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Family Talk: Create an environment for a happy family

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Jim Priest
Jim Priest

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” I often have heard this quote from Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy, and I’ve often wondered, “Is that really true?” Is there a universal pattern for happy families and unique unhappiness among frowning families?

Turns out Tolstoy was at least partly correct.

A few years ago, researchers from the University of Rochester and the University of Notre Dame studied family relationship patterns over a three-year period. They found three distinct family profiles: Happy families were termed “cohesive.” Unhappy families fell into two categories the researchers called "enmeshed” or “disengaged.” Here’s how they defined those three groups:

• Cohesive families are characterized by harmonious communication, emotional warmth and firm but flexible roles for parents and children.

• Enmeshed families may be emotionally involved and display some warmth, but experience “high levels of hostility, destructive meddling and a limited sense of the family as a team”.

• Disengaged families are associated with cold, controlling and withdrawn relationships.

To rephrase Tolstoy, “All happy families are alike, but unhappy families fall into one of two groups.”

Lead researcher Melissa Sturge-Apple, assistant professor of psychology, believes family type is an incubator for children’s problems in school. “Cold and controlling family environments are linked to a growing cascade of difficulties for children in their first three years of school, … (and) children from families marked by high levels of conflict and intrusive parenting struggle with anxiety and social withdrawal in early school years."

So what’s the takeaway? Pay attention to your family dynamics. Promote firm but flexible roles for parents and children. Make sure your communications are characterized by warmth and harmony. You won’t always get it right. There will be days of unhappiness even in the happiest of families. But consciously practicing the things that make for a happy family will create an environment for the kind of success that would make Tolstoy smile.

Jim Priest can be reached at okcpriest@yahoo.com.

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<strong>The goal of having a happy family is strengthened by a conscious effort to create a warm and communicative environment. [METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION]</strong>

The goal of having a happy family is strengthened by a conscious effort to create a warm and communicative environment. [METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION]

<figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-01910a640790acfa479dba708a437854.jpg" alt="Photo - The goal of having a happy family is strengthened by a conscious effort to create a warm and communicative environment. [METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION] " title=" The goal of having a happy family is strengthened by a conscious effort to create a warm and communicative environment. [METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION] "><figcaption> The goal of having a happy family is strengthened by a conscious effort to create a warm and communicative environment. [METRO CREATIVE CONNECTION] </figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-607b48fe0c18f8b47dfc00e81cb0c8e4.jpg" alt="Photo - Jim Priest " title=" Jim Priest "><figcaption> Jim Priest </figcaption></figure>
Jim Priest

Jim Priest is the CEO of Sunbeam Family Services, a 108-year-old nonprofit that provides a range of social services to support Oklahoma's most vulnerable people, including early childhood education, counseling, foster care and senior services. Jim... Read more ›

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