Building Better Families : A Practical Guide to Fostering Connection, Values, and Growth
For more than a decade, Matthew Kelly has been traveling the world inspiring people to become the-best-version-of-themselves. During this time he has been amazed at how regularly he is asked: How do I encourage my children to embrace this message? How does your message apply to a family? Now, for the first time, Kelly shares with us remarkable insights and sensible everyday strategies for transforming the family into what it should be: a place where each of us can become the-best-version-of-ourselves.
Beginning with an exploration of the changing face of the family in our culture, Kelly sets every reader at ease by explaining: "A family is not what we think a family should be, or what we hope to have, or should have, or what would be ideal-a family is what we actually have. A family is the one we've got." Nor can a family ever be perfect, he goes on to explain. "Perfect families exist only in our minds, and it is these imaginings that are very often the enemy of our ability to enjoy the wonderful family we already have, or might have if we made it just that little bit more of a priority."
In Building Better Families, Kelly explores important issues by raising evocative questions: What makes a successful parent? Do you realize that your children are in the middle of a cultural war? What are the five things children really need? Are you asking your children the right questions? What are you teaching your children about work, money, food, exercise, body image, and sex? What are the priorities of your family culture?
Every page of this book is filled with examples that can be applied to your daily experience of parenting and family, while at the same time illuminating the broader and deeper significance of family for society and the future of humanity. "The family is at once a deeply personal experience and the cornerstone of all great societies," Matthew Kelly tells us. Allow this book of classic wisdom and practical insight to help you build a better family.
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February 25, 2008
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Excerpt from Building Better Families by Matthew Kelly
The Changing Face of Families
It has been only fifteen years since I graduated from high school, but the world has changed at warp speed during that time. Those changes are no more apparent than in the area of family. More than 50 percent of America's children now live separated from their biological fathers. Like many, I think this is tragic, but I do not want to write a book about that tragedy. There has been enough written already. We can sit around cursing the darkness or we can turn on the light and find the best path forward.
What Is a Family?
It's an interesting question. If you want to have some heated conversation, get a diverse group of people together for a dinner party and raise this question. This topic is nothing short of explosive at this time, both socially and politically.
There are many who would say the answer is very simple. A family is a mother and a father and their children. This answer is usually announced with a tone of absolute certainty, sometimes even arrogance, as if it were as obvious as the day is long and as old as time itself. Though if we travel across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe or south of the border to Central and South America, we quickly discover that a multigenerational definition of family that includes not only parents and children but grandparents and great grandparents is very much alive and well in many cultures. These cultures are also very much in celebration of the intergenerational definition of family that includes aunts and uncles, cousins, and nieces and nephews.
The same person who answered with all that certainty--"A family is a mother and a father and their children."--would reply to these points by saying, "Well, of course we consider grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews to be part of a family in a broader sense." You see, in America today, the question--What is a family?--has become a secret code for the political question: Who should raise children?
I have had the pleasure of watching my good friend Pat Lencioni, the famed business author and consultant, work with executive teams on a couple of occasions. One of the exercises he does with these executives concerns the idea of core values. Most business leaders would now agree that a company should have a set of core values. If you were to visit the head office of most companies, you'd discover that these core values appear in various places--from annual reports to plaques in lobbies to mini-posters in hallways, cubicles, and lunchrooms. But if you ask most employees what do these core values mean, they will tell you that they mean nothing. This is because of how they were arrived at. A group of executives got together one day and decided they needed some core values for the company because they saw that some other company had them, and besides, it is now accepted wisdom that all companies should have stated core values. They pick values like integrity, compassion, and service. But the employees know from their everyday experience that these core values do not exist, and so rather than creating unity, they create disengagement and resentment.
The problem is that when the executive team sits down to arrive at their core values, they don't ask: What are our core values? Rather, they ask: What should our core values be? So, what they come up with are in fact aspirational values (what they want the values of the company to be) not actual core values (what the values of the company actually are at this very moment).
Similarly, when the question is raised--What is a family?-- most people reply by describing what they think the ideal family should be and not by describing their actual family, or the reality of most families.
Returning then to the dinner party reply--"A family is a mother and a father and their children."--let's have a look at how many people this definition excludes. Certainly a gay couple raising a child is excluded, and this, of course, is exactly who this answer is designed to exclude more often than not. But if we move for a moment beyond this highly emotionally charged social and political issue, who else gets excluded by this definition of family? Single mothers and their children, couples who are unable to have children, adopted children, foster families, grandparents raising children and the children being raised by grandparents, husbands and wives in second marriages and the children they are raising from either marriage, and so on.
If the question were: What is the best situation in which a child should be raised?