll let it slide. Adults hate saying we're sorry and admitting we were wrong! It's perceived as a slow and cruel form of torture, but we must do it.

You might say, "But I wasn't wrong." Oh. Okay then. My bad. I forgot that you always respond to every situation perfectly and there is never any room for improvement in how you handle life. Forgive me.

I've been there. I think I'm right. I am so right and my wife or son is just so wrong. Then I think carefully. I reflect on what I said, or didn't say. I think about how I said it, or whether I could have done a better job communicating, planning, or acting. After these moments of reflection, I can usually find 1 or 2 (13 or 14) things I should have done differently. So I take those things to my wife or son and apologize for them. I'm not admitting to being a bad Dad or husband. I am admitting to being human. But I am also telling them that I want to do better and asking for another chance. I need a lot of chances--how about you?

"Wait, you apologize to your 2-year old son? That's weird." Is it? I'm not sure what's weird anymore. Prime time sitcoms are weird in my opinion. But yes, I apologize to Micah because sometimes I blow it. Sometimes I forget things or say something I shouldn't have said. I look that boy in the eyes and tell him that Daddy blew it. I hug him and tell him I love him. He doesn't fully understand forgiveness, but I want him to know that I love him enough to say, "I'm sorry".

#3 Sacrifice.

Remember that love is the opposite of selfishness? Well, sacrifice is how you prove to yourself and others which side of the coin you're on. If your future goals and aspirations are all about you and what you want, then you might be leaning toward the selfish side. Do you want your family to be a certain way just so everyone will look at your family and say, "Oooo, ahhhh, what an awesome family." Then you're a tool.

Love changes things. It's not about you any more. Remember that love "seeks not her own". That means you move down the list several places and take a back seat to the best interest of your family. It's not always easy to know what's best for your family, but that's another issue. The question is, when you find out, will you do it?

You might have to drive a 15-year old car in order to put your kids in a good school. You might have to drop a hobby or two to make time for your children. I don't know what you want, but whatever it is, your family must take precedence over it. If you don't order your priorities in this way, your family will sense it, and the love cycle breaks. What takes it's place? Vicious ones.

#4 Love without expectations.

Okay, I'm serving my family. I'm apologizing to my family and admitting when I'm wrong. I have even made sacrifices for my family! Man! They better love me for all this! I mean, seriously, I could have [fill in the blank] if it weren't for them. See how stupid that sounds?

If you perform #s 1-3 with the assumption that everything will turn out great, you are mistaken. Herein lies the risk factor of love. You stick your neck out because it's the best way to live and the only way to give your family a chance at happiness, fulfillment, and love. Yet life is not always fair. Sometimes you stick your neck out and people kick it. Sometimes you offer up sacrifice and people spit in your face. This can happen. It's a risk we all must take if we are to genuinely love.

Loving with expectations is exactly how people end up "giving up on love". Their expectations were not met and they decided that sticking their neck out is a bad idea compared to living with "me" at the top of the list. Very sad.

#5 Communicate.

If you think things in your family will work wonderfully with you silently moping around the house or acknowledging your family's addresses with one-word answers or mindless grunts, you might be able to win the Darwin Awards--just keep up the good work. 

Communication is not feminine. Men are not bad at communicating--they are so lazy that they invented an entire system of thought to brainwash women into thinking they don't like to talk. Not much of a talker, huh? Bring up your favorite sport, or hunting, or fishing, or yodeling, or whatever your thing is, and see how much you hate talking.

You might not like talking to your wife about what she wants to talk about because it doesn't interest you as much as something else. See #3. Wife, you might not enjoy all of his topics of conversations, but throw him a bone once in awhile because if he's not talking to you, he will find someone to talk to.

Communicating to your children is vital. I know, another no-brainer; but it seems like "common sense" becomes more scarce the further we move into the 21st century! Ask them questions. Tell them about your day. Probe their minds. Keep them talking. If you don't talk to them for the first ten years of their lives, what makes you think they'll magically start talking to you when they're teenagers? There is a hole in your foot because you shot yourself.

Conclusion:

I want my family to be happy for their sake and mine. And not only for us, but by training our children how to love deeply and passionately, the world can be changed one person at a time. If you are a parent, it is likely your greatest influence on humanity will be via your children and not your own accomplishments.

Image credit:
Cartoon family from http://www.anti-ageme.com/family-matters/

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