5 Reasons Why Family Is Important
- Meet Physical and Emotional Needs
- Model Good Values
- Provide Protection
- Advocate for Children’s Needs
- Offer Guidance in All Areas of Life
If you are a parent—or are planning to start a family soon—reflecting on how to strengthen family relationships is important. You can make conscious choices to build positive family dynamics and help set your children up for a bright future.
What is a family? A family usually starts with parents and children, but also extends to aunts, uncles, grandparents, and cousins. Sometimes, we can build such close bonds with friends and neighbors that they feel like part of our family. Some families include adopted children, stepparents and stepsiblings, or foster children. There are many different types of families, and each family is unique. Truly, family structure is less important than the feeling of belonging.
Ultimately, family is about creating strong relationships and providing a sense of meaning and belonging. Families should be a source of unconditional love and a resource for all of us to weather life’s changes and challenges. In healthy families, children can learn what it means to be a happily married woman or man, along with the the qualities of a good father or mother. Most people would also agree on the importance of family in creating healthy individuals and strong communities.
Families Meet Physical and Emotional Needs
Parents provide necessities—food, clothing, and shelter—for children in their household. But the importance of family doesn’t end with physical needs. They should aim to support emotional needs as well.
In truth, humans have multiple layers of needs—and a healthy family can support them all. Families can look to a classical psychological concept called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs to understand this concept more clearly. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs has a pyramid organization, with our most basic, physical needs at the bottom. We all need things like air, food, water, and sleep to survive. On the next level are needs related to feeling secure, such as resources for staying safe and healthy.
The next three levels of Maslow’s pyramid all relate to our emotional needs. Families can play a significant role in helping children eventually meet these needs. For example, through daily comments and interactions parents can help their children feel important, loved, and wanted. By giving children important responsibilities and involving them in relevant family decisions, parents help foster self-esteem and a feeling of being capable. A strong family can help members achieve the pinnacle of Maslow’s pyramid—self-actualization. A self-actualized person can express his or her deepest talents in meaningful ways and achieve his or her fullest potential.
In short, a strong family should be a source for much more than just basic items needed for life. A family should be a bedrock of encouragement, respect, and love to help every member thrive.
Family Helps Model Good Values
In today’s hyper-connected world, it’s easy to get over-exposed to unhealthy ideas and images. However, a close family with strong values can help young family members avoid or resist negative influences. Without strong family values, young people can succumb to peer pressure and stumble upon unwanted consequences, including substance abuse and various forms of addiction. It’s best to start embodying good values when your kids are young. That way, as your children encounter critical decisions, they are already prepared to make good choices.
In children’s earliest years, they look to parents as role models. If you show them positive behavior, such as kindness and caring for those in need, your children are more likely to follow in your footsteps. Remember, much of what you teach your children is taught indirectly through what you say and do every day.
As children grow, they’ll start to encounter new social situations at school and in the community. Your communications towards friends, neighbors, and others you interact with each day will show them how to interact with peers. They’ll learn how to form healthy friendships and how to navigate difficult situations. Knowing your family’s values and staying true to them will help your children embrace them and follow suite as they grow.
Families Provide Protection
Simply put, children are not equipped to manage life on their own. After all, children can’t earn income and provide for their own economic security. They need a stable home and strong parents who are committed to their well-being. Children need to feel safe and protected to engage in a healthy way with the world.
When children feel protected, they can enjoy the magic and wonder of childhood. They won’t need to waste energy worrying about issues that they can’t control and can engage in meaningful play and favorite pastimes. If difficulties do arise, children can trust that their parents will handle those issues as well.
While physical protection is important, don’t overlook the importance of family providing emotional protection. You may have concerns about finances, the health of aging family members, or the stability of your employment. These are common concerns for adults, but it’s usually best to shield children from unnecessary burdens that they have little or no influence over. By doing so, you give them better odds of being able to shoulder the emotional burdens that are typical for their age – keeping up with homework, making new friends, and so forth.
What if a serious issue arises? While it may be necessary to involve them at some point, it should be done in a way that is age-appropriate, and only after you have discussed the issue with your partner, spouse, or other adults. Make sure such conversations are not able to be overheard by children. Then, when it’s time to discuss the concern with them, limit the details to those that are appropriate, while answering their questions honestly. In doing so, you’ll help your children feel secure and loved.
When serious difficulties arise, seek support from trusted friends and family to ensure you have enough time for self-care and reflection. Taking care of yourself is key to ensuring that you can be a sensitive and loving parent when your children need you most.
Families Advocate for Children’s Needs
At times, children depend on the adults in their lives to speak up for their needs. A child may be struggling at school, for example. Or someone may be bullying a child in the neighborhood. If a child has any health concerns, parents are best equipped to talk with doctors and care professionals. It can be hard for kids to tackle these sorts of complex issues on their own. In those situations, caring parents need to step in to advocate for their children.
