Have you ever wondered about what makes the perfect family, or is it a question you have ever considered? I think of the photos that often emerge at Christmas or other family occasions - the picture postcards with everybody sitting around the fireplace or the dinner table chatting away, exchanging presents and everybody looking happy to be in the company of each other; do they portray the true picture? Many times they do, but for many others the truth behind the picture can pose many difficulties.
I don’t know if there is such a thing as a perfect family; relationships can be difficult when we consider things like sibling rivalry, different personality traits, position in the family, systems and subsystems that operate accordingly. One of my favourite writers on this subject is a lady called Virginia Satir, who wrote a book many years ago called People Making, published in 1978. In this book, she talks in depth about families and how they operate; there are many other theorists and therapists who have written more recently about how families operate in healthy and unhealthy ways, and these findings would strongly connect with the writings of Virginia Satir.
Satir describes two main types of families; the nurturing family and the troubled family. As you can imagine, the nurturing family operates in a way that is nurturing to all the individuals in that family; for instance people would not be afraid to communicate in an open and honest way, they would not be afraid of judgements, mistakes can be made, and emotions can be managed and tolerated. Members of the family are respected for who they are, and individuation is to be encouraged and expected. This kind of environment will be nurturing for the family system as a whole, but also for the individual within that system.

We have the total opposite with the troubled family - body language will be closed and cold, rigid rules will often apply, communication will not be open and transparent, often indulging in openly aggressive means of communicating or passive aggressive comments. Hierarchies and unhealthy subsystems will often evolve in this kind of system. Change will not be tolerated and crisis will not be handled well, because the very basics of functioning and development within the family remain static.
Some interesting questions that Virgina Satir asks are:
  • Does it feel good to you to live in your family right now?
  • Do you feel you are living with friends, people you like and trust, and who like and trust you?
  • Is it fun and exciting to be a member of your family? (Satir, 1978: 8)
If the answers to these questions are positive, you may have the wonderful experience of belonging to a nurturing family.
The other interesting set of questions that Virgina Satir poses relates to how rules are made within the family. How rules are applied is often reflective of the kind of parenting that is present; for instance, the authoritarian, the democratic way, the permissive way. In a troubled family, rules can often be destructive; they are often unwritten rules picked up without any direct verbal communication; there are many ways in which this can be done - disrespectful behaviour, inconsistencies, people saying one thing and meaning another, one-upmanship, rivalry, and the need for control.
In the nurturing family, there are rules and boundaries that are consistent and they can be respected because they are respectful and they are open to negotiation; they will be kept up-to-date when life changes occur.
If you are having difficulty in your family, why not look for help and support? There are lots of options available, such as Family Therapy, Mediation and Counselling and Psychotherapy.
“The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other's life” ~ Richard Bach. Read more here.

Satir Virginia, (1978), People Making, The Guernsey Press Co. Ltd.,.
Barker Philip, (1998) Basic Family Therapy, Fourth Edition, Blackwell Science
Relationship Counsellor



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