News at NCH
"Functional Families in Modern America" By Allen Weiss, MD, MBA, President and CEO


Functional Families in Modern America

November 1, 2010 -“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” That is the first sentence of Leo Tolstoy's famous novel, Anna Karenina.

As we enter this holiday season, we should applaud the many examples of happy families with productive parents and children.

What do effective and productive families have in common? Here are their seven core competencies, according to Stephen Covey, a personal-development guru, best-selling author, and father of nine.

  • Be Proactive: Set family standards together. Make choices based on agreed-upon family directions.
  • Begin With the End in Mind: Establish a family mission statement. Identify family priorities.
  • Put First Things First: Use an idea-filled “family calendar” to plan and schedule fun, family-engaging activities. Think in terms of mutual benefit.
  • Think Win-Win: Think interdependently and develop Win-Win agreements.
  • Listen First, Talk Second: Seek first to listen with the intent to understand the thoughts and feelings of others. Then, seek to effectively communicate their thoughts and feelings.
  • Synergize: Appreciate and celebrate the differences in family members. Creatively cooperate with each other.
  • Sharpen the Saw: Build traditions that nurture the family physically, socially, mentally, and spiritually.

But there is another side to this story.

We also have one in two children living in a single parent family at some point in their childhood. One in three children are born to unmarried patients, and one in four lives with only one parent. Teenagers account for one of eight mothers, with seven out of ten American children currently living in “non traditional” families, according to the Rainbow Foundation.

These are all sobering statistics with the potential to drain the creative energy of our next generation:

  • Children of divorced parents are seven times more likely to suffer from depression.
  • 75% of children/adolescents in chemical dependency hospitals are from single-parent families.
  • 20% have learning, emotional, or behavioral problems.
  • More than one half of all youths incarcerated for criminal acts lived in one-parent families when they were children.

Risk factors.

Nine million American children face risk factors that may hinder their ability to become healthy and productive adults. One in seven children has to deal with at least four of the risk factors. One of the risk factors includes growing up in a single-parent household. Surveys also indicate that children confronting several risk factors are more likely to experience problems with concentration, communication, and health.

Why have we had this change in America? In a long-ago agricultural economy, where survival depended on intact and functional families, there was much less dysfunction. Some observers suggest we are too affluent, too indulged, too spoiled, too densely populated, and too stimulated by an avalanche of information.

We have evolved first into the industrial age with the increased population density of more people living closer together, and now into the current information age, where we are bombarded with messages 24/7. In terms of our family life, it is worth asking whether this had a deleterious effect on our family life.

Selflessness, loss of self-esteem, lack of thankfulness, less spiritualism, and excess materialism all contribute, according to many experts. Those who allow their own personal wants and desires to supersede the basic needs of their spouse and their children are opening a floodgate of sadness for everyone.

Selfishness breaks a family apart. Living for the fulfillment and gratification of just one life can shatter other lives. What is the effect? Hurting children grow into hurting parents who have to learn to either adjust their own parenting or repeat the cycle for the next generation. Families learn from each other: Generational dysfunction can be handed down like rituals.

Thankfulness.

A lack of thankfulness is particularly appropriate to address for this Thankgiving season. When thankfulness dries up in the heart of a person, the individual becomes so totally wrapped up in him or herself that family no longer matters. This is where divorce enters, and teens become involved in drugs and other vices.

"A dysfunctional family is one whose interrelationships serve to detract from, rather than promote the physical and emotional well being of its members,” observes one New York writer.

In fam ilies, children learn from their parents. If their parents are giving people, their children will learn that there is more value in the giving than in the receiving. They will see and feel the generosity and the positive feelings this brings them. If their parents blame others for their positions in life, their children will not learn to accept responsibility for those things that are important in life.

Parenting is a “team” sport. No one is as smart as all of us.

As a parent you need help from a spouse, extended family, religious organizations, schools, and neighbors. The proverb popularized many years ago—that it takes a village to raise a child—is even more germane today. A lot of parents think that they can go it alone. They think they don't need help, and don't want help which is wrong.

There are many competent resources available locally waiting to be asked to help including the Department of Children and Families, Collier County Health Department, Shelter for Abused Women and Children, Naples Alliance for Children, Catholic Charities of Collier County, Jewish Federation of Collier County, and Collier County Public School System to name a few.

As a parent it is important that you take advantage of the village that is available to you. This obviously works best if you are in a “good” village. If you have negative influences from others in your village, it is better to exclude their influence. But of course, avoiding evil is sometimes easier said than done.

Cooperate for care.

Many young couples rely on two incomes to support their children. In these homes it is much more important that everyone cooperate to help care for our children. It is not enough to just send them to day care or school and allow them to grow up.

We must nurture, love and teach our children, for them to grow up to become responsible, respectable adults. We should openly solicit the involvement from those around us that share the same values and belief systems that we hold. It is smart to ask for help. It is not a sign of weakness to ask others to help.

The healthy family unit is able to recover from stresses quickly and without scars. A dysfunctional family aggravates its problems so they become chronic.

We have only one opportunity to raise children, to use every available tool, to be there to fill a role in their rapidly changing lives.

We want to get it right the first time. It is not an experiment that can be repeated if it doesn't turn out the way we wanted.


Past Health Advice Articles

 
Dr. Allen Weiss is CEO & President of the NCH Healthcare System. He is board certified in Internal Medicine, Rheumatology and Geriatrics, and was in private practice in Naples, Florida from 1977 - 2000. Dr. Weiss is active in a variety of professional organizations and boards, and has been published in numerous medical journals, including the American Journal of Medicine and the Journal of Clinical Investigation.