29 May The New peoplemaking | Part B’ (V.Satir)
How different it is to be in a nurturing family! Immediately, I can sense the aliveness, the genuineness, honesty, and love. I feel the heart and soul present as well as the head. People demonstrate their loving, their intellect, and their respect for life
I feel that if I lived in such a family, I would be listened to and would be interested in listening to others; I would be considered and would wish to consider others. I could openly show my affection as well as my pain and disapproval. I wouldn’t be afraid to take risks because everyone in my family would realize that some mistakes are bound to come with my risk-taking—that my mistakes are a sign that I am growing. I would feel like a person in my own right—noticed, valued, loved, and clearly asked to notice, value, and love others. I would feel free to respond with humor and laughter when it fits.
One can actually see and hear the vitality in such a family. The bodies are graceful, the facial expressions relaxed. People look at one another, not through one another or at the floor; and they speak in rich, clear voices. A flow and harmony permeate their relations with one another. The children, even as infants, seem open and friendly, and the rest of the family treats them very much as persons.
The houses in which these people live tend to have a lot of light and color. Clearly a place where people live, these homes are planned for their comfort and enjoyment, not as showplaces for the neighbors.
When there is quiet, it is a peaceful quiet, not the stillness of fear and caution. When there is noise, it is the sound of meaningful activity, not the thunder of trying to drown out everyone else. Each person seems to know that he or she will have the chance to be heard. If one’s turn doesn’t come now, it is only because there isn’t time—not because one isn’t loved.
People seem comfortable about touching one another and showing their affection, regardless of age. Loving and caring aren’t demonstrated by carrying out the gar age, cooking the meals, orbringing home the paycheck. Instead people show their loving and caring by talking openly am-listening with concern, being straight and real with one another, and simply being together.
Members of a nurturing family feel free to tell each other how they feel. Anything can be talked about the disappointments, fears, hurts, angers, criticisms, as well as the joys and achievements. If Father happens to be bad-hu-mored for some reason, his child can say frankly, “Gee, Dad, you’re grouchy tonight.” The child isn’t afraid that Father will bark back, “How dare you talk to your father that way!” Instead, Father can be frank, too: “I sure am grouchy. I had a terrible day today!”
Nurturing families can make plans. If something interferes with the plan, they can readily make adjustments, often with a sense of humor. This way they are able to handle more of life’s problems without panicking. Suppose, for example, that a child drops and breaks a glass. In a troubled family, this accident could lead to a half-hour lecture, a spanking, and perhaps sending the child away in tears. In a nurturing family, more likely someone would remark, “Well, Johnny, you broke your glass. Did you cut yourself?
I’ll get you a Band-Aid, and then you can get a broom and sweep up the pieces. I’ll get you another glass.’’ If the parent had noticed that Johnny had been holding the glass precariously, he might add, “1 think the glass dropped because you didn’t have both hands around it.” Thus the incident would be used as a learning opportunity (which raises the child’s self-worth) rather than as a cause for punishment, which puts that self-worth in question. In the nurturing family it is easy to pick up the message that human life and human feelings arc more important than anything else.
These parents see themselves as empowering leaders, not as