One often hears the term “dysfunctional” when talking about families. Most people would know that it means that things are not working as they should. However, little is said about what constitutes a functional family. In a nutshell a functional family is one that works well. This does not mean to imply that there are no bad times or disagreements. (There are, but they just get sorted out and resolved in a manner that is healthy and constructive).
The following are some characteristics that make up a functional family:
Feelings are communicated and that especially includes negative feelings which are characteristically more difficult to express, such as anger, disappointment and sadness. In addition, members of the functional family feel ‘safe’ to convey feelings which are communicatedinanappropriate manner and are acknowledged by the other family members.
The needs of each member of the family are met from the basic needs such as food, medical care, education and so forth to the needs of belonging and feeling nurtured and loved.
Re-occurring difficulties that arise within the family unit get resolved and therefore dysfunctional patterns don’t become entrenched.
Each member of the family unit gets to separate and individuate from other family members and they therefore do not become enmeshed and are their own people. In addition, individual feelings and needs are respected, however within the appropriate limitations and boundaries.
There are clear boundaries, however they are not too rigid and there is room for flexibility.
Members are able to recognize when there are difficulties and are able to ask for help. Furthermore, individual members take responsibility for their own actions and do not blame other family members.
Communication is open in that family members speak directly to each other as opposed to gossiping and using other individuals as ‘messengers’.
The parents in a functional family:
Love their children unconditionally;
Have their own support system (friends, family and colleagues) with whom they can share their lives and do not burden their children with solving their problems or being the “parent” in the family;
Nurture themselves and their own relationships so that children have good role models for a relationship that is healthy;
Listen to their children, but do not lecture them or try control them or their lives;
Give their children space to grow and make mistakes without over- protecting their children from experiencing life’s difficulties and thus enabling them to grow into independent adults.