Families grow stronger and more successful as they develop habits that build effective families. Strong, successful, and effective families do not just happen; they must be developed by establishing and following the essential principles for strengthening families.
If you are interested in strengthening your family and making it more successful, I suggest that you purchase - not borrow - Stephen R. Covey's book entitled The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families. In the introduction to his book, Covey compared a family to an airplane flight and explained that just as pilots file flight plans before they leave the ground, families need to plan where they want to go as a family and how they are going to get there. Covey wrote that he had three purposes in mind as he wrote his book: 1) "A clear vision of your destination," 2) "A flight plan," and 3) "A compass."
Covey explained that each family is unique in its challenges, needs, and situation and that it is not healthy for any family to compare itself to any other family. The important thing is for each family to write their own "mission statement" in order to create "a sense of shared vision and values." Writing a mission statement helps to create a clear vision of where the family wants to go.
Once a family knows where it wants to go, then it needs to decide how it will arrive at its destination. The family needs a "flight plan based on the principles that will enable you to arrive at your destination." Covey wrote that there are "certain fundamental principles that govern in all human interactions, and living in harmony with those principles or natural laws is absolutely essential for quality family life." He used the principle of respect to explain what he meant. Respect is a "basic principle" of human relations: "Exercising the principle of respect and being able to genuinely and empathically listen to another human being are among the habits of highly effective people in any walk of life." He suggested that families discover principles that are "universal (meaning that it applies everywhere), timeless (meaning that it applies at any time), and self-evident (meaning that arguing against it is patently foolish, such as arguing that you could build a strong long-term relationship without respect)."
"The 7 Habits are based on universal, timeless, and self-evident principles that are just as true in the world of human relations as the law of gravity is in the world of human relations as the law of gravity is in the physical world. These principles ultimately govern in all of life. They have been part of successful individuals, families, organizations, and civilizations throughout time. These habits are not tricks or techniques. They're not quick fixes. They're not a bunch of practices or `to do' lists. They are habits - established patterns of thinking and doing things -that all successful families have in common.
"The violation of these principles virtually guarantees failure in family or other interdependent situations. As Leo Tolstoy observed in his epic novel Anna Karenina, `Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.' Whether we're talking about a two-parent or a single-parent family, whether there are ten children or none, whether there has been a history of neglect and abuse or a legacy of love and faith, the fact is that happy families have certain constant characteristics. And these characteristics are contained in the 7 Habits."
After discussing the need for vision and planning, Covey wrote, "The 7 Habits framework deeply affirms that you are the creative force of your own life and that through your example and leadership you can become a creative force - an agent of change - in your family life. So the third purpose of this book is to help you recognize and develop four unique gifts you have that will enable you to become an agent of change in your family. These gifts become a compass or an inner guidance system that will help your family stay on course as you move toward your destination. They enable you to recognize and align your life with universal principles - even in the midst of turbulent social weather - and they empower you to determine and take whatever action is most appropriate and effective in your situation."
Covey described an "effective" family as being one with "a beautiful family culture. He wrote that "culture" means the "spirit of the family - the feeling, the `vibes,' the chemistry, the climate or atmosphere in the home. It's the character of the family - the depth, quality, and maturity of the relationships. It's the way family members relate to one another and how they feel about one another. It's the spirit or feeling that grows out of the collective patterns of behavior that characterize family interaction. And these things, like the tip of an iceberg, come out of the unseen mass of shared beliefs and values underneath." An "effective" family has a "nurturing culture," a culture that has "moved from `me' to `we' - a movement from "independence to interdependence." How can we know when this movement is complete? "When your happiness comes primarily from the happiness of others, you know you have moved from `me' to `we.' And the whole problem-solving and opportunity-seizing process changes. But until family is really a priority, this movement does not usually take place…."
Habits are not easy to develop because it takes time to make permanent changes in our lives. Developing new and effective habits as an individual is difficult and takes effort. The same is true of making changes in families. All family members need to be involved from the beginning and take part in deciding the "destination" and creating the family mission statement. Everyone needs to be involved in making the flight plan and learning the principles that act as a compass for the family. The simple acts of reading and discussing the book together, planning together, learning and understanding together, and working together to form "a beautiful family culture" will help to "bond" the family together.
Creating an effective family will take effort, patience, and time. New practices usually take at least twenty-one days to become habits because changing from the inside out takes time. If there are family members who are not willing to work at creating a new spirit in the family, it will be more difficult or even impossible to move forward. We should never be discouraged in such situations because we never know what changes are taking place inside the reluctant members of the family. We can practice the habits as individuals until all family members are on board and desiring to move to the same destination.