The Perfect Family

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Life changes. The parenting and relationship skills that worked in our agrarian and even our industrial societies no longer work. It is time to write the new rules of how to be a happy and successful family in the 21st-century. Author Bruce Feiler conducted exten

sive research in an effort to answer this question and the answers can be found in his excellent book, The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go out and Play, and Much More

I’ve come to realize that our child raising years are really a narrow sliver of time and that before I realize it, my wife and I will be empty nesters. Our kids are not that old yet, but I also know that time flies. In fact just in the span of the last 10 years think about the technological inventions that have occurred. Can you believe the Apple App Store has only been around for five years? I’m trying to remember a time in my life when I could live without apps.

One of my greatest personal goals is to capture the art of living in the present, and somehow stretch the time space continuum and truly enjoy time with my family. Not just my kids, but my parents, my wife’s parents and our extended families (well, most of them, you know who you are).

Feiler asks the questions all parents ask: How do you teach kids discipline while making sure they have fun along the way? Is it possible to develop timeless values in a 24/7 world that prizes novelty and coarseness? How do couples find time to nurture each other while spending so much time nurturing their kids? (Feiler 3).

Families do just a few things: love, fight, eat, play; fool around, spend money, make pivotal life decisions and try to discover ways to do all of this better (Feiler 5). Along the way Feiler took lessons from the Harvard Negotiation Project, ESPN, the Green Berets and Warren Buffett’s banker; he even visited the set of the TV show Modern Family (Feiler 5-6).

What is better for us? Being Dr. Spock or the Tiger Mom (or Mr. Spock for that matter) (Feiler 7).

  • One key factor in happy families is the ability to adaptand stay agile. “Everything is a phase. Just when kids start sleeping, they stop napping, just want they start walking, they begin throwing tantrums, just when they get used to soccer, they start piano lessons and so on (Feiler 16).

    It turns out that successful organizations are built around speed and flexibility. So are happy families. Unfortunately many companies still follow the “waterfall model,” in which executives issue ambitious orders from Olympus and expect them to flow downward and somehow be properly executed (Feiler 17). If you are in this type of company, tune up your resume as that’s a business that is headed for failure. If you are in this type of family, be the change you want to see.

  • Feiler first attacks one of the biggest problems, one that I know we struggled with at our house for many years, “the morning shuffle.” This time of day can easily turn into parent-yelling kid-wandering aimlessly endless cycle. So he had every kid create a self-directed morning checklist. For the first few weeks nothing really happened with the kids wandering around in something of a daze, asking what they were supposed to be doing and generally complaining (Feiler 20). Whenever they ask, they were told to just “check the list.” Eventually it kicked in. Added to this was a checklist that all the family could see and that could physically be checked off (symbols were used for the smallest of their clan since he couldn’t read yet).
  • The process is just one example of a new type of project management known as agile project management. The core idea is that life constantly changes and we have to organize ourselves in ways to allow us to react to changes in real time. There are three essential questions: (a) what if you done this week? (2) what are you going do to next week and (3) are there any impediments in your way we can help you with? The essence of agile project management is to inspect and adapt to the situation.

Since I love movies let me quote one of my favorites, Heartbreak Ridge with Clint Eastwood. He was constantly urging his Marines to improvise, overcome and adapt. Seems like good advice. In my other life as a aviation security and safety consultant whenever I am facilitating an airport emergency tabletop exercise I am always encouraging the participants to tell us what they can br

ing, and what they need from the others. This list of resources and needs changes throughout the exercise as we move from the preparation to the response to the recovery phase.

It can work in the family too. It works by believing that solutions exist, by empowering the children, by understanding that parents are not invincible nor all-knowing, by creating a safe zone (which means to create an area of equal footing so that issues can be discussed at the appropriate time)  and by building in flexibility. Something that may have worked well last year may not be working this year (Feiler 29-30).

The most important thing is to always keep working to improve the family (Feiler 32).

Feiler, Bruce S. The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go out and Play, and Much MoreNew York, NY: William Morrow, 2013. Print.

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One Response to The Perfect Family

  1. I think I was raised right by parents who were married 48 years when my mother died. The key, I imagine (don’t have children of my own) is consistency. We ate dinner at the table every night, had to do our homework before we went to bed, were also punished at home if we were punished at school. Expectations were clear and we always knew the routine whether it be Saturday morning chores (to get our allowance) and pizza on Friday nights. My mom put up the exact same Christmas decorations every year for 38 years of my life. Our Santa pictures were with the same Santa… every year. Probably most important, we never questioned how loved we were. That hasn’t changed as adults. All four of us turned out pretty darn good. Food for thought.

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