In family life, it’s really easy to point out the flaws of the other people in your house. Part of the reason for this is that the flaws are so easy to see! The fact that home is where people are letting their guard down combined with the sheer amount of time that you spend around the people that you live with results in you having a good handle on each person’s flaws and shortcomings. The bottom line is that having that kind of knowledge about your family is to be expected. If you think about it, you have that kind of knowledge about somebody’s strengths and weaknesses in any relationship that has some degree of intimacy. But if we’re not careful, we can move past that knowledge and start with some unhealthy (and unhelpful) habits. What can happen if we don’t actively avoid it is that home becomes the place where all the flaws are talked about and poked at repeatedly.
Although it’s unavoidable for that to happen from time to time, it’s vital in family life that we don’t forget to do the opposite of that. We need to find ways to celebrate who people are and the gifts that they have. Our family definitely hasn’t done this perfectly, but it’s always been something that was very important to me and Jane, because we both grew up in environments where the negative comments were allowed to be the focus far too often. And in an effort to help our home be one with more positivity, we did two specific things.
First, one of our five family rules that were printed out and framed in the living room was: “Put-ups, no put-downs.” Obviously, that is an aspirational rule rather than a rule where we expected 100% compliance. But we had that rule in place because we wanted our kids (and me and Jane!) to know that the expectation in our home was that we would speak kindly and positively to and about one another. And it meant that as soon as Jane or I heard insults or put-downs, we didn’t have to explain why we wanted those things to stop. We just had to say, “Put-ups, no put-downs.” Like I said, this doesn’t “solve” the issue, but it helps put a safeguard in place that lets the whole family know that it’s not okay to sit around verbally trashing one another.
Second, we did something I called a “compliment war.” When the whole family was gathered in one place, I would suddenly say, “Compliment war on mom!” And that meant that everybody would start saying things they valued and appreciated about mom. When we were gathered together to celebrate a birthday or some other special occasion, it was guaranteed that there would be a “compliment war” focused on that specific person. Other times, it could just be a normal family meal where I would announce it. Those moments gave everybody the chance to pause and think about the positive traits they were grateful for about each other.
You don’t have to do it my way, but I want to encourage you to do it some way. Make sure that you have some rules or practices in place that guard against negativity and that help members of your family to celebrate each other. Doing that will help create a more positive and healthier environment.