Building a happy family
We can understand happiness as a process of pursuing a peaceful, better, and more joyful and meaningful life. If we have not experienced enough love and acceptance in our life, then seeking happiness does not come naturally to us.
You can make a conscious decision that you want to seek happiness.
Through self-observation and self-knowledge, you can learn what brings you closer to happiness, and what takes you further away from it. Recalling good, joyful and happy moments from the past, you can learn to evoke and maintain the state of contentment.
EXERCISE No. 20
Sit down comfortably in a chair and close your eyes. Start breathing calmly and regularly. For a while, observe your breath.
Think about those situations in life, when you felt well, when you were joyous and happy. Do not think too long about it. Choose one, specific situation. The next time, you can choose some other situation. Recall the details: where you were, who was with you, what you did, what the surroundings were like. Maybe you can remember someone’s words or gestures, or your own thoughts. Do you member any sounds: music, voices, murmuring, laughter? Now sense those sounds inside yourself. Recall the colors of that situation. Were they lively or dim colors, rich or diffused, quiet, pastel? Try to sense them anew. Do you remember the smells of that moment? Keep recalling the minutest details; try to feel that situation anew. Sense the atmosphere of that moment. Try to summon the feeling of happiness that filled you at that time. Reflect on what part of your body you feel it in. Try to maintain that feeling for a moment. Feel gratitude for that situation happening in your life. Feel gratitude for being able to feel it anew.
You can record yourself or someone else reading the text of this visualization. The voice reading it should be gentle and calm.
It might seem obvious that we all want to have a happy family; nevertheless, a conscious intention of seeking happiness brings about a shift in our everyday choices and decisions. Consciously developing a happy family, we make ceaseless efforts to base our relationships on understanding and compassion rather than on the need to compete and control.
Respect the boundaries and create safe space for everyone.
Wholesome, clear boundaries between family members are the basis for relationships in a happy, harmonious family. Thanks to boundaries, we distinguish between “me” (or “us”) and “them.” Boundaries determine the space, in which we feel comfortable and safe. This space includes our beliefs, ideas, dreams and contact with the body.
How do we determine wholesome limits of our children’s independence and autonomy? Most parents ask themselves this question. We wonder whether in a given situation we should interfere or not. Are we supposed to let our children experience the consequences of their mistakes? What kind of mistakes do we not want to allow? What are the limits of our children’s independence? How do we maintain a balance between taking care of children and stimulating their growth?
If we do not give children enough space for independent activity, this may limit or even stunt their growth, but on the other hand, if we give them too much independence, they may feel abandoned and unimportant.
I once went for a walk with my friend Magda and her two-year-old son, Chris. Next to the house, the boy noticed a big tree. He ran in its direction, quickly walked around it, and then started climbing onto a low fence surrounding the oak tree. He put one of his feet in the fence, and the next, lightly lifting himself up, one foot at a time. He stood with both feet in the fence, and then jumped off of it. He repeated this many times, until finally he lost interest with the fence and ran ahead, stopping next to a few steps leading to a store. Again, very eagerly he started climbing the steps. They were so high, he had to turn sideways and support himself with his hand to mount the next step. When he managed to get to the last step, he paused for a moment with pride and joy, then quickly started going down the steps. As soon as he got to the bottom, he started climbing up again. He repeated this many times too.
I talked with Magda but her attention was focused on Chris. She was obviously delighted to see his persistent efforts in surmounting obstacles and practicing new skills. She did not caution or scare him off, she did not warn him of any dangers, only at certain times she would say, “No, don’t go in there.” She was calm and yet alert enough to respond at any moment. She allowed her growing son to try things on his own and to experience his competence. I watched their harmonious relationship with great pleasure and admiration.
When setting limits for young children, the most important thing is to watch them carefully and to guide them according to their capacities and stage of development. There is no point in explaining to a two-year-old that he may fall down while climbing a windowsill, and appealing to his common sense, because a child that age is not able to comprehend the connection between cause and effect.
Our body is one of the most important areas of private space. How parents treat the child’s body has a significant impact on the relationship she will have with her body in the future.
Respecting children’s physical needs, parents teach them to respect and trust their own body.
If you want to teach your children to respect themselves and their bodies, then:
• Inform the child (between years one and two) that you want to dress or undress her, before you actually start doing it.
• If the child is more than two years old, ask her, whether she is hot or cold, and suggest appropriate clothes, but do not insist on changing them.
• Ask the child how much food to put on her plate.
• Do not urge the child to eat if she does not feel like it.
• Before you begin helping the child, ask her whether you can help with whatever she is doing.
• Avoid helping the child if she wants to do something on her own.
• When you want to hug, kiss or tickle the child, make sure she also feels like it.
• Do not shame the child.
• Avoid situations that cause the child’s embarrassment.
Making sure there is enough space for everyone in the family involves respect and acceptance for the distinctness and individuality of each of its members. We can try to treat our children’s ideas with respect and acceptance, even if their choices make us concerned or uncomfortable.
The 8-year-old daughter of my client Lisa came back from school one day and announced she would not eat meat any more. Lisa was terrified with the idea. For one thing, she ate meat herself and did not have the slightest idea about vegetarian cooking. She was also worried that excluding meat from her daughter’s diet could have a negative affect on her health and physical condition. In spite of her misgivings, Lisa first asked her daughter about the reasons for making such a decision. Her daughter explained that in school, she watched a documentary about meat production and she felt sorry for the animals. She repeated firmly she would not eat meat any more. In this situation, her mother decided they would go to see a doctor and get advice about a balanced vegetarian diet.
Children cannot fulfill their parents’ dreams. Their goals in life should result from their needs and wishes, and should be determined by their aspirations and skills, not the parents’ expectations. If the parents have their own life, then they achieve their goals, dreams and passions regardless of their children, and encourage them to do the same.
Encouraging children to seek their passions and fulfill their dreams, we help them find their way towards happiness.