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4 Keys to Building a Happy Family

2. Happy families...lean on others.

As an Army wife, Hillari Bashioum, 42, of Lawton, OK, has spent her entire married life relying on other military families. "My family enjoys the support and guidance of other families who are going through all the things we have, like deployments and separation for assignments," says Bashioum, mother of four kids, ages 6 to 21. "And pulling together to help other families brings our family closer."

No family thrives in a bubble — your extended relatives, friends, neighbors, and other networks are crucial to your happiness. "Other families expose kids to new ideas and lifestyles and give them a broader view of their roles in their own family as well as in their community," Haltzman says.

"Spending time with our extended family is a big deal for us," says Gita Saini, 39, a mom of two, ages 5 and 8, in Orange County, CA, who has two sisters-in-law living close by. "The kids see our values, such as education and helping family, within our extended family, so those values are reinforced even more," she says.

If you don't have a built-in network, Haltzman suggests creating your own support system through volunteering, joining the PTA or a book club, participating in religious services, or simply reaching out to your neighbors. Alison Miller, 38, a mother of two in Chicago, has been getting together with eight other families in her neighborhood every Friday for the last seven years. The get-togethers started out as a playgroup for the moms and their first babies and evolved into a weekly dinner party that includes their husbands and 16 children. "We have formed an unlikely and remarkable community," Miller says. "I know that I can always count on these women for anything I need."

3. Happy families...bounce back.

Truly happy families have the resiliency to face life's challenges and stay strong. "Going through difficult times can actually make you feel more connected as a family," Haltzman says. But what can you do to maximize your family's ability to absorb big blows? Emphasizing the positive has helped the Jackson family find happiness despite debilitating illness. Sue Jackson, 43, was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome in 2002 — and her two sons, then 6 and 10, were diagnosed with the same disorder just a few years later. The Jacksons learned to adjust to their "new normal" and are now closer than ever. "Even during our worst times of illness, we remind our boys how fortunate we are to have each other," says Jackson, who lives in Wilmington, DE. "We try to find joy in everyday life by celebrating often, even small things."

Strong routines and rituals also help families regain their equilibrium when calamity strikes. When Edie McRae and her family lost their home in New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina, they relocated to Houston. The McRaes had to build a new life for themselves and their two sons, then ages 2 and 3. "We enrolled our oldest in preschool right away; having new friends lessened his worry," says McRae, 33. "And we got back to our nightly story time and weekend movies as quickly as possible. I realized that the boys craved those things because it helped them feel like they were home."

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