Traits Of A Healthy Family, by Dolores Curran
This is the sort of book that, although written more than thirty years, is of particular relevance given the general bent of the books about family that I tend to read . Far too many books are written about broken and dysfunctional families by and for people who, like myself, come from spectacularly broken families. Yet simply exploring and bemoaning and learning to forgive is not sufficient to give people what they want for themselves, namely successful families. Enter this book, whose survey-based methodology seeks to redress this imbalance, which was likely already a problem in the early 1980’s, by giving a perspective of the qualities that can be found in successful families. Whether the emphasis on the qualities of successful families is likely to be grimly depressing reading or encouraging reading depends on the perspective of the reader—suffice it to say that it gives a secular approach that is full of wisdom and worthwhile advice, even if the author does come off as a bit irritatingly preachy sometimes.
The contents of this book are what one would expect for a book written by a family consultant who happens to be a professional woman and who sought to quantify the top 15 qualities among a list of 56 and see what patterns were revealed. Some readers, with an interest in data, would have preferred a statistical analysis and a data breakdown showing cross tabs and other statistical features that would allow the data to be checked and verified, but this book is already 300 pages of solid writing, and the publisher likely thought that adding to this book’s considerable heft to gratify the curiosity of a few data nerds was not a worthwhile use of paper. As it is, the book is a qualitative study of considerable worth that provides a worthwhile model for families to aim at that should allow for a much greater success, seeing as aiming at a positive model is far better than simply bemoaning or criticizing what goes wrong. On the first page of the book the author summarizes the most important traits of a healthy family, one that: communicates and listens, affirms and supports one another, teaches respect for others, develops a sense of trust, exhibits a sense of shared responsibility, teaches a sense of right and wrong, respects the privacy of one another, values service to others, has a strong religious core, fosters family table time and conversation, shares leisure time, and admits to and admits to and seeks help to problems. None of these are rocket science, but the author draws them out and explains their importance and provides examples from her own experience as well as the larger family culture.
Taken as a whole, this book presents a picture of a family that is appealing and that has a few qualities that combine together to make it particularly strong. For one, the family’s religion is not merely one that is intellectually believed but one whose faith becomes put into practice, a family that teaches right and wrong and also provides a great deal of age-appropriate respect and freedom, one that supports and encourages people and has shared traditions but also values privacy, one that both communicates and listens. There is, in other words, a balance to be found, where respect for God and respect for others is practiced, and where the family is valued but not idolized, where effort is made to appreciate and support and encourage others and not mock or insult others in order to provide witty laughs, and where the dignity of others is provided for in such a way that people feel safe and comfortable admitting their struggles and seeking the help of others in overcoming them. Nor are these qualities that are only of use in physical families, for they make for successful congregations and other institutions where such matters are often lacking. Even if this book is a bit depressing for those who grew up in families that encouraged few of these qualities, they provide a reasonable and practical roadmap for the way that we should aspire to behave so that our own lives can be better than our backgrounds and experiences, and that is reason enough for people to read and appreciate this book even where it brings a painful practice between how it is and how it should be. For we must have a target to aim at before our lives can approach a good model, after all.
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