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Creating a Joyful Family Lifestyle
  by Win and Bill Sweet

          A sculptor stands before a block of marble and envisions the finished work, knowing the statue is embedded in the marble. All the artist needs to do is chip away and discard the marble that is not a part of the statue.

          So it is with a Joyful Family Lifestyle. It is already present, but often completely obscured by unjoyful influences that have been allowed to be in control.

          Chip away the habits, rules, conditions and attitudes that are keeping the Joy hidden, and you will reveal a splendid family way of living.

          Here are some ideas— a Baker's Dozen of them— for creating a joyful lifestyle for your family:

Every family functions with a theme, whether they know it or not. Consciously choose your family theme rather than falling into a default theme from the culture. Some common default family themes are: yelling, criticizing, berating, and shame. Some preferable themes are: joy, cooperation, encouragement, and respect.

Carefully monitor and limit the influence of the culture. The culture can introduce into children's lives many negative influences that cause fear, competition, confusion, and stress. Cultural influences can also rob children of their ability to function according to their true joyful nature. For example, when the cultural influence in children's lives is strongly negative, their imagination and creativity are drained away. Prime offenders are television, video and computer games, criticism, and pressure to achieve beyond readiness and interest.

Govern the family by principles instead of arbitrary rules. Family living is much more joyous this way. An example of a common family rule and its corresponding principle is:
Rule: You must eat all of your dinner before you can have dessert or get up from the table.
Principle: As long as proper foods are served to the family, the children and adults can generally be trusted to eat according to their individual nutritional and quantity of food requirements.
If all of the stress associated with eating could be eliminated, we would live in a different world.

One of the primary missions of parenting is to provide family members with emotional safety. Identifying with the feelings of each individual in the family is the easiest way to create a supportive environment of emotional safety. Even an experience of embarrassment that seems slight and trivial to an adult can become, to a child, a serious lifetime thorn that keeps hurting and obstructing the flow of joy and the achievement of potential. We parents have to remember that children's feelings are many times more tender than adult feelings, and the feelings of men and boys are many times more tender than women and girls. Honoring this idea alone will make a big difference.

Encourage lots of noncompetitive family play. It is such a joy to play the games with our grandchildren that they make up and direct. There's never any thought of winning or losing. Keeping score is an adult idea; children wouldn't naturally do this. When our daughter was learning to play ping pong, we never kept score. She learned the skill exceptionally well because she was not thinking about winning; she was just thinking about having fun getting the ball back to the other side. Competitive play is emotionally alienating. Genuine play builds a strong, joyful family structure that supports harmony.

Give children abundant loving and genuine companionship. Children are usually viewed as little people to simply care for and keep safe. In reality, children have deep emotional needs just as important as the needs of adults. Talk with the children, not to them; listen to them, not thinking about something else. Find out what is really going on for them as individuals; value their views and ideas. Just as it is with adults, children long for and thrive in a close relationship with adults who really love and care about them. Genuine companionship and compassion for children is a special kind of relationship that is especially nourishing for the children.

Provide the joy of ample touching, holding, and hugging. Studies have shown that most children in our culture suffer from touch-deprivation. The United States is the most untouching country in the world. One study makes a connection between touch deprivation and the loudness of the music that teens feel they must have surrounding them in order to feel good. One of the families that we mentor actually experienced a marked reduction in the volume level after providing their teenagers, over the course of a few months, with much more touching, holding, and hugging as well as consciously adding other gestures of honoring and loving. A few years later the Mom complimented her daughter on her mental acuity. The girl replied, "I realize now that while I was listening to all that loud music, I could not think very clearly. Now I can." Touch is the first gesture of real communication (the basic reason for the traditional handshake when greeting another individual.) Touch is the doorway to joyful family living.

Give your children some freedom and control of their lives. They will thrive and blossom in such an environment. This does not mean abandoning all guidance. Children do not have the wisdom or maturity to judge for themselves in many areas of their lives. This is especially true in areas of strong, cultural influence like TV and computers where children can easily become hypnotized by, and addicted to them. Boundaries are often necessary and should be drawn carefully and wisely. Demonstrating to children that the adults respect boundaries, as well, is important. Make "Do as I do," just as important as "Do as I say." Take care of the necessary boundaries, but also find some areas where it is possible to give the children freedom and then trust them to handle the freedom responsibly. Give them the opportunity to practice what it will be like to be responsible adults.

Provide free time in a quiet atmosphere for the children to daydream, to do nothing or anything. This is such a joy for children. They will explore for themselves their world and who they are, as well as discover their creativity and imagination. As much as adults would like, they cannot enter this private world and should not intrude. Do not step in with, "I'll help you," or "I'll do it for you." Their accomplishment may not be perfect or even successful, but they will have succeeded in trying and will have accomplished what their abilities of the moment are. If it is appropriate to praise, praise the effort with absolutely no negative judgment.

Pay close attention to the children's environment. When children misbehave or are disobedient, look for external influences. Unreasonable rules, poor nutrition, too much stimulation and over scheduling, adult thoughtlessness, an atmosphere of stress, inappropriate expectations, fatigue, sickness, and not enough recognition and appreciation of the true Self are examples of environmental causes of misbehavior or disobedience. The child's environment, more often than not, will reveal the basic cause of these problems. Get to the basic cause of the unacceptable behavior, and correct the environment. Children don't naturally disobey or misbehave. They are naturally cooperative and trustworthy.

Keep a balance in the family between the marriage and the children. Nothing can so quickly spoil chances for a joyful family lifestyle as an inharmonious marriage relationship. Children are very dependent on the support of a strong, harmonious relationship between their Mom and Dad for their sense of well-being to be secure. Therefore, serious attention given to the marriage is just as important to the joy of the family as serious attention to the children.

Laugh with your children many times every day. Laughter is the "best medicine" and one of the best sustainers of a joyful family lifestyle. (See "A Tribute to My Dad.")

Honor and trust the true Self of each child. Children long to be honored and valued for who they are, rather than to ride the "roller coaster" of being judged according to what they do or don't do.  



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