The Secrets Of Happy Families---Blog by Roz Denny Fox

I recently bought a book written by Bruce Feiler by the above title. I saw him interviewed on TV and had read a previous book by him, “The Council of Dads”. This isn’t going to be a book review or anything, but I was intrigued by some of the information he told the interviewer would be in the book—enough to buy it. Such as--how to improve your mornings; rethinking family dinners; go outside and play; Warren Buffet’s guide to setting an allowance; the Green Berets’ rules for reunions and more like a Harvard study on modern families.
I can’t say why these things interest me since my children are grown and gone off to raise kids of their own. But family dynamics fascinate me and the very idea that someone has gathered facts from unique sources on how to make a family unit happy seemed like something I should read. (hey, maybe for research on a future fiction book)
There’s no doubt in my mind that what constituted success in child rearing has changed from the time I was a kid, to when I raised children, to now when my daughters are navigating those waters. Probably every generation has had their favorite go-to books on parenting from B.F. Skinner, to Dr. Spock, to Scream Free, or No Regrets parenting to name a few. I’m always amazed at the confidence of any parent to publish a parenting guide or manual. Are any two families really alike? Do enough children fit in a particular mold for anyone to say—if you follow these steps your children will be perfect and you will be an A-1 parent? I don’t think so.
What is refreshing about Feiler’s book is that he only claims to be searching for avenues that may help his own family to function more smoothly and by reducing parental stress, allow them to feel happier. And then he got interested and wrote about his findings.
It’s definitely true that as people live longer more married couples are squeezed between taking care of elderly parents while raising their own children.  In the small town where I grew up few mothers worked outside the home. Their main job was parenting. That alleviated a lot of the morning chaos I recall dealing with after I had my children. We were always a two-parent working family and mornings were busy and rushed, not fun or happy now that I stop to think about it. Chaotic mornings give everyone in the family a bad start to their day.
In talking to my younger friends it seems to me as if free time is a thing of the past. I saw a documentary not long ago filmed in California where moms all but lived in the car the kids were involved in so many extracurricular activities. They had devised ways to feed the kids something hot, kept a cooler in the car for cold drinks, and changes of clothes for everyone. They carried lap boards so the kids could do their homework between athletics and dance class or chess tournaments or whatever.
It used to be that meal times were a way to catch up on what was happening at school, at work, and in general in everyone’s life. Feiler now says in most families he spoke with meals were catch-as-as-catch-can.
I remember parenting books I read advising making time for family meetings where everyone got a voice in what they thought would make the daily grind run smoother. Same in Feiler’s book. Another thing that hasn’t changed is making up chore lists and posting them on the fridge or kitchen cork board so every person in the family knew the expectations for their mornings. In my house that lasted about a month. So I found much of his research done in unique places to be the same spin on old methods of running a family unit more smoothly.  Feiler does offer some new innovations and techniques making it an interesting, entertaining read.
The fact is I still think there is no simple magic elixir to ensure the happy operation of a family. Individuals are born with, or develop along the way, idiosyncrasies which allow them or don’t allow them to work cohesively within a family. Some households are traditional, some kids aren’t. Some people are able to change and some can be molded to make the family unit run more smoothly. I’m not sure that equates to happiness. But there is no shortage of books available on every aspect a person can think of to make a family run more effectively. I came away thinking as I’ve always thought—there is no right or wrong way to parent. You muddle through the best way you can and give your children the best people skills you can give them. And anyway, wouldn’t life be boring if all families were alike?


  1. Two years ago I read his Walking the Bible. I used it for a Ladies Bible Class (it had DVD's) and it was the best summer class ever.

    Yesterday for me
    Breakfast with Mike
    Take him to school
    Come home, take Mike and school friend to park
    Come home, tell Mike to change into Little League clothes for Photo day.
    Get done at 7:30
    Go to Restaurant for late dinner because pictures took forever and changed our supper plans.
    Come home, go to bed.
    Yesterday was actually one of the easier days.

  2. So Pam, I don't think you have time to write lists and post them on the fridge. LOL
    That was what I always found with two kids involved in everything and two parents with two cars going in opposite directions.

  3. Roz - That does sound like a very interesting book. I've often wondered the same thing about parenting books, how can a book address family life when we all have such different families? My guess is that there is a gem in each rather than a one-size-fits-most-families formula. My husband and I have been so blessed with our four children. They are the best part of my life without question. But I never knew motherhood would bring such worry or guilt with it. Worry because it's a world with some pretty crazy people in it, and guilt because I have to make choices. And one of my choices is that my kids don't participate in tons of extracurricular activities. A few but I insist we eat dinner together every night and spend the weekends together as a family. I second guess myself often but I'm keeping the faith that someday they'll look back and have happy family memories.

  4. Roz - I'd like to read that book, too. We got our children all at once at ages 4, 8, and 10. We think love is all we need, but I often thought a PhD in Psychology would have helped me a lot. I think in raising children, the most important discovery you make is about yourself. I thought I was patient, kind, understanding, compassionate - but by the time we'd had them six months, I could have cheerfully run away. Good old Catholic guilt kept me in place and forced me to find ways to deal. Gradually, we came together in little ways, then bigger ways, and now, with my oldest just 50, we are a solid family. Mostly, I prayed my heart out, tried to think first, and walked away when I was too angry to cope. And, shamefully, I admit to having made some decisions for myself rather than for them because I had to survive if they were going to. And, thank you, God, we're all still here and love each other.

