How to Form Fabulous Family Relationships

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By Nancy Blakey

There are a thousand ways to raise a happy and healthy child. I have seen strict parents and lenient parents do it. I have watched intact families, single parents, rich and poor, manage to instill a sense of purpose and meaning in their children. There is no grand formula, no one set of criteria for success save one: There is a sense of relationship between parent and child. However misguided, lopsided, or messy the connection may be, if there is a relationship, there is hope, there is forgiveness, there is a certain elasticity that absorbs the lurches of mistakes and failure. It can be time consuming. It can disrupt schedules and interrupt well laid plans, but there are few things in life more rewarding.

It is important to remember a good relationship is earned, and not granted on some magical day when we have more time, more money, and everything crossed off our lists of things-to-do. Whether it is a connection with our partner, our children, or our friends, the vital underpinnings of healthy relationships include understanding, interest, warmth, and enjoyment. William Glasser, a psychiatrist and educator, calls them the four A’s of healthy relationships: Acceptance, attention, affection, and appreciation.


When you understand and accept someone with all their gifts and difficulties, he or she is suddenly lovable, worthy of regard and not just another problem to solve. We all need a harbor, a safe place where we feel accepted for who we are, and not who we may become. Acceptance is the understanding that we are all human trying to do the best job we can with what we’ve got.


Attention is one of the simplest things we can give, but it is easily squeezed out of the day with the velocity of our lives. We are moving too fast, burdened with too much, to pay real attention to our loved ones. Yet paying close attention does not take any longer than drinking a cup of coffee or reading the newspaper. Attention is in eye contact, in stooping down to the level of a child, in setting aside the task and listening with everything you’ve got. It is within reach for even the busiest people, and is simply a choice away.


Showing affection is not all kisses and hugs. It can take the shape of a warm look, a hand on the shoulder, a tucked in blanket at night before bed. It is your hands holding a face and smiling, brushing hair gently, scratching an itch for someone, and holding him up when he feels like he is falling. Affection is the balm laid on an emotional wound or a difficult day. It is kind regard expressed physically with a touch or a hold. It is easier for some people than others to express affection. Many close-knit families are more reserved and save demonstrative behavior for special occasions. The most important thing is authenticity. If you don’t normally kiss and hug, it can feel strange if you suddenly act as if it is important; for then it becomes a duty performed in a sea of obligations. Affection, above all, is not a duty.


Appreciation has its roots in gratitude and its crown in recognition. It is considering and being grateful for the qualities that make up an individual, and then recognizing them aloud. There are few feelings as gratifying as hearing a compliment about yourself in passing conversation, even if it is as simple as noticing the effort to help, or calling a child a kind person. Keep in mind that appreciation is not a rush of compliments or a strategy for esteem building. It is an authentic admiration of the good traits of which everyone possesses, even if they are scattered and buried down deep.


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