The Most Important Gift You Can Give Your Child

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” -Leo Tolstoy

Most people want to be the very best parents they can.

That’s why baby books fly off the shelves, and hundreds of blogs and websites hand out advice on every topic imaginable—from breastfeeding to sleep schedules, from potty training to healthy eating, from discipline to schooling. In all of these arenas, parents must make important decisions that will impact their children’s health and well-being.

In fact, there is so much information available, with something new flashing on the web every week that parents feel overwhelmed with the choices. How do you know what’s best for your kids and then put it into practice? Given the limits of time and money, where should parents focus first?

The answer: the health and well being of the whole family. Creating a happy, loving family is the greatest gift you can give your child.

Sounds simple…(like most truths). Unfortunately, most of us didn’t learn about this in our high school health class. Or worse, we grew up in an unhappy family or an environment with too little structure, high levels of conflict, or even abuse or neglect.

The good news is that we know more now than ever about the building blocks of healthy, warm relationships. These skills can be taught and then put into practice. The essential threads that distinguish happy families from unhappy ones have been identified in numerous research studies and are more important than differences in race, religion, social class, or sexual orientation.

How does research define a successful happy family?

The kids grow up to become independent and are able to establish healthy adult relationships while remaining connected to their original family.

Family members describe a positive family identity and give and receive support from one another.

They have mostly satisfying interactions and stay in touch with one another.

Family members are resilient in the face of inevitable times of stress and change.

What difference does this make?

In a highly regarded, comprehensive longitudinal study, not only did the warmth of the family environment correlate with greater earning power and work success in adulthood, it also correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment of vacations, and increased life satisfaction at age 75! Begun in 1937, the Grant study followed the lives of 268 Harvard sophomores for seventy years.

When George Valliant, the study’s director was asked to summarize what was learned, he responded, “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.” Not just mothers and fathers but siblings, partners and friends.

Although it is important to love your children, it is also essential to create a context of open communication, structure and consistency. We teach our children what love looks like by the way we treat our husbands and wives, parents and grandparents, neighbors and friends.

Loving relationships can be broken down into essential components or “keys.” These 10 factors, detailed in our next blog, can be assessed, learned and practiced. The sooner the better, ideally before young adults enter into significant relationships and prepare to become parents. Can you guess what the 10 keys are?

Published on: August 05, 2013
About the Author
Photo of Don and Debra MacMannis
Don and Debra are a husband-wife team - at home and at the office. They have both served as directors of the Family Therapy Institute of Santa Barbara, a nonprofit organization. They are co-authors of a self-help book, How's Your Family Really Doing?: 10 Keys to a Happy Loving Family. They can be followed on their blog
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