The Ideal Family: It's Not Just Luck

4 steps to building a closer family connection

At some point all of us have identified a family on TV or at the neighborhood playground that we consider the “lucky family.” They’re gorgeous and seemingly well mannered, intelligent, socially adept and comfortably affluent.

Whether this outwardly ideal family is truly happy, however, may be the real question. In fact, luck has very little to do with “lucky” families, according to mom Sherri Kruger, who has blogged about creating her own ideal family—for all the right reasons. It’s taken a lot of communication, a realistic plan and adaptation along the way, but today Kruger has a whole new definition of the word lucky.

“The most difficult thing was starting. There was that initial thought that everything needed to be "perfect,” she says. “Once I realized that it doesn’t need to be perfect, and in fact likely wouldn’t be, it was easier to move forward.”  

The first step toward a more ideal family is making a “whole-hearted commitment to creating harmonious family life,” says Kathlyn Hendricks, Ph.D., A.D.T.R, who teaches families about conscious loving at the Ojai, California–based Hendricks Institute. From there, families can “form specific agreements from the creativity that commitment generates.”

1. Visualize your ideal

First, sit down, close your eyes and think about what having an “ideal” family means to you. Have each family member (those old enough) do the same. For example, Kruger describes her ideal family as “one in which we are all welcomed, loved and respected. There are feelings of ease, happiness and belonging—all without judgment.”

She suggests asking a few concrete questions: What makes this the ideal family? How is it different from what your family is like now? How does this ideal situation make you feel? Answer and compare notes. Visualizing specific happy and healthy family scenarios will move you closer to making your wish—to create an ideal family—a reality.

2. Plan realistically

After you’ve gathered everyone’s input, compromised on some points and identified an agreeable unified ideal, comes the action plan. Start with a small, simple list of consistent daily (or even weekly) activities that will start to move you toward that ideal, says Kruger. Maybe it’s making dinnertime a priority or devoting one weekend morning to a family activity.

Consider opportunities for the family to share and just be together. “Families need time where attention is freely given, rather than being tied up in electronic gadgets or very structured activities—hanging out time for talking, sharing space with music or a walk, contributing to a deepened experience of belonging and being valued,” says Hendricks.

Part of Kruger’s plan is to “simplify” family life, which has helped her family feel closer than ever. “With fewer physical things, there is a lot less time spent on maintenance, cleaning and organizing,” she says. “With fewer commitments there is more time to do the things that matter and more opportunities to be spontaneous.”   

3. Communicate — a lot

Once you have a plan, the journey toward an ideal family has just begun. Communication, as in every relationship, is crucial to seeing an ideal come to fruition. Besides daily discussions about what’s working and what’s not, schedule a family meeting once a week, suggests Kruger. “My husband and I talk a lot. We talk about what the kids did this week and what we can do to stimulate their minds, get them active, spark creativity and encourage learning. After our chats, I really feel motivated and energized to be an even better parent,” she adds. “Being candid, open and honest helps a lot. When we feel we’re getting off track, we sit down and talk about it.”

Hendricks agrees that families who keep lines of communication open are more successful at achieving their goals. “A focus on keeping agreements, changing agreements consciously and supporting genuine communication generates clear plans that are easier to support,” she says. Supportive interpersonal communication “in which members practice speaking ‘unarguably’ about their feelings and thoughts, learn to take healthy responsibility instead of blaming, and appreciate each other and themselves generously” is also key.

4. Adapt and enjoy

When the “plan” isn’t working, change it. Be willing to shift and reprioritize as you feel your way into a more ideal family situation. “Learning involves trying something out and adjusting the plan from the feedback that the action/interaction provides,” Hendricks says. “Let everyone know that perfection is impossible and that real progress comes from noticing the drift and making the shift. Course correction, re-committing, sharing feelings and making refined agreements all lead toward more harmony.”

Kruger has experienced course-correction numerous times during her journey. “It could be that our priorities have changed a bit or what once excited us doesn’t anymore,” she says. “Staying on track is more about heading in the right general direction. The occasional detour can be a good thing.” Sometimes what sounds good in theory isn’t sustainable in real life—or much fun, for that matter.  Changing family activities seasonally, for example, is a simple shift that can make a big difference and “spice things up.”

But no matter how “spicy” or happy or just plain pretty a family may appear from the outside, it’s not just about looking the part. Truly lucky families are created through commitment and compassion.

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