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4 Keys to Building a Happy Family


WebMD Feature from "Redbook" Magazine

By Jeannie Kim

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Every mom wants to create and nurture a happy family. But if your own childhood wasn't so sunny, how do you know what that looks like? And even if you had a blissful upbringing, it's not always easy to define what, exactly, made your family life joyful. Was it the silly games you played on road trips, or the freedom you had to roam in and out of your neighbors' yards? Was it that you had good fortune never to experience a major tragedy, or was it that you had a close-knit clan that pulled together to support one another no matter what? Most of all, how can you make sure that the family you have now will be happy for the long haul?

The truth is, happy families have cranky kids, messy houses, and money struggles, just like everyone else. But underneath it all, they have a core of contentment that sustains them through all of life's ups and downs. "Being happy as a family is something deeper than simply having fun together or feeling the immediate euphoria of a joyful event like opening presents on Christmas morning," explains REDBOOK Love Network expert Scott Haltzman, M.D., author of the new book The Secrets of Happy Families. "A happy family is a family that has a deep sense of meaning and purpose in their lives." When you have that, he adds, the lows feel more manageable, because you can put them into perspective — and the highs are more memorable. Here, your keys to building a family life that will make your guy, your kids, and you truly happy.

1. Happy families...know who they are.

When your family agrees on its core values — and consistently lives by those standards — you'll build a stronger family identity and reduce conflict.

Certain values fall into place naturally; if you're married, you and your husband probably committed to each other in the first place because of values that both of you share. However, Haltzman insists on not simply letting your values evolve on their own, but rather deliberately shaping and naming your core principles. "Defining your values together cannot only reinforce a lot of the qualities that brought you together, but it can also help steer you in times when you feel conflicted," he says. Knowing that you prioritize new experiences, for example, you might decide to pull the kids out of school for a special family trip, while another family who values education over everything else would never consider scheduling a vacation during the school year.

Although the grown-ups in the house should drive the discussion, children can also play a part in framing your family's ideals. When Kerry Woodcock, 37, of Calgary, Alberta, and her husband discussed defining their values a few years ago, they asked their children (now ages 8, 7, and 3) about their favorite family moments to gauge which mores were important to them. Their son's love of the family's nightly gratitude ritual (when everyone shares their best moments of the day) has helped them define gratitude as a key value.

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