Nine Attributes
Every Family Should Have

By: Natalie Lamb

It is often said that family is the most important thing, that our relationships are what make our lives. If this is a true statement, then why do we often treat the ones we "love" with the least amount of respect and care? I can imagine that a part of the reason is that we take others for granted. Or perhaps it is that we just keep treating each other in the same manner that we have been treated and taught is acceptable. In working with people and their relationships for almost 15 years, I realize that choosing to change our patterns of behavior causes extreme discomfort for folks. We didn't and often still don't like the way we are treated in our intimate relationships but we still choose not to change. And the crazy thing is that we will inflict the same pain on others that was inflicted on us. This is insanity at its best (or worst)!

For the purpose and intent of this article, I will assume that some of the basics of what every relationship needs may not be known. I will go over nine attributes that are needed in our relationships. I will also cover what the opposite of each trait is. These traits should be exhibited in all of our relationships (as parents, spouses, and friends) but most importantly as parents and spouses. If we could learn to cultivate these traits with our spouses, then implementing them with our children will be that much easier. It will look different from the vantage point as spouse or parent but the basics stay the same.

Before I begin, I must issue an important disclaimer: these attributes only work for normal relationships, not relationships with pathological (evil/crazy) people. If you find yourself in a relationship with a person like that, run for the hills and don't look back.

The first attribute must be LOVE. Love must be the foundation of every relationship we have. Naturally, the first two questions that come to mind are, "what is love?" and "doesn't love look/feel different depending on the individual?" The answer is that each person can define it differently but everyone knows when he/she feels loved. The tough part is that we fail to communicate exactly what we need to be loved. This is especially true in our marital relationships. But if we want to make this easy, we can define love as working in the best interest of the one whom you say you love. It is putting your selfishness in check so that the relationship takes precedence over your personal agendas. Love must flow through you and out of you. If you struggle with giving or receiving love then go find out why and fix it. If you choose not to change it, then be kind enough to stay alone and please, please don't have kids.

The opposite of love is not hate as many believe, but I believe the opposite is APATHY and FEAR. Apathy is defined as absence or suppression of passion, emotion, or excitement. I believe that fear drives people to apathy. We fear the possibility that we won't be loved back so we become apathetic to each other. When you once loved someone and you fall into apathy, you must ask yourself what are you afraid of? What do you fear love will cost you? Once you answer that question you must decide whether or not you are willing to pay that price. But don't let fear override your logic and talk yourself into not having love at all because you are afraid. Remember that having love in your life is a risk, but in my opinion it is a risk worth taking. Remember we are teaching our kids how to view love. We tell them we love them and each other but when they see apathy and fear instead of love, they then (subconsciously) define love as apathy and fear. Now what kind of relationships do you think they will have under that definition?

The second attribute is TIME. Time is essential for any relationship to flourish. If we look at the amount of time we give each other, we should not be shocked at the condition and quality of our relationships. Is seems that many of us want to give the least amount of time to the "most" important areas of our lives and, in turn, want something amazingly profound. It simply doesn't work that way! Acknowledging the fact that we have to work 8-10 hours a day, we must purposely carve out time for each other. We must make this time memorable and special. All people involved need to have their interests respected and the "together-time" needs to be mutual. Time together must be shared in order for love to flow and to be felt. It is also important to have separate couple time in contrast with family time. Keeping dates as a married couple shows your kids that you WANT to be together.

The opposite of time is INATTENTION or ABANDONMENT. It is an awful feeling to be in the same house as someone and feel invisible. Yes, you can abandon someone even if you are under the same roof! Ignoring someone and not spending quality time with them through activities and conversations is a definite love killer. You must do more than talk niceties to actually contribute to the relationship. Remember that with all of our interactions we are either contributing to or contaminating the relationship. Inattention speaks very loudly. And the message delivered is that "you don't matter to me!!" Plain and simple! You can tell yourself all kinds of stuff to make you feel better about not spending time, but the truth is we put time into the things we care about the most.

