No 'recipe' for healthy families, but some shared traits

Published: Tuesday, March 5 2013 5:40 p.m. MST

She is also, says Pierce, missing a chance to work with her son and share the task, to talk and connect. A better approach would be to say, "Let's go in together and we'll each do three things." Within 15 minutes, he says, the room is cleaner, they've spent time together, she's demonstrated some skills he needs, there's no power struggle, she got her respect and she's maybe had the chance to notice if he's high or not.

"I think most of us are doing parenting without a conscious intention and we don't stop long enough to wonder why we're doing it or is it the most effective way. I recently walked into the room where my son was studying. He had the sports channel on, music in the background and was talking to a girl while doing homework. I told him he couldn't be doing his homework well that way."

Pierce's son responded that he is getting straight A's and "what more do you want?"

"He was saying it respectfully and he was making a point," says Pierce. "His point was right. I was saying it out of an automatic response. Had he not been making good grades and being focused, that was a different matter."

Recently, Pierce watched two dads interact with their kids in a restaurant. One dad was "pretending" with his daughter, about 5, in a make-believe world. He was totally interacting. The other dad, with a boy about the same age, was messing around with his phone. The boy was well behaved, but ignored. Only when the food came did that second dad put his phone down. Then he concentrated mostly on his food.

Parent intentionally

That's not what any of these experts recommend. "We need to ask ourselves, am I fully present," Pierce said. "We are really declining in our culture in the time we spend face to face interacting with each other as adults, but even more specifically with our kids. We are losing the ability to be connected, related and empathetic."

Good parenting involves intent, they all agree.

"Every family provides what you carry out with you and what you don't want to repeat," Gary Malone said. "But if you don't make some conscious choices and acknowledge the part you don't want, under stress you will repeat it."

His sister describes family dysfunction as a bell curve. "The point is, no matter what happened to you, there's still a way to live your best life. ...We all tend to go, 'You should hear what my mother did to me.' You have to identify issues, but you need to go to a deeper step" to see how your parents influence your parenting and then change things you don't want to repeat.

"It's never too late; kids are very forgiving," Gary Malone said. His advice is to identify what's happening that causes trouble in your family and then stop doing it. "It's fixable."

EMAIL: lois@desnews.com, Twitter: Loisco

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