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6 Ways to Build Strong Families

September 3, 2014

By Michael C. Blackwell

Some 129 years ago, a number of caring and compassionate Baptists in North Carolina saw the need for residential care for children without homes or adults to provide for them. John Haymes Mills birthed the idea of an orphanage to care for these children and on November 11, 1885, Mary Presson entered Mills Home with her mother who was the first matron of the home.

At this time of the year, I always reflect on what must have been going on in the mind of John Mills for him to defy the convention of the day and persist in establishing what was to become the Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina.

The needs of society have changed as well as the needs of children and families. The orphanage evolved into an organization that works to restore families, where possible, and to deal with issues of abuse, neglect and abandonment. I am grateful for the persistence and sense of timing of John Mills. Today we carry out our mission of “sharing hope. . .changing lives” by serving nearly 10,000 people in all programs.

In my next two columns, I want to re-visit some of the qualities that make a family strong and able to withstand the pressures of a new and emerging culture in which we all live. These principles are timeless and can be adapted to any unit called “family,” whether it is a family in a cottage at Baptist Children’s Homes, a traditional family, a family with a single mom or dad and his or her children, grandparents as the head of the family unit, or any other combination of “family.”

Here are my first six suggestions for keeping our families strong and alive:

1. Share your personal problems and ideas. Everyone wants to feel that he or she has a hearing. We want to know that our significant group (our family) is interested in what we have to say and open to offering solutions to problems that we all face. A woman married 20-plus years told me that her husband was just beginning to openly share his feelings with her. The woman had been yearning for such intimacy and sees her husband’s new sense of openness as revitalizing their marriage. It is true for children also. They want to share as well as be shared with.

2. Divide responsibilities according to age, interest and capability. If mother does everything for the child, especially those things the child should be doing for himself, he will have a rude awakening when Mom is no longer around. Every member of the family wants and needs buy-in to not only the rewards and pleasures of being part of a family as well as the responsibilities of the family. The more investment children, and adults, have in the family, the stronger the family will be.

3. Instill moral behavior in all family members and hold them accountable for high moral standards. In many ways, family rules have been abandoned. Everything goes: infidelity as natural as the daily paper; divorce upon demand; drunkenness as common as weeds along the highway; teenagers with alcohol and drug problems. Moral values are both caught and taught. Good moral values are not out of style. Set a good example and ask others to follow your lead because someone is watching you and will act the way they see you act, especially your children.

4. Find times to be together as a family. This may mean giving up a special school activity to get away for the weekend. Don’t let added work responsibilities infringe on precious family time. No one will make the time for you. You must do that yourself. Learn to say “no” to those things that don’t really matter. I suggest that family members calendar their times together just as they would any other activity. For example, Friday night is the night to order pizza and play a game together, or Saturday afternoon is the designated time for a family outing.

5. Establish your family on a strong religious foundation. In my work, I see a lot of hurt, brokenness and despair. I see adults whose moral compasses have gone haywire and won’t stop spinning; I see victims of betrayal and desertion, whose emotional lives are damaged beyond repair. Often, I have seen an inadequate religious base. This one principle will do more to solidify your family than anything else I can imagine. Regular church activities provide wholesome fellowship, food and fun for the family and a strong connection with the Creator who sustains us in the most difficult of times.

6. Respect the individuality of each family member, including the right to privacy and independent thinking. Parents shouldn’t want their children to be clones of themselves. Neither should they take offense when their children don’t want to be with them, preferring instead to be with their friends. Parents shouldn’t try to get all of their own emotional and spiritual needs met through their children. Long after the children have left home, the husband and wife will have a relationship that will continue to need love and nurture. First of all, get to know the individuality of each member of your family – their likes, dislikes, interests, fears and dreams. When you truly know someone, it is easier to respect him or her – even a family member.

There is no magic ingredient that will make a family strong. It takes every member working together and seeking the mind of Christ to make a family the grandest creation in God’s beautiful world. I will have six more suggestions in my October column.