Thirdly, CHARACTER is so very important. Your morality should be the most affluent in your intimate relationships. Those whom you live with are the best source to either confirm or deny your quality of character. It is a sad thing when we are willing to put on a fa├žade for strangers but we will pummel those we say we care the most for. When we can lie, steal, hit and defame those in our house but we claim we have character, we lie. We must stop giving ourselves permission to be cruel to our family. We must stop taking them for granted and believing they will always be there. What kind of character do you say you have? Ask those whom you live with to see if they agree. We must desire honesty and truth and when an ugly truth stares at us, we should make the decision to change.

The opposite of character is being UNETHICAL. Many of us would never be unethical in our business affairs or with strangers but when it comes to our personal relationships we will break all the rules. Most people set up some type of rules when they got together but seemingly will gladly break each one when it serves them. Ethics must be a mainstay in our relationships. Again, do not give more to your employer, friends and strangers than you give to your "most" loved ones. Again withdraw permission to misuse and abuse those in your house!

The fourth attribute is WORTH. The three attributes above speak very loudly to how much worth you feel your loved ones have. When you stop caring and your time is minimal and your character is waning, then you must not feel they have much worth. Worth can always be weighed in behaviors. If all you can do is say, "I value you" but your actions speak the opposite, know that your actions speak the truth. If a person feels you don't hold them in high esteem, then that relationship is going to have holes in it. We build a bridge daily in our relationships, especially with our children. Is the bridge you are building for them to cross over into adulthood full of holes and rickety planks or is it solid and strong enough to carry them over without injury?

The opposite of worth is INSIGNIFICANCE. Now we can say that people should not rely on others for their worth and that is true to an extent. But those whom we have tied ourselves to play a role in how we see ourselves. If you are my spouse or parent and you treat me worst than you would treat a co-worker, then I am going to start thinking you don't value me much. Ask yourself, "Am I showing those I love that I value who they are as a person and who they are to me and my world?" If you know you are not doing well in this area, admit the truth and change. Again the above attributes speak very loudly to how much you value the people in your life. Honestly rank your own self.

The fifth attribute is BELONGING. No one wants to come home to a place where they feel they don't belong. Belonging is created when your home is a place of warmth and respect. Your home should be the place you are eager to run to. It should be the place that you dread leaving each morning. It should be your soft place to fall. Each member of the family should feel like their home is theirs. One person should not dominate the climate of the home. Does the atmosphere of your home say, "I belong here?" Ask each person that lives with you the same question.

The opposite of belonging is ALIENATION. When the climate of the home is all about one or two people and not the entire family someone is going to feel alienated in the home. If you want a cozy atmosphere then make sure each person is able to make their mark on the home. Make sure each person is able to speak and be themselves in the home. The home should be a place where one can let their hair down and be themselves, no pretense or falsities. If you are operating in the four attributes above, it is easy to find belonging and to kill alienation.

PURPOSE is the sixth attribute. Each person should have a personal purpose that they are fulfilling, but each spouse, parent and child should also have a purpose to fulfill in the family. Why are you with these people? What do you hope to give to each other and to those outside of the family? Our lives are best lived when we live with consciousness and purpose. It gives you something to attain and to work towards. Each family should have a goal to reach and it should be examined, changed and delivered often. We should all think about our legacy and what we will leave behind. When you have a purpose you actively participate in your world on a daily basis. Learn to live your best lives together.

LAZINESS is the opposite of purpose. We are a people that can fall into laziness very easily. And because we have been okay with slacking in our families and putting our energies and efforts into things outside of our homes, we have stopped creating in our homes. If you want something amazing you must work for it. When you see families and couples that are amazing they have put work into it. They have devised a plan and had a purpose that they wanted to execute. They wanted their family life to speak loudly to the world as to who they are and what they value. If someone hid a camera in your home, what would they list as your greatest value(s)? If they followed you for a month would your family life be conveyed to the world as where you put most of your work or the least?

