When we had our first child thirty years ago, we were both licensed and trained psychotherapists. Even with all our education in early childhood development and psychology, we were unprepared for how the birth of a child changed, well…everything. That’s when we started thinking about writing a book called We Got the Baby–But Where’s the Manual?

That book never got finished because our lives became swallowed up by one baby and then another, and by the busy work lives of a dual-career family. It’s amazing how time flies. Our sons are grown-ups now and wonderfully immersed in their own lives. Our non-profit counseling agency is a fixture in our community, and we have trained hundreds of therapists who work with couples and families.

The Birth of a Book

The creative spark that ignited with becoming new parents morphed into something even bigger. What was really needed was a book on how to be a close and loving family. Year after year, when we gave parents specific tools for how to get along better and bring out the best in each other, people kept saying the same thing: “Why didn’t we get taught these things in high school? Therapists echoed, “Why didn’t we learn this in graduate school?”

Burrowing through piles of professional literature and drawing on personal and professional experience, we assembled the 10 keys to a happy, loving family. Decades of research have demonstrated that families can successfully achieve the task of raising children who are able to live independently and establish harmonious relationships of their own.

Using a brief self-assessment tool (free at www.howsyourfamily.com.) you and your loved ones can evaluate strengths and weaknesses in your family system. This diagnostic tool helps prioritize what needs to be worked on and in what order of importance.

Sample Questions to Assess Your Family

Answer the following questions honestly. Ask your partner or your kids what they would answer.

Do you talk things over and know what’s going on with each other?

Do you openly share your positive feelings (joy, tenderness, pleasure) more than negative ones (fighting, criticizing, teasing)?

Do you have predictable routines and good habits of exercise, self-care and sleep?

Are the parental figures in your family on the same page regarding rules and discipline, working as a team?

Do the adults make their relationship a priority apart from parenting, cultivating friendship and intimacy?

What are the 10 Keys?

Hopefully the questions have begun to spark some guesses about the essential building blocks of a happy, loving family. To really do it justice takes a more thorough assessment. Here’s a quick preview:

Key #1: Talking and Listening

Key #2: Expressing Feelings

Key #3: Adapting to Change

Key #4: Sharing Time Together

Key #5: Who’s In Charge?

Key #6: Closeness and Distance

Key #7: Accepting Differences

Key #8: Seeing the Positive

Key #9: Effective Problem-solving

Key #10: Parenting Together

Taking the Plunge

The Current Family Assessment provides an initial blueprint for improving the effectiveness and closeness of your family. Just as a medical doctor begins treatment after a thorough examination, the first step towards improving your relationships is to take a closer look at both strengths and areas for improvement.

The next step is to develop an action plan for change. We offer practical tips and tools for each key as well as an annotated bibliography describing dozens of self-help resources currently available. Once you know where to focus—and know that change is possible—you are well on your way to creating a happy loving family of your own.

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Don and Debra MacMannis DrGreene.com contributor

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