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By Karen Hatfield
Special to The SUN
We only need to buy an apple in the store to reflect on our interconnectedness to every other person and thing that is on this planet. If we care to think about it, we recognize how many other humans have been involved in our ability to purchase a snack. The trucker who brought it in, the clerk who sold it, the farmer who grew it, all the way back to the scientist who developed the seed for superior production, and, finally, to the simplest element, the earth, which provided the nutrients for growth.
Likewise, when a family relies on violence to solve problems, the ripple effect of the associations we share, carry this unhealthy behavior into the school room, the work place and all other community interactions. Families are the training ground that can foster healthy, connected relationships or be the model for violent, conflicted interactions. Children will learn what they see and what they experience at home.
For most of us, the most basic and first meaningful relationships we have begin within the family. When that structure is supporting and protecting, children grow to be who they were meant to be. When the adults are not reflecting respect and compassion, children learn that it is acceptable to criticize and threaten those they live with. Statistically, we know many families struggle with homes that are battle fields, not respites from the outside world. So, how do we create relationships that reflect what we as parents and adult role models want children to learn?
Experts who have studied what comprise healthy families have found that these families share certain qualities that allow independence as well as reciprocated encouragement to all members, especially children.
Healthy families have to begin with mutual respect between parents. Children are taught to respect others and themselves, including listening and valuing another’s opinion in a non-judgmental manner. Children who experience affirmations of their emotions and the right to feel differently without fear of condemnation learn tolerance. Parents, who make important decisions jointly, teach respect.
Secondly, healthy families support each member’s life goals. Children are allowed to explore various activities and interests without ridicule even if those interests are considered non-traditional. Each person is recognized as an individual and no family member is compared to someone else. Each member is validated for their successes and helped when they are discouraged by disappointments.
Honesty and accountability for past actions are also important to healthy families. If violence has been a part of the family dynamics, the first step is to admit the problem and to begin to act in a way that promotes feelings of safety for the entire family. Secrecy and blame are not substituted for being responsible for one’s self and one’s behavior. Physical and verbal threats are never part of the solution to any problem.
Parents in healthy relationships share responsibilities for the children and engage in joint caretaking responsibilities. Both parents are committed to modeling non- violent discipline for their children and do not allow violence between siblings. Children are given the opportunity to observe how adults can have differing opinions and settle disagreements by using tools that include compromise and acknowledgment of each other’s concerns.
Healthy relationships include an economic component. Resources are shared and each partner has a voice in how money is spent. Children learn work ethics and the value of money by seeing adults make responsible and joint decisions. Healthy families never use money as a way to insure good behavior from children. Parents are concerned about meeting the basic needs of each member of the family and insuring that basic security demands are met prior to any other spending.
Finally, healthy families allow each and every member to have a sense of well-being and safety within the family structure. All members talk and act in a way that builds comfort and acceptance as well as engagement in activities that let each member know they are valued. Healthy families share common values, but also accept those who have different beliefs.
Violence is a learned behavior and if we want to create healthy, nonviolent families, we need to see that the circle begins and ends with what children see and encounter at home.
If you or your family are struggling with violence and wish to change the patterns you are creating for your children, call the Archuleta County Victim Assistance Program at 264-9075 for confidential help and support.