SELF-CONTROL is number seven. This is probably one of my favorites! I think we, from childhood, have always been more other-controlled than self-controlled and this has led to so many of our woes in life. Self-control stops me from being selfish and being a jerk. Self-control stops me from misusing others and de-valuing people. Self-control makes me stick to my plans and purpose. Self-control stops me from taking out my pain and anger on those I love and find a solution to heal instead of harming. Self-control is what we must teach our kids and it is what our kids must see us exhibit on a daily basis. Your ability to exhibit self-control speaks very loudly to your character.

As mentioned earlier, the opposite of self-control is OTHER-CONTROL. When you only behave properly because others are watching you, then you don't have self-control. When you are only pleasant to your spouse or kids because friends are over, then you lack self-control. No one is responsible for your reactions but you. You have full ability to operate in self-control on a daily basis. If you parent and discipline properly you will train your kids to have self-control. This takes much more thought and purpose than just lashing out at the moment from frustration or anger. Learn self-control and your parenting will rise to a whole new level, as well as your relationship with your spouse. When both spouses can operate out of respect for themselves and each other, then self-control rules the house instead of varying emotions.

Second to last is HUMANNESS. The eighth attribute is simply being human. We seem to have lost humanness in our society. We often take for granted the pleasure and complexity in just being human; the abundance of emotions we can feel; the wealth of logic and intellect we can possess. Our uniqueness has been replaced with carbon copies of each other. We no longer see the beauty in diversity and this has stifled our relationships because we all want to have what the next person has and we ultimately imitate illusions. When we can get back to finding our authenticity and being comfortable with ourselves and working to constantly improve our areas of concern, then our humanness is no longer a problem. We will embrace our frailties and the weaknesses of others. We will show empathy and compassion, guidance and assurance and ultimately love, which always covers a multitude of infractions.

The opposite of humanness is ROBOTIC-NESS. This speaks to what I said earlier about mimicking each other. It is as though we have this idea of what a husband should look like, act like, or what roles he should play. The same is true of wives and children. This limits our appreciation for each other. This is what makes me judge you and say you don't measure up. But if I can get out of the Smith's house and concentrate on my house, then I may be more satisfied. Living life in comparison to others is a full time job, plus loads of overtime. But this job pays less than minimum wage and has no health benefits! As a result, we stop being human and start acting like robots and a lot of the programming came from fantasyland. Stop the insanity and get real!

Our last attribute is GRATITUDE. When you live life with a sense of gratitude life is so much sweeter. When you can look at the sunshine and appreciate it and see the rain and find a lesson in it, your life has been enhanced. When I can look at my spouse and appreciate him/her for who he/she is and see his/her flaws as a part of their totality that makes him/her who they are, then we will begin to enjoy each other. When I can see my children as a gift instead of a burden that I feel that I must hurry up and get out of my house, then I can see a new life that is experiencing this world afresh. Choose to live your life with a gracious disposition and life will be more exciting, thrilling and fulfilling. No one has to over-indulge you. No one has to cater to your every whim. No one has to take your insensitivity and meanness. When you have a view that your family should take your mess "just because," you have helped to ruin and destroy what could have been your greatest joy.

Lastly, the opposite of gratitude is FALSE ENTITLEMENT. I don't know what happened to us as a people. When did we start believing that we deserve to be treated with respect when we don't give respect to others? When did we reason that we could devalue others but expect to be held in high esteem? How did we come to an ideology that says, "you do for me but I will not do for you?" Logically, we must look at this craziness and say it simply doesn't make sense. We must teach our children equality and respect by giving it to them and our spouses. The biggest gift any parent can give their children is a solid, happy, purposeful marriage. As adults we need to re-evaluate our values and decide that we must give our children better. Let's stop the foolishness of "I survived it so they will be ok." Decide today that, "I will fight for better lives for myself, my spouse and my children. I will no longer aimlessly float through life looking for an emotional handout from my family and I will devise a plan and a purpose for my life and those whose lives are directly connected to mine."

I will leave you with these last thoughts. Whatever you give most of your time, attention and value to, speaks to what is most important to you. Nothing should be above your spouse and children other than your Creator. Everything else should play second (a distant second)! Look at your life and be honest. Change and restructure where needed. You only have one shot in this life, make it worth it and go out blazing with a huge path that shows that love ruled your life.