Finding the meaning of life

Posted by Phil

Today you are a parent of a precious child living in a world filled with thieves intent on stripping him of his innocence and purpose. Life has a way of providing experiences that can compose a toxic life narrative for a child.

Sometimes what you thought would never happen, happens. Piercing those painful days are moments that alter your child’s views of self, others, and God. And, if you’re not careful, the narrative of your child’s life will contain misplaced punctuation points. Periods instead of conjunctions. Points that stop the flow of life rather than expand passion and connections. Many times a child’s story contains truth with a mixture of misperceptions about self, the world, and God.

The truth is, life is both wonderful and confounding. Much that befalls our children is not preventable. Crises will occur.

How might your child’s view of God be falsely edited by life experiences? How can you as a parent nurture a resilient child who maintains healthy beliefs about life and about God even as he becomes acutely aware of and interacts with a fallen world?

Specific family qualities emerged from research conducted over the past 10 years at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and the Psychological Studies Institute in Chattanooga. More than 400 families were examined to determine the family characteristics and behaviors that produce healthy families. The research revealed that children within these families are more likely to emerge with core beliefs that serve as powerful tools to interpret life’s inevitable intrusions in a more constructive, life expanding way – interpretations that are consonant with God’s narrative. Yes, it’s a long list. But each of these characteristics contributes to a child’s resiliency in life.

A healthy family …

1. Exemplifies a strong sense of family

  • Has a sense of family unity, permanency, and history
  • Has family rituals and traditions
  • Shares meals and communicates during meals
  • Engages in leisure activities together

2. Uses clear, honest communication

  • Expresses feelings openly and without judgment
  • Discusses goals and dreams together
  • Listens carefully to one another
  • Does not act out anger physically

3. Is open and affirming

  • Engages in positive forms of touch
  • Attends to the emotional needs of the family
  • Smiles and laughs often; shares hugs and kisses
  • Praises one another in public; says “I love you” often

4. Shares a sense of mutuality and support

  • Expresses appreciation for one another often
  • Takes physical care of one another as needed
  • Accepts the eventual separation of the children

5. Demonstrates trust and accountability

  • Honors agreements and commitments
  • Insists that directives to children be met
  • Takes personal responsibility for actions
  • Admits the need for and seeks help when appropriate

6. Resolves conflict

  • Identifies, communicates, and solves problems
  • Couples complaints with positive affective cues
  • Refrains from reciprocating negative behaviors
  • Has a willingness to forgive and be forgiven
  • Resolves conflict quickly (average of five hours)

7. Has boundaries and organization

  • Evidences a parental subsystem hierarchy
  • Has boundaries that are clear, firm, yet flexible
  • Knows family members whereabouts
  • Agrees on family members roles and responsibilities
  • Outlines and enforces household rules

8. Has a healthy view of sexuality

  • Engages in positive forms of touch
  • Has effective, open communication about sexual issues
  • Is sexually attracted to one another (spouses)
  • Displays affection in front of the children (spouses)
  • Is sexually faithful (spouses)

9. Has a religious core and instills values

  • Provides for the spiritual needs of its members
  • Experiences purpose derived from religious beliefs
  • Has parents who teach a sense of right and wrong
  • Seeks divine assistance with family problems
  • Attends a church together regularly; prays together
  • Hears prayers spoken for one another
  • Views marriage as a sacred, long-term commitment
  • Believes that personal efforts can make a difference
  • Views differences as perspectives rather than mutiny

10. Shares time and interests together

  • Spends quality time together in large quantities
  • Has regular parental involvement in family activities
  • Spends ample time at home alone together (spouses)
  • Shares bedtime stories with children
  • Limits time watching television and playing video games

11. Establishes behavior control

  • Establishes clear, flexible rules
  • Provides opportunities for negotiation and alterations
  • Assigns and ensures the completion of tasks
  • Provides consequences for prohibited behaviors
  • Has routines; encourages good habits
  • Disciplines children when needed with consistency
  • Provides guided responsibility for children
  • Accepts children’s assertiveness

12. Meets basic tasks

  • Maintains a psychologically and physically safe home
  • Acquires and manages financial resources
  • Provides for proper nutrition and moderate exercise
  • Makes provision for relaxation and proper sleep
  • Maintains routine medical and dental checks
  • Has a lifestyle free of chemical addictions or misuse
  • Emphasizes education

13. Connects with the community

  • Encourages healthy relationships outside the family
  • Values service
  • Encourages children to participate in peer groups
  • Supports the child’s school activities

Examine the list in light of your current family routine and characteristic behaviors. Select just one or two items that you could implement this month, and build from that point. Research shows that the actual crises that your child will face someday is not the real problem; the real problem is how the child interprets the crises or what the crises mean to him or her.

A healthy family has the capacity to build resiliency into their children. These family structures and behaviors provide foundational experiences for the child to emerge into adulthood and find true meaning in life. Often the seemingly small patterns, such as regular family mealtimes, create healthy behavioral patterns and healthy beliefs that last a lifetime.

No simple formula exists for raising healthy children or creating a healthy family. We live in a fallen world, and we all face the thieves of the night. Yet the long-term effects of intentional acts of loving give us hope.

by Philip Coyle

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