To be a good advocate, parents must be aware of what is going on in their children’s lives. For example, instead of just looking at grades at report card time, parents can be mindful of how their children are feeling about their teachers and classes. They can become familiar with their children’s strengths and weaknesses, as well as their interests.
The degree to which a parent advocates for his/her child, is dependent on the child’s age and maturity. For younger children, advocacy efforts may often occur outside the child’s presence. While for older children, it is almost always best if the child is present and actively participating in the conversation. In fact, many institutions require such participation in these discussions. Being aware of your child’s struggles and appropriately advocating for his/her individual needs is an important expression of family love.
Healthy Families Provide Guidance in All Areas of Life
Families can be a source of support in good times and in bad. When kids are young, parents can provide advice on playground or friendship issues. As children grow, parents can help them navigate school, sports, activities, and a complex web of relationships.
Parental guidance can extend to helping young people choose colleges and careers. For many people, family members are present at major milestones from engagements, to purchasing first homes, to the birth of children. When hardships arise, family can help people traverse difficult passages and build resilience.
It is critical, however, to be mindful and considerate of your child’s needs and wants when it comes to offering guidance. In some cases, offering too much support or unwanted guidance can be harmful to family relationships. In general, as children grow and mature, parents should seek to take a mentoring role in their children’s lives, offering support in a more Socratic, indirect way, rather than simply telling them what to do or doing it for them.
Building Strong Families
Adults need to take the lead in building strong values. Although parents can face pressures from work and community, prioritizing family is essential. As children grow, they’ll have extracurricular activities and friendships that consume much of their time. Never lose sight of the importance of family, even when life gets complicated and busy.
One of the best ways you can do this is to establish family dinners as a priority. The research on the benefits of consistent family dinners is clear and convincing. And yet, in today’s world it’s not easy to have family dinners together when there are so many competing extracurricular activities. One way to help encourage this is to establish some family traditions that involve dinner together. For example, designating Friday as a pizza and movie night or having a Sunday dinner with extended family are both great ways to accomplish this goal.. Some families select a day during the week when family members forgo outside activities and spend the evening at home. During these evenings, families can enjoy dinner, games, crafts, and other enjoyable pastimes.
No matter how busy your family gets, taking time out to talk with each other is important. Start the tradition when kids are young by having one-on-one conversations with each child. Maybe one parent can take a walk with one child after dinner, while the other parent washes dishes with another child. Of course, you’ll want to make sure to take turns or there will be an inevitable protest by the dishwashing duo. Finding time for one-on-one bonding can get more complicated in a larger family. But if you remain flexible and dedicated to the idea, you can make sure everyone in the family feels connected and has their voice heard.
Family traditions are also critical to building strong relationships. While seasonal holidays are always a time for a get-together with others, family gatherings can sometimes be hectic and overwhelming. Often, relatives visit each other during the holidays, which can increase stress. Setting aside an afternoon to do something fun and meaningful with your own small family is a wise move. Visit a tree farm or drive around neighborhoods to admire lights and decorations. Simple traditions like those help give your family a sense of identity.
You can have family traditions all year long. Do something fun like having hot chocolate with marshmallows together on a cold January afternoon or making caramel apples in October.
One thing that can help you identify and create meaningful family traditions is to involve your children in the process. That could include letting your children plan some family activities. It could also mean taking time as a family to decide which traditions you want to continue and which you want to let go of.
Finding Happiness Through Family
Families can be one of life’s true joys. Whether you have a small, close-knit family or come from a large clan, you can turn to your family for strength and support.
A loving family can support every member’s physical and emotional needs. With positive guidance from their family, each person can set goals and work towards them. Healthy families also recognize each person as an individual, celebrating each family member’s unique differences.
From the start, children need dedicated parents who serve as good role models. Children watch and learn from their parents’ choices and interactions. Having strong, well-defined values that are shared by both parents can show children how to engage with the world in a healthy way.
Families also provide protection for kids who aren’t able to take care of themselves on their own. It’s important to remember that emotional safety is just as essential as physical safety. Parents need to stay aware of all areas of their children’s lives—from school to activities to friendships—and be ready to appropriately step in any time kids need advocacy or guidance.
In many families, adult children take over the role of caretaker or support person for aging parents. When this happens, children may be providing protection or advocacy for parents who need family support with financial or health needs. The importance of family follows each of us through every chapter of life.
Building a strong home and family requires commitment. Parents must dedicate themselves to being present for children and spending time with them. This can be hard when juggling careers and the many complexities of adulthood. But every minute that parents spend engaging in positive and meaningful activities with children makes a difference in their lives.
Having a happy family is one of life’s greatest rewards and worth all the hard work and sacrifice.
By Bryan Zitzman, Ph.D., LMFT