8 Secrets of Happy Families
Leo Tolstoy had it right when he wrote in Anna Karenina, "Happy families are all alike." Okay, he wasn't thinking about a three-kids-and-a-minivan lifestyle, but his point was timeless: Some families just seem to enjoy one another's company more; to have more fun; to be, well, happier. What do they know that the rest of us don't? We asked parents and other experts to spill their secrets. For a more joyful clan, why not try what works for them? Here are some of their techniques.
Whether it's making pancakes for dinner on Sunday nights or ending every car trip by saying "Home again, home again, jiggity-jog," unique family rituals strengthen ties like nothing else.
"Traditions give children a sense of identity and belonging," says Richard Eyre, coauthor of The Happy Family: Restoring the 11 Essential Elements That Make Families Work. "They may seem insignificant to adults, but kids hang on to them."
The Eyres have celebrated family birthdays in special ways since their children were small. "Because mine is in autumn, we always rake a big pile of leaves and jump in them," says Eyre. The year three of his nine children, now ages 16 to 30, left home, he opened the mail on his birthday to find three separate envelopes, each with a leaf inside. "It was each child's way of saying 'I'm still part of the family,'" he says.
The Friday-night tradition in the Pritz household, in Glenside, PA, includes two pizzas, a movie in the living room, and everyone -- Mom, Dad, and their four kids, ages 2 to 7½ -- on the floor in pajamas. "It's a simple ritual, but we look forward to it all week. I grew up going to Friday-night drive-in movies with my family," says mom Denise. "I hope my kids remember our movie nights as happily as I remember the drive-in."
Rally 'Round the Table
Families who chow together bond better than those who eat at separate times and spaces. Sitting around the table -- or even just grating carrots in the kitchen -- encourages kids and parents to relax and share what's on their mind (keep the TV off!). The benefits of this quality mealtime are long-lasting: Kids from families who dine together frequently are 31 percent less likely to smoke, drink, or do drugs later on as teenagers, according to a study of 2,000 youngsters by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University.
If your schedule doesn't allow for family dinners as often as you'd like, consider bonding over breakfast. The Geddes family of New York City manages to have dinner together a few nights a week, but they make sure to sit down to eat every morning. "Sure, it can be hectic," says Jennifer Geddes, mother of two girls, ages 18 months and 4 years, "but we count on that time together before we go our separate ways."
Get Into the Game
"Playing together builds strong bonds and warm memories -- you're in effect saying 'We have a great time together,'" says Nick Stinnett, Ph.D., professor of human development at the University of Alabama and author of Fantastic Families: 6 Proven Steps to Building a Strong Family. In his 25-year study, which tracked 14,000 families nationwide, he found the happiest families spent time playing board and card games together.
On her family's weekly Game Night, "we spread out puzzles and games like Candy Land and Go Fish on the floor," says Chris Crytzer, mom of a 4-year-old and a 7-year-old in Pittsburgh. "Everyone gets a chance to talk, we're all laughing, and the kids have to cooperate and take turns. There's a real peace that comes when everyone's clicking. I always think, 'This is what a family is supposed to be.'"
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