A woman approached me after a recent parenting lecture. “I own three houses but I don’t have any place that I can really call home. My family is filled with unhappiness and it’s miserable spending time together.”
Without joy, even the most beautiful surroundings feel dark. How can we help build an atmosphere of happiness in our homes?
1. Happy families take work
Looking at everyone else’s Facebook and Instagram pictures makes some people feel as if all other families are experiencing bliss. Photos of smiling kids, loving couples and exotic vacations… Don’t fall into this ‘happiness trap’. No photo ever gives you the full picture. Every family struggles with moods, dynamics, and challenges. True happiness takes work. There is never a home where it is “all fun, all the time.”
Working on creating an atmosphere of joy means that you value your family’s privacy. You do not gripe about your spouse or kids to others nor do you disparage them. You strive to protect your relationship so that a feeling of trust grows between family members. When there is trust in a home, confidence, hope, and stability flourish. Both parents and children feel happy that we can depend on one another as a sense of security is cultivated. Decide that instead of comparing your life with others or spending time discussing grievances with friends, you’ll put energy into nourishing your family unit. Resolve to build rapport between parents and kids as well as siblings.
“Work” also means that you strive to see your spouse and children through a positive eye by focusing on their good character traits. If you have spent your time seeing the negative, this will take great effort but understand that everyone has good that lies within.
2. Happy families know how to listen
Good communication is not only about talking, it’s also about listening. Knowing that we are being heard and understood makes us feel happy.
Are you a good listener?
Here are some tips to reflect upon:
- At times simply listening is an adequate response to show that you care.
- Be careful not to interrupt.
- Don’t always try to offer solutions and fix the situation.
- Give undivided attention and don’t check texts and emails while listening.
- Listen without being judgmental or saying things like, “You did what?!” “How could you?” “What were you thinking?”
3. Happy families communicate respect
Parents set the tone in the home. Children who observe their mother and father treating each other respectfully know that their home is a safe haven. Of course there are times that parents disagree, are stressed or under pressure. But realizing that even while strained, dignity is being maintained helps create a sense of peace. These kids know that once they walk through that door, they leave the chaos and craziness of the world behind.
When children grow up in a hostile environment, the foundation of the home is shaken. They never know what is waiting for them; which parent is out of control or withdrawn in stony silence. Some children feel responsible and pitifully try to fix their parents conflict. Others grow fearful of what may come and with time their pain turns into anger. The joy of family life is threatened.
When you disagree or are shouldering a burden, be mindful of your tone and words. Our children learn from us. If it becomes acceptable for parents to put one another down, yell, or be sarcastic, the kids will certainly follow our lead. What a powerful lesson it is for our children to observe that even when parents are stressed they do not resort to hurting others. We do not stoop to meanness. Instead we contemplate our words and make a choice to control our temper. The success of our children’s future relationships may depend on the attitude they observe at home.
Decide to eliminate patterns of disrespect in your home. This includes yelling, put downs, rolling eyes, sarcastic remarks, laughing at mistakes, and personal attacks. Clearly, physical aggression is never acceptable. Respect translates into an atmosphere where we value the people in our lives and treat each other with honor.
4. Happy families share time together
Families have stopped spending time together. Even when we do find ourselves on vacation or at a restaurant, too many parents and children are immersed in their own world of technology. It is time for us to say “Enough.” Let’s put down our iPhones and really share the moments that we have. Eat together, whether it is having dinner or breakfast; studies show that families that share meals are stronger and more connected. Our Shabbos and holiday table, too, become a crucial time for family bonding.
It is the time together, laughter, family trips, traditions shared, adventures and experiences that we participate in that strengthen our family. There is no substitute for our presence.
5. Happy families see love
Love provides children with a sense of belonging. Homes filled with words of affection, smiles, hugs and kisses show children that we are happy to be a part of this family.
I recently met a wife who told me that as a child, her husband was never shown any physical affection. His mother never once said “I love you”, though she is a lovely woman when you meet her. She simply did not know how to express her love. This husband carries the hurt and unhappiness of his childhood but he won’t admit it. She and their children suffer.
Kids who grow up in a home where spouses put each other first, give kindly without resentment, and speak lovingly enjoy being home. Sons and daughters who feel cherished know that they are valued. Love translates into living a committed life and knowing which priorities are most important. Family and marriage must come first. Words are not enough; show that you love and be generous with your heart.
There are no perfect families that are happy all the time. But we can try to infuse our homes with joy so that we create light, maintain a sense of security and build a foundation of love.
Slovie Jungreis Wolff is a noted author, lecturer and parenting instructor. She is the leader of Hineni Couples and has taught about relationships and marriage for more than 25 years. She gives weekly classes on the east and west side of NYC, Long Island, Brooklyn and Westchester. Slovie is the author of the parenting hand book ‘Raising A Child With Soul’, published by St. Martin’s Press . She has given workshops and lectured extensively throughout the U.S., Canada, Panama, South Africa and Israel. Slovie is a popular columnist for the renowned site, Aish.com where her articles about life and Judaism have been featured in countries all over the world. Once a month Slovie writes a column for the English Yated; she also has a monthly call in show on MetroImma.com which reaches women worldwide, as well as a parenting workshop on JewishEbooks.com.