We all have the image of a happy family in our minds and most of us think we have the best family we could ask for. However, according to Rabbi Shmuel Boteach, host of TLC’s “Shalom in the Home,” we should all take a minute to examine whether or not our families are as cohesive, good and happy, as we think. Boteach is an American rabbi, writer, radio and television presenter who wrote more than 50 books dealing with the relationship between man and woman, parenting, education and more, and here he reveals his secrets to a happy family. We invite you to discover the 13 secrets to a happy family that will prove to you that although we don’t choose them, it is possible to obtain a cohesive, loving, warm, and above all happy family unit.
1. Share experiences and stories
As parents, when you come home, place your children in front of you, not distractions like the TV or your cell phone. True, it’s hard after a day’s work to give your children your full attention, but only through the conversations, questions, and partnerships you make with your children can you achieve a happy family life. When you or your children come home, be sure to ask them if they have a story to share with you, and if not, share something from your day with them, and give them something to look forward to at the end of the day.
2. Enjoy each other
The essence of a happy family is that each member of the household takes care to encourage and uplift other family members when they’re feeling down, and this is due to good relations between the members of the household, Rabbi Boteach says. For a believer in the family unit, there should be a joy that characterizes the interactions at home, such as the joy of the children when they see their parents coming home from work and vice versa. This joy can be derived from the creation of shared experiences, from deep conversations, cooking together, leisure activities, etc. Invest most of your free time in your family, so that you get along with each other, have more mutual interactions with each other and have a happier family overall.
3. Remember to maintain your relationship and marriage
The people who created your family unit are you and your spouse, so remember that your relationship should come first. Boteach explains that there are many families where the children come first, so they become providers of a substitute of love and this is an unfair burden to put on them. In addition, this negatively affects the family unit in general and the parents’ relationship in particular, because children eventually leave home. So, keep in mind the importance of your relationship and marriage and make sure to nurture and protect it because they are what created your little family in the first place.
4. Eat meals together as a family
During a normal week, we often find ourselves eating lunch and dinner separately from our family members. This isn’t normal and you should be aiming to eat at least four meals together in a week. Boteach’s argument is that a family that eats together stays together – family meals are essential for a happy life because it is time to connect on a personal level with one another.
5. Remember that family comes before friends
In happy families, the importance of family is greater than the importance of friends, and now is where we need to take a look at family frameworks. Camp counselors have one thing right, says Boteach, they know that kids also need fun. When children are bombarded with rules and become bored and restless, they start looking for excitement outside the home, which is where friends come in. and while this is not really a problem, it becomes one when their friendships become more important than family.
6. Limiting after school activities
Some children choose to participate in after-school activities, whether it’s tutoring, volunteering, or other things, and as a result, their stay at home is significantly lessened from year to year. If your children are never home, this is a recipe for an unhappy family, says Boteach. He believes that the two must be balanced and that children should be allowed to spend time outside of the house, while at the same time limiting them to a certain number of activities so that their time at home with family isn’t affected. Boteach suggests that we should strive to carry out activities outside the home as a family, for example taking the children on a bike ride, spending time together at the beach or at the pool, and so on.
7. Build and honor rituals
To make your family unit happy, you should create rituals that can be religious, national or even private to your family. Dr. Barbara Fiese, a professor and head of the psychology department at Syracuse University in New York, says that happy families have unique and meaningful rituals that bring them together. According to her, these rituals can be as simple as ordering from a specific restaurant one night a week, singing a specific song together, and even going on a hike over the weekend. These rituals tend to bring the family closer together, because they repeat themselves over time when it is important to keep them and to be flexible if necessary. For example, if you decide Wednesday nights are pizza night, everyone should be committed to that night. If the pizzeria is closed, be flexible by ordering from somewhere else. Don’t give up on the ritual altogether.
8. Do not raise your voice
Children develop and shape according to the stable things in their life, especially when they are young. Therefore, Boteach explains that children should be in a relaxed environment at home, one that will allow them to thrive as individuals. As parents, you have to talk to your children, set strict rules and punish them if necessary, but don’t lose control and start shouting and running around, both at home and in public especially. If you find yourself yelling at your children, it means you are getting out of control and creating an uneasy home environment for your children. So, the next time you are about to scream, stop yourself and try to convey your message in calm and relaxed tones, thus keeping a calm environment in the house and making sure your kid’s defenses are lowered and their ears and hearts are open to listening.
9. Don’t fight in front of your kids
One of the most important things to never do in front of your kids is fight and shout at each other. As parents, you have to solve the problems between you in private and not in front of your children. However, Boteach says, “If your kids see you fight and argue, apologize and say, ‘We are sorry you had to see it. Daddy and I just had a disagreement, but everything is OK now.'” If you do this, you will be able to create a comfortable environment in which feelings can be expressed to one another, and children will learn to say sorry and admit their mistakes if necessary.
10. Do not work too hard
Routine can sometimes suck us in and in doing so it can ruin our private life and family unit. Boteach explains that if you, the parents, are always away from home because of work, you are actually putting it first, before your children – which can lead them to develop feelings of insecurity. Therefore, if you don’t want your children to believe that they are not important enough, you should cut back on your working hours and of course not bring it home with you, especially when with your children.
11. Be flexible
It’s easy to say and hard to do, but it’s one of the things that’s important for you to stick to because families are constantly changing over time, so you have to learn and teach your child to be open to changes in your family unit. Fiese says that despite the changes that take place – someone getting married, someone dying, teens growing up and adults growing old, everyone’s still part of the same family. Therefore, be flexible about the changes that happened and know how to accept them and deal with them together as one unified family.
12. Have inside jokes
Family unity is a very important thing, and in order to have it, one must create friendships and connections between siblings and the parents. In order to achieve such unity, Fiese recommends adopting inside jokes, inventions and even pranks, because she claims that this is one of the simplest ways to achieve happiness in the family unit – jokes and nicknames symbolize a group to which a person feels belonging to and is used as a platform for creating much larger and more meaningful experiences.
When all’s said and done, communication is the key to success and achieving a happy family. In many families, everything is told to the mom, who then passes those messages on, but a happy family is more flexible and utilizes other channels of communication. Thus, a happy family is a family where all members of the unit are able to communicate openly with one another without being afraid or embarrassed. If you see that your children are not communicating with you in the way you want, initiate a conversation with them in which you share something about yourself, and try to talk to them eye to eye.
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