There is no perfect recipe for how much of each you need and, as we grow, how much of each element we need changes. Every child, adolescent, adult and older person needs their own special blend.
Everything gets resolved in 30 minutes and everyone goes to bed happy. I can only imagine God laughing at my over-simplification of His great design. Media portrayals are not realistic and can do more harm than good. There is no perfect family. Romans 3:23 (NLT) reminds us that everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. But a God of love does not leave us without guidelines for a healthy family and many biblical examples from which to draw!
First, the Bible shows us that all types of family structures — biological and blended, one or multiple generations, old and young — can be healthy. Jesus Himself comes from a blended family. He was not Joseph’s biological son, and he lived with Joseph and Mary’s biological children. Beautifully blended! Even after Ruth marries Boaz, Naomi stays with them. Then, Naomi helps raise the children with Boaz. Three generations in one household, including the mother of the wife’s late husband. Again, beautifully blended. Hannah and Elkhanah faced infertility; John the Baptist never married; but all of these examples, showing many family structures, could be healthy because of how they functioned.
There are many pieces that work together in healthy families. One is unconditional love. When the prodigal son left home and claimed his inheritance, his father waited daily for him to return. When he saw him approaching, he did not ask questions — he just hugged his son and welcomed him home. Do our family members know that we will love them through the difficult and the ugly? Having worked with our young people for decades, I can tell you many of them fear, or know, that messing up means being kicked out. We must follow the example of our heavenly Father and how He forgives our sins, time and time again.
We also need healthy individuals to make up healthy families. Health incorporates our physical, mental and spiritual well-being. When we neglect ourselves, it becomes much harder to keep others healthy. Like the flight attendants tell us on the airplanes, “Always put on your own oxygen mask first, then help others.” That doesn’t mean we won’t have illness or challenges, but it means we will work through them.
Research shows that there are many other elements that contribute to healthy families. These can be clear roles and rules, with realistic boundaries. Healthy communication is also included. We need to be able to voice our opinions, agreements and disagreements, while respecting ourselves and each other. If there are children, elderly or cognitively different people in your family, routines might be very helpful for healthy families. Routines help people know what to expect and become more independent. Support, safety and security are also essential elements for healthy, functioning families.
Now the hard part. There is no perfect recipe for how much of each you need and, as we grow, how much of each element we need changes. Every child, adolescent, adult and older person needs their own special blend. This is why healthy communication and healthy individuals are essential to the process. Be gentle with each other. Meet each other where you are at. Don’t compare or judge. Ask God for discernment, study the Scriptures, get counseling help if you need it, then thrive like you were designed to, as you create and enjoy your little piece of heaven on earth!
Melissa Ponce-Rodas is an assistant professor of Psychology at Andrews University. She and her husband, Segundo, have twin boys, Samuel and Jonathan. Her research and advocacy revolve around the intersections of religion and domestic violence.