  5. True confession: I'm one of those moms who edits and does research in between ferrying my girls to softball practice, speech and debate, dance, etc. We all have very full lives, but we, too, make sure to sit down and eat dinner together six out of seven nights a week. We also set aside an hour every Sunday for a State of the Family meeting and game. IMO, the key is balance and flexibility. Some days are chaos and cheesecake for breakfast. And that's okay.

  6. I'm impressed with anybody who thinks about how to increase their family's level of happiness WITHOUT reducing their own.

    My mom worked so hard to make everyone else happy that she wound up miserable (until she got counseling and became a counselor herself).

    She always quoted the therapist who told her "you're giving apples to your kids, husband, parents, neighbors, kids' teachers, church group, cousins and you're out of apples."

    And replenishing the apple barrel requires preserving time for something YOU enjoy -- which, hmm, might very well include reading and writing!

  7. Hi Roz, Next year our nest will be empty as kids are off to college, so I've been thinking about a new family life. Maybe candlelight on Thursdays instead of tennis matches? Then I remember, darling husband will be at work. But all kinds of changes are coming.

    BTW, what is Warren's guide for allowance? Just asking because the flow of funds to the kids won't stop just yet.

    1. Laura,
      Feiler did more quoting of someone by the name of Neale Godfrey's book, Money Doesn't Grow on Trees and they promote breaking down your kids money (allowances) into spend, save, give away ie.philanthropy, and share which is money to spend on family vacations. The Warren philosophy seems to be an Excel spreadsheet to show them where the money goes.

  8. I'm really enjoying everyone's comments. Shelley, flexible was a word that showed up a lot in Bruce Feiler's book and in the information he gleaned from his sources. With all you do I'm impressed that you manage so many family dinners.
    Laurie, your mom's counselor hit the nail on the head for motorized moms. It's the be all to everyone in the family, school and community syndrome.

  9. Great topic and great post as always, Roz! As a teacher, I get to interact with so many types of families and in my experience, the common denominator to a happy family is face time, paying attention, togetherness, interacting, listening... All words that mean the same thing... spend time with your child - and watching him or her do this or that doesn't count. Neither does TV or video games. Real one on one time. It doesn't cost anything but your time and it is priceless. I'm a mom, CEO of my house except bills and lawn care/trash duty, a teacher and a YA and adult fiction romance author. My time is never my own- but the minute the doctor put that warm bundle in my arms and said, "meet your daughter" I accepted that it wouldn't be. So many students visit me after school even when they've moved on to higher grade levels to tell me what's going on in their lives because they know that there is no ungraded essay more important than them, just as there is no unfolded towel or unstirred sauce that matters more than spending time with my daughter. And I haven't even gotten to the importance of putting hubbie as a top priority- maybe that's my post next week- lol. Thanks, Roz!

    1. Karen, teachers do double duty as protem moms to a lot of kids who aren't lucky enough to have face time at home. I have several teachers in my family and also a lot of friends in the field. It's such an important job.

  10. Hi Roz!
    Great post! I'm home from my day job with a sick little boy today, but most days consist of getting up at 6, showers, breakfast, drop off at daycare, day job, pick up from daycare, dinner, play time, story time, song time, bed time for my son, then editing/writing for me-work for my husband, then a quick workout together...a sauna if we're not exhausted, then bed:) We have found that having a routine works for us and keeps us sane, but the most important thing is making time for each other. We also know our limits and that's why we plan to have our son and ONLY our son. We marvel at the parenting abilities of parents with more children than they have hands-seems impossible to me:)


    1. Jen, I hear you about the parents who have a lot of kids. Don't know how they do it in this day and age. I once worked for 3 pediatricians for about 10 years. We had several families of 8 children and the mothers were actually sane and organized. But they had jobs in the family for all of the children from a very early age. Maybe that's the secret.

  11. Thanks Roz for sharing this book. Sounds intriguing and after hearing what works for him, it made me think of my family. We did actually do many of those things and I'm guessing why our family is so close and happy. But mainly because our parents had huge doses of love. Love is the key. And isn't it the key to romance as well? smile

    Thanks again Roz

  12. Roz, I love reading books that have a strong family dynamic. Family has always been an important part of my life so I enjoy reading books that deal with the ups and downs of family life. Debbie Macomber comes to mind where she deals with families in her books. I hope to follow that tradition and share stories where family life helps mold my hero/heroine, whether for the better or worse.

  13. I've been thrown into parenting, taking care of two granddaughters 8 and 13, while their mother is on a cruise for 10 days. 4 days left, but who's counting. Parenting this time around has few similarities with what I went through raising my son and daughter. I think it was easier. But then, I may have blocked out a good portion of my memory. Since my stories often include children, I feel this learning experience will provide accurate details. Providing I get through these next 4 days.

  14. Marion, Oh you are a brave, brave soul. I'm betting you will get the most up to date research. I see you xing off the days.


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