by Dick Innes
President Ronald Reagan, in an interview with Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family, said I don't believe you can have a strong, healthy nation without the family unit as its very base. As the family goes, so goes the nation."
Dr. Nick Stinnett, family specialist and chairman of the Department of Human Development and the Family at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, agrees. he believes that history clearly illustrates the relationship between the strength of families and the strength of nations.
"As we study some of the ancient cultures such as ancient Egypt, Rome and Greece," says Stinnett, "we see a common pattern: When these cultures were coming into the peak of their power and glory as nations, the family was strong. The family was important. It was valued very highly. Family members cooperated with one another. They interacted with one another. They depended on each other.
"Then, as these nations progressed along their paths of destiny, the family came to be not so highly valued, the culture became extremely individualistic. It was a 'do your own thing' philosophy to an excessive degree. The families deteriorated. When that happened the societies themselves fell.
The family shapes the nation because it shapes the lives of those who make up the nation. It is within the family that we either gain or fail to gain our sense of belonging, our sexual identity, and our sense of self-worth. The family also teaches us life's values and how to relate to other people. When these basic needs for acceptance, belonging, self-worth, and training in wholesome values and relationships are not adequately met, the seeds of juvenile delinquency, alcoholism, drug abuse, impaired relationships, marriage breakdown, divorce, homosexuality, depression and mental illness are sown. And the more these of problems we have, the weaker our nation becomes.
Because as a nation we are so dependent on the strength of our families, we need to do all in our power to develop stronger, healthier homes.
Being concerned with what makes families healthy, Dr. Stinnett led a major international research project to learn the secrets of strong families. His studies included strong black, white, ethnic, and single-parent families in North America, South America, Switzerland, Austria, Germany and South Africa.
Strong families are committed to making the family work.
His findings were discussed at a national forum held in Washington, D.C., where family specialists and leaders from various sectors of society gathered specifically to determine exactly what it was that made families strong. The content of these discussions is presented in the excellent book edited by Dr. George Rekers and titled, Family Building: Six Qualities of a Strong Family.
In the study led by Dr. Stinnett, 3000 families were interviewed. Each one, regardless of its background, rated very high on marriage happiness and in their satisfaction with parent-child relationships. A considerable amount of information was collected, but according to Dr. Stinnett, when thoroughly analyzed it boiled down to six major qualities.
The research also showed that these qualities just didn't happen. People make them happen. They are the result of "deliberate intention and practice."
What then are these six characteristics that makes a family successful and strong?
First, strong families are committed to making the family work. Such families don't expect perfection from each other. They accept each other as they are, and accept responsibilities and work together as a team.
Their commitment goes far beyond feelings. Feelings are important and are integrated, but they come and go. They are variable. Commitment is constant. It is an act of the will. In other words, if we want a strong, happy family, we need to be committed to making it happen.
Second, happy families spend time together, not only quality time but quantity time. They work, they plan, they struggle, and they play together. Much easier said than done, but done it must be if we want strong families.
Third, successful families have effective communications. The major complaint I hear, especially from wives, on both sides of the Pacific is a variation on the theme, "My husband doesn't understand my feelings nor does he share his."
To communicate effectively, each family member needs to be encouraged to express not only his or her thoughts, ideas, suggestions and opinions, but also his or her feelings, and have them accepted. Without this there can be no intimacy. Without intimacy we end up as strangers living together alone.
Fourth, strong families express appreciation to each other. Another common complaint I hear from both husbands and wives is this: "I feel taken for granted and just don't feel appreciated." I am sure, too, that many children feel the same.
It is so easy to say, "Thanks, I really appreciate your--washing and ironing my shirts, cooking my meals, mowing the yard, cleaning up your room, leaving the bathroom tidy, taking out the rubbish, bringing home the paycheck--but most of all I appreciate you just because you're you."
Fifth, happy families are able to solve problems in a crisis. Mature people know that crises come to every family simply because we live in an imperfect world. And while crises often drive weaker families apart, they draw stronger families together and help make them stronger. The strong may bend under a crisis but not break, and they always bounce back.
Sixth, successful families have a strong spiritual commitment. Stinnett's research "found that strong families have a high degree of religious orientation and commitment. Not all belong to organized churches, but most do. They all consider themselves to be highly committed to their spiritual lives."
A study conducted by sociologist Steven Nock of the University of Virginia supports this conclusion. His study showed that couples who attend church regularly are forty-two percent more likely to be married for the first time, and those in the church who were strongly committed to its beliefs had a twenty-three percent better chance of having a "very happy" marriage than those who don't go to church.
People then who have happy marriages and strong families are those who are committed to making their families strong. They work hard at communicating effectively. They spend time together. They express love and appreciation. They accept crises as normal and know how to work through them, and above all they trust in God and apply their faith to everyday living.
Would you like to have a happier and stronger family? You can. A good place to start is by taking your family or yourself to church or chapel this week.