Even for those among us without a green thumb, watching one particular kind of sapling grow into a tree is probably one of the most satisfactory experiences of our lives. That is our family, the most wonderful plant that grows indoors. We are a culture which has always been proud of our family system. We believe that a house is a home, no matter its appearance, when it has people who stick together at all times. We don't need once-a-year greeting cards or forced family reunions to keep us together. Our roots are strong. Remember Ravi's retort to Vijay in the Bollywood blockbuster Deewar? "Mere paas Maa hain!"
A loving family starts with a loving marriage that remains strong, where both partners stay together because that is how they want it to be, when they accept each other as they accept themselves. It is this feeling which is passed on to children. In families that also has grandparents, often, it is the love between the grandparents and grandchildren which makes the family bond even stronger. Children rebel against their parents who, in turn, might complain of a generation gap, and often the grandparents are the best friends that the children have.
The power of family cannot be underestimated. For millions of years, people have lived in families and the oldest healing form in tribal medicine often made the healer bring the tribe together to ask what was going on in the clan to make one of its branches, a family, sick. Each of the members of the clan, then, had to come forth and confess any negative feelings they had towards the sick person or each other. They also had to forgive each other before the healer started his work.
One could also compare family to the human body. You need to see that every bit of it is healthy for an overall healthy life. Minor upsets are sometimes signs of bigger breakdowns to come and it's best to tackle any attack on your health right at its roots.
Open and honest communication between all is the key factor. Often, especially in the metros, families don't have time for each other and communication is mostly through the mother. Members spread themselves too thin and when this happens for long, gradually the concept of being together doesn't hold its earlier importance. Communication breakdowns then are quick to follow.
Unexpressed emotions, especially anger or resentment, can destroy togetherness. Your fears, doubts, anxieties, need to be brought out in the open and taken care of before they become a wedge between you and your family.
Like unexpressed anger, unexpressed love or appreciation is equally deadly. Members take each other for granted and lack of appreciation for each other leads to resentment. The assigned task becomes a chore instead of one's share of responsibility in the family. In the words of Dr Alice Honig of Syracuse University's College of Human Development, "Family members can either tear each other down or build each other up. In a harmonious family every person figures out ways of making the others happy, whether it is through small gestures or simple words of appreciation."
Psychologists call it "Strength bombardment" where each person takes turns at understanding his or her good qualities and then listens to more praise from the others. That is how the right behavioural pattern solidifies.
Doing things together is one of the ways to contribute to your family's success and your home's health. Even simple things like working together on renovating your home, helping out in the kitchen or entertaining family friends with each other's help is enough to bring you closer. You are a team and whatever is accomplished is that of the entire team. If there are goofups, they can be discussed later to avoid repetition. It becomes your training ground for working together with strangers later at a workplace. You acquire a sense of responsibility, learn to focus on the task designated to you and take pride in doing it well.
A strong unit
For a family to have a sense of inbuilt discipline, there needs to be an organised set-up of relationships as also a clear chain of command. It doesn't mean autocracy but a figure who becomes a central clearing house of issues. Here rules are spelled out clearly and each member's role is specified. Children are not lumped together, not only because of their different ages but also because of their different personalities. Adults, while remaining centres of authority, are willing to apologise when they are wrong, but with dignity. That gives a sense of justice to a child who has really been wronged at a given time.
A family that dreams together, stays together. They could be tiny dreams or big ones but all the members push themselves to make it a reality. It gives a sense of fulfilment like nothing else.
Dreams are hopes and it is hopes that keep people going, both in sunny and rainy days. Of course, there needs to be someone to keep an eye on the light at the end of the tunnel, to guide the others when darkness seems overpowering and fatigue begins to set in. It is only then can the journey to the distant light continue, hands held, steps in tandem.
For relationships and ultimately for families to survive, you have to make an effort. Sometimes it's not easy, it takes thinking, problem-solving and ingenuity on the part of all the members, especially in the matters that concern home security. Unless your family is safe there is no peace of mind and without the peace of mind, even the prettiest of houses have no meaning.
Home safe home
Families with children who are still young need to be careful of a lot of things. Since it is not possible for someone to keep an eye on them every minute, it's best to take some general precautions to avoid tragedies. A lot of mishaps take place when the children are playing away from the eyes of the elders even inside the house. It's best to:
- lock the entry points of the balcony so that it is not used as a play area
- choose heavy furniture rather than plastic furniture, so that children cannot move it and use it to climb on the railings
- think through the height of the railing considering the age of the children
- ensure that the railing is vertical, not horizontal, so children cannot use it like a ladder
- the balcony surface is non-slippery to avoid possible tripping.
It's impossible to protect your family members from predators all times of the day, whether inside the house or outside. A close-knit family can always have a security plan for the home. Burglaries are one such serious threat to both home and family, especially in the metros. A majority of burglaries occur during the daytime when most people are away at work or school and the house is either empty or then has only the elderly members. Burglars look for items that are small, expensive, and can easily be converted to cash, like jewellery, watches, laptop computers, CD players, CDs and other small electronic devices, along with cash. And they use ordinary household tools like screwdrivers, lock pliers, pry bars and small hammers. Security expert Chris McGoey, creator of safety Web site crimedoctor.com, suggests that you "harden the target", meaning make things difficult for the burglars who will then simply skip your home for easier places. This is how:
- Make sure your dead bolt is a heavy-duty model and bolted to the door frame with three-inch screws.
- Fit windows with latches and keep them closed when you are away at work.
- Keep all the entry points to your house well lit.
- Don't look like an easy target. Attacks are also about power and even the smallest resistance at times can drive away the burglars. I had once met a 76-years-old lady who warded off criminals by keeping her wits about her. All she had for support was a pomeranian puppy. She, of course, credited it all to the James Hadley Chase novels that she read all the time!
- Neighbours are the best source of support and can keep an eye on the house, especially if there are only elderly people at home throughout the day. Cultivate them. Fortunately, in India, this comes to us automatically.
- Finally, appear to be home even when you are not. Requesting the neighbours to pick up your newspapers or the milk bags, in case you have to leave town suddenly, will not let strangers know that the house is empty and so an easy target.
Closeness among family members allows each one of them their own space as well as helps them be safe even outside. McGoey suggests that when developing a family security plan you must give careful thought to the public routines of each family member, discuss and explore some "what if" scenarios of real life situations.
Careful planning leads to less stress and a better family unit. Otherwise, as the cactus asked the orchid, "What's the point?!"
According to recent studies a happy marriage improves emotional, psychological and physical health! Married couples have a greater life expectancy than separated/divorced couples or single people.
What's more, the widely-believed myth that marriage bumps up spouses' angst and stress was brought down by a study done by the University of California [UCLA]. About 30 couples with full-time jobs participated in the university's experiment, and the result is clear: a happy marriage diminishes stress.
The hormone that is responsible for stress and body fat is called Cortisol. Cortisol can also be blamed for illnesses like depression, chronic stress and cancer if its blood levels remain high over the years.
According to the study, at the end of a tiring day at work, women with happy marriages had much less cortisol in their blood. Amazingly, cortisol levels in men remained surprisingly low at the time they left their working place to return home, whether their marriage was happy or not.
Spot an error in this article? A typo maybe? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!
Gayatri Pagdi is a Mumbai-based health journalist. Her areas of interest include emotional, mental and spiritual health.
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