Posts tagged: Single parent families

Traits of a Healthy Family

Betty blue bordered (2)Today let’s look at some simple lists and then, if you make it through to the end, I’ll offer my own two recommendations for building healthier families.

First, an addition to the Single Parent Family topic from two weeks ago. In Dr. Phil McGraw’s book, Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family, he lists


The most profound needs of children who are adjusting to life in a single parent family:

1.         Acceptance – They need acceptance. They need to know that they are important, that they are a priority. They will try to gain approval because their sense of belonging to the family has been shattered.

2.         Assurance of Safety – Parents need to go beyond normal efforts to assure their children that although the family has fragmented, their protection is solid. The key is to maintain a normal pace, boundaries, and routines. They need to know that their world is predictable and that it’s not going to change on them.

3.         Freedom from guilt or blame for the divorce – Children often assume the blame for the dissolution of a marriage. Be conscious of this and assure your children they’re blameless.

4.         Need for structure – They need structure more than any other time in their lives, because this is when things seem to be falling apart for them. Enforce discipline consistently and with the right currency for good behavior. They need to see that the world keeps spinning around, and they’re still an integral part of what’s going on.

5.         Need for a stable parent who has the strength to conduct business – Whether or not you feel brave and strong, you have to appear to be the best for your children. Do everything possible to assure them of your strength, and in doing so, you make it possible for them to relax. Show yourself to be a person of strength and resilience.

6.         Need to let kids be kids

•          Do not burden your children with situations they cannot control. Children should not bear such a responsibility. It will promote feelings of helplessness and insecurity, causing them to question their own strengths and abilities.

•          Do not ask your children to deal with adult issues. Children are not equipped to understand adult problems. Their focus should be on navigating the various child development stages they go through.


Now on to all families:


In Traits of a Healthy Family by Dolores Curran, she writes that families for ages held traditional goals:

1.         To achieve economic survival.

2.         To provide protection.

3.         To pass on the religious faith.

4.         To educate their young.

5.         To confer status.


These goals were largely taken for granted until the 1900s. Today we focus instead on relationship. Curran writes, “We marry so we can love and be loved, not feed and be fed. We join together in a search for intimacy, not protection. We have children so that we can give and be given to, care and be cared about, and share the joys of connecting with posterity, not for old-age bread and bed. Abraham Maslow once observed that we are the first generation in the history of peoples sufficiently beyond sustenance to be able to focus on the quality of our relationships.”

Here’s Curran’s list of the traits of today’s healthy family:

1.         Communicates and listens

2.         Fosters table time and conversations

3.         Affirms and supports one another

4.         Teaches respect for others

5.         Develops a sense of trust

6.         Has a sense of play and humor

7.         Has a balance of interaction among members

8.         Shares leisure time

9.         Exhibits a sense of shared responsibility

10.       Teaches a sense of right and wrong

11.       Has a strong sense of family in which rituals and traditions abound

12.       Has a shared religious core

13.       Respects the privacy of one another

14.       Values service to others

15.       Admits to and seeks help with problems

Not a bad list to strive towards. I think I like it better than Stephen Covey’s but I’m offering his list for those it might appeal to. In Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, Covey writes:

“Good families—even great families—are off track 90 percent of the time! The key is that they have a sense of destination. They know what the “track” looks like. And they keep coming back to it time and time again.” 

Stephen Covey’s list of habits for effective families includes:

1.         Be Proactive – Become an agent of change in your family

2.         Begin with the End in Mind – Develop a family mission statement

3.         Put first things first – Make family a priority in a turbulent world

4.         Think “Win-Win.” – Move from “me” to “we

5.         Seek first to understand . . .then to be understood – solve family problems through empathic communication

6.         Synergize – build family unity through celebrating differences

7.         Sharpen the saw – renew the family spirit through traditions

Well done! You made it to the end, so here are

Two of my suggestions for growing a healthier family:

1.         If you know you make unhealthy choices in an area—whether physical, emotional, spiritual or relational—get whatever help you need to become healthier.  A family benefits whenever any member improves.

2.         Spend more relaxed time interacting with your family. Sacrifices you’ll need to make for this to happen (turning off the TV, computer, and cell phone) are worth it. You won’t regret it. In our marriage, from the time our fourth was born, we made time for a date night each week (in order to complete a whole sentence and keep our relationship strong.) During the hectic years with four elementary school daughters, we restricted them each to one activity beyond faith formation classes. Schedules became more complicated with teenagers, but we flexibly enforced Sunday afternoons as family time and, with rare exceptions, expected everyone home for dinners.

I’ve quoted him before, but I still love Matthew Kelly’s concept that the key to thriving relationships is carefree timelessness. By this he means spending time with people without an agenda, simply to enjoy their company. “No matter what the relationship, whether spouse to spouse, parent to child, friend to friend, or person to God, increase carefree timelessness and it will deepen.” *

Does anyone remember the commercial, “Try it, you’ll like it”? Try family carefree timelessness today. You will like it, even if the eight year old stomps his feet and crosses his arms. Or wait, maybe that was the fifteen year old. Secretly, they’ll love having your focused attention.

Blessings on your week!


*For more information about carefree timelessness and Matthew Kelly visit



Single Parent Families

bettyarrigotti photo blogWelcome back to our 4 minute focus on building strong families!

One chapter in Building Christian Families by Mitch and Kathy Finley deals particularly with single parent families. If you are, or have been, part of a single parent family you will recognize the truth in what they write. If you are blessed to be part of a two-parent family, please read this anyway in order to build empathy for the special challenges you have been spared and perhaps to consider helping struggling families.

The single parent family is a true family and a legitimate form of home-church. Let’s follow the example we see throughout the Bible as God shows a soft spot in his heart for “widows and orphans,” or any family who needs extra consideration.

We all have our limits, and it’s only realistic to accept them. However, single parent families have special challenges we should be sensitive to:

  • Both parent and children have gone through painful disruptions, whether because of abandonment, divorce, or death. Sources of income must be developed, a move to a new house or apartment may be necessary, and children might need to attend different schools. The grieving process may continue for many months, or even years.
  • Parent-child relationships must be redesigned. A non-custodial parent may struggle to pay child support, worry about religious upbringing, have more time to be depressed, or feel acute loneliness.
  • While couple parent families sometimes deal with the temptation to leave the main responsibility for parenting to the other spouse, the custodial single parent responds to the demands of children all day long and does it alone.
  • Where a widowed parent may be looked upon by the wider community as courageous, others often view the divorced parent with suspicion or judgment. In some worship communities, the single parent who is divorced often feels shunned, ignored, even subtly ostracized. Yet divorced single parents have a deep desire to belong, to be a part of their church community.
  • Single parents worry that their children will never have witnessed a normal man/woman, husband/wife loving relationship.
  • Single parents must often deal with two particular temptations: the temptation to self-pity and to resentment.
  • Many single parent families experience degrees of fear and anxiety that the typical couple-parent family does not usually know with such intensity. Financial anxieties may head the list, but a vague, undefined fear of what the future may bring is not far behind. The single parent is unable to share these fears and anxieties with another intimately known adult. She or he lives with these feelings constantly, so the fear tends to compound itself.
  • In the two parent family, it is crucial for spouses to spend time regularly on themselves and on their friendship as a couple. It is equally important for the single parent to carve out of the week a few hours for leisure and, now and then, for prayerful reflection.
  • The single parent often finds it necessary to struggle against the tendency to become isolated. Single parents have a need for sympathetic friends and for warm relationships with two-parent families. Single parents often need little more than a sympathetic listener, and they can frequently find this by forming friendships with other single parents and hopefully, by membership in church groups.


On the other hand, single parents may have some advantages over couple parents.

  • They build strength as survivors, even though both parent and children have known much anguish.
  • Children of single parent families are sometimes more mature than many of their peers from two-parent families. They have, of necessity, been trusted with significant responsibilities at home.
  • Single parents may be more free to lead their children in their chosen faith life. In two-parent families, value conflicts which relate to the spiritual life of the family sometimes develop between husband and wife.

Single parents are like all parents:

  • No parent or set of parents can give children everything they should ideally have.
  • Most parents today often feel guilty about not spending enough quality time with their kids.
  • All families know insecurity.
  • All parents are called to conversion of heart and life, to trust God above all, to turn away from fear and anxiety as motives for action, to love God and others as the source of life’s meaning and purpose. Parents are called to do this even in the midst of meaninglessness and the temptation to despair. This is true faith, in the real world.
  • All parents need other parents to simply commiserate with, to talk to and share their burdens and joys. We should never underestimate the value of honest talking and listening among peers, for it is a terrifically valuable service that all church communities should offer to parents.


Finleys remind us that a basic principle for all parents’ spirituality is to “keep on keeping on.” May God help all of us, married and single to persevere in our effort to parent well.




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