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How to create a healthy family dynamic

18 May

What is family? And how do you create a healthy family dynamic? Here is how and what family means to us.

Photo of Nichole and her family at her daughters naming day

Recently when planning our daughter’s naming day I was asked by the celebrant to share my definition of family based on my own experience as a relationship and family coach. When I reflect on my work as a coach, defining a family is more challenging than I thought. However, it is through this introspection that I have come to appreciate the profound influence our families have on shaping our values, beliefs, and behaviour. Our families are the blueprint for who we become and the future generations we raise.

What is a family?

The concept of family goes far beyond the dictionary definition of a group of parents and children living together or a lineage descending from a common ancestor. Families are not static entities but constantly evolving. They change as new members join or depart, through marriage, divorce, and blending. There is no one-size-fits-all definition of family. They can be nuclear, extended, blended or friends. 

Changing dynamics

I have witnessed first-hand the fear that accompanies change within a family dynamic. It is only natural for us to seek comfort in the familiar, and any disruption to that familiarity can give rise to challenging behaviour. Whether it is adjusting to a divorce, blending families, or embracing new family members, these changes demand adaptation and adjustment.

One of the fundamental human needs we all share is the need for love and connection, and it is within the family unit that we often expect to find it. In fact, the survival of a baby depends on receiving love and care. Family is where we learn, develop a sense of belonging, and understand how to form relationships. But what happens when we don't feel that sense of belonging within our own families? It is an all-too-common experience.

Unhealthy dynamics

Not feeling a sense of belonging within our own families can lead to feelings of isolation, loneliness, and emotional distress. It can create a void in our lives, leaving us searching for connection and acceptance elsewhere. This can impact our self-esteem and confidence, as we may question our worthiness of love and belonging. These feelings and struggles can manifest in various aspects of our lives, such as our personal relationships, professional success, and overall well-being.

How to move on

It is essential to acknowledge and address your feelings in your relationships. Seeking support from trusted friends, coaches, therapists or support groups can provide an outlet for expressing yourself  and exploring strategies for coping with the situation. Additionally, building our own chosen family or support network can help fill the void left by the lack of belonging within our biological family. Surrounding ourselves with people who genuinely accept and support us can create a sense of belonging and foster healthy relationships.

Defining what family means to you

I firmly believe that our happiness and fulfilment in life stem from understanding ourselves, feeling a sense of belonging, and fostering quality relationships. That's why it is so important to define our own family values, based on our unique set of beliefs, experiences, and aspirations. Family, to me, is a source of love and connection, a place where individuals with shared values can come together. It is not about conformity but embracing the unique qualities of each family member. In a healthy family dynamic, individuals can challenge, grow, and make mistakes without the fear of rejection or judgement because they know someone always has their back.

Next steps

I urge you to invest time and effort into defining your family values and holding yourself and others accountable for living them. By doing so, you create a safe space where your family members can express themselves freely, knowing that they will be heard, understood, and supported. Addressing conflicts and challenges head-on, rather than allowing them to fester, is vital to maintaining a healthy family dynamic.

Creating a healthy family dynamic requires continuous effort and self-reflection, so  I encourage you to embark on this journey:

  • Define your family values,
  • Foster open communication, 
  • Embrace change, 
  • Support each other's growth. 

Remember, your family has the power to shape not only your own life but also the lives of future generations. Embrace this opportunity and create a healthier and happier family dynamic starting today.

For those interested in knowing what my family values are, below is the speech I shared on my daughter’s naming day.

I was asked by Jon when we were writing the ceremony for today to share what family means to us. 
The Oxford dictionary would tell you a family is a group of one or more parents and their children living together as a unit. I know only too well from personal and professional experience that this is not true. Another definition is all the descendants of a common ancestor. But again in my experience you don’t have to share blood to be family.
As emotionally intelligent creatures one of our basic human needs is love and connection, which we expect comes from those who raise us. But more than that, our happiness and fulfilment in life come from knowing ourselves, feeling like we belong and the quality of our relationships. All of which are nurtured within a family. 
A family has a culture of its own, culture being group habits and behaviour. Family to us is love, it is a sense of belonging with others who share similar values, and that is not always found with those you share blood with. That does not mean you will always agree, in all honesty it would be unhealthy if you did, a family is made up of individuals not a flock of sheep. Those individuals can and will challenge, grow and make mistakes without fear of rejection and knowing someone always has your back.
No family is perfect, and there is no one size fits. Families can be nuclear, blended, extended or friends. As long as they have the key ingredients of love, a sense of belonging and shared values any family can thrive.
When it comes to our family I think Elizabeth Stone described it best when she said. 

“Making the decision to have a child - it’s momentous. It is to decide to forever have your heart go walking around outside your body”
We want to raise Aurora and Sebastian to be independent, courageous, compassionate, and happy children. We want to give them everything they need to go out into the world and make their own dreams come true. By giving them the support, encouragement and boundaries to make their own mistakes, take responsibility for their choices, and learn. We want to teach them critical thinking so they will ask questions and challenge the status quo. Although we do realise this will bite us, especially through the teenage years. We want them to stand on our shoulders and reach further and do better than us. But we can’t do it alone. 
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and we can not think of a better village than those in this room. And you thought you were just here for a party. We asked you here to say thank you for all you have given our family so far and to ask you to continue to support Aurora and us in raising her with our family values so she can blossom into the beautiful, independent, courageous, compassionate and happy woman she is destined to be.

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