For many years, I believed the myth of a “perfect” family — the one shown on television and all forms of media, consisting of two biological parents, 2.3 children, 1.5 pets, and a white picket fence.
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 reminds us that everyone has sinned, and we all fall short of God’s “glorious standard” (NLT). 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 Elkanah faced infertility, and John the Baptist never married. All of these examples that show many family structures were healthy because of how they functioned.
Many pieces 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 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. As the flight attendants tell us on airplanes, “Always put on your 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 many other elements contribute to healthy families. These can be clear roles and rules with realistic boundaries. Healthy communication is also part of it. We must have the ability 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 beneficial 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 we need and, as we grow, how much of each element we need will change. Every child, adolescent, adult, and older person needs their 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. Don’t compare or judge. Ask God for discernment, study the Scriptures, get counseling help if you need it, then thrive as you were designed to do, as you create and enjoy your little piece of heaven on earth!
Melissa Ponce-Rodas is an assistant professor of psychology at Andrews University. Her research and advocacy revolve around the intersections of religion and domestic violence.