Monday, April 11, 2016

Making Families Happy

Making Families Happy

To take a detour from parenting books for a while, I watched at the ABC series Making Families Happy.

A few years ago I reviewed the similar Making Couples Happy which looked at marriage.   This one takes a similar approach with a detailed look at families and parenting. 

Three families commit to an 8 week ‘happiness course’ with the help of expert psychologists.  There is a large blended family (5 kids), a single mum and daughter, and a family with 3 kids.   All are chronically unhappy as measured by their system – there is extended conflict, issues over boundaries, screen time concerns, communication breakdown and financial stresses.

The show is well produced.  It’s a good mix of light-hearted and serious.   But in the end it’s a pretty depressing look into the lives of these families.  You get the sense that they are really only skating over the surface of some of the main issues.   Having said that, over the three episodes they address marriage issues, parenting authority issues, helping toddlers to sleep better, how clutter affects people and how removing screens can grow family bonds.  Some of the main issues between various family members were never addressed (on screen at least) and you finish the series hoping that further help and follow up was provided for the families to help them along the way.

The saddest part was when various family members were paired up and one was asked to talk for 5 mins about a positive memory they had together (in an effort to remember the good times).  Two of the families were unable to do it.  The single mother and daughter looked at each other and had nothing to say.  It was heartbreaking.

Equally challenging was when the kids and parents were asked to say something to each other they could not say in person - the request from a child for their dad to stop swearing, and from a daughter to stop hearing about the stress her mother feels were very confronting. 

The key things I took away from it (none of them new, just helpful reminders in a new format): 
  • A healthy marriage is crucial for healthy parenting.  Parents that cannot work together, or who undermine each other, set themselves up for misery in parenting.  
  • For a family to function healthily, the parents must be the ones in authority, not the children.   
  • Story telling and knowing the history of the family (eg. how the parents met) contributes to stronger families.   So do common experiences of positive stress which form lasting bonds (ie. getting through a challenge together)
  • Kids absorb their parents’ stress and anxiety.
  • Dysfunctional relating is easily passed on from generation to generation and it takes real effort to change past patterns.

However, it also raised several issues:
  • How wise is it for a family to allow such public exposure to themselves?  Cameras on, filming their arguments and their children. You got the feeling some of the kids really felt the intrusion and others played up entirely for the cameras.  I did wonder what the fallout would have been for some of these kids after the episodes were aired.  One girl was so appallingly behaved you began to wonder if it was genuine, or put on for the show.  One other girl was obviously so distressed and unhappy she seemed at risk of depression or anxiety.
  • Is happiness a genuine measure?  I realise it’s secular, so in some respect that’s all people want – but is happiness all we are aiming for in life?   Admittedly, the measure was broad and took into account the feeling of safety and security, how arguments affected people, how much time was spent with each other, and how generosity and kindness was given and received.   Yet, is happiness the final measure of our lives?     

Again, I found myself pondering as I did with the Crash Test Mummies & Daddies series, how empty all of life is without God at the centre.  No purpose, no hope, and nothing to pass on to your kids - you just get through it, one day at a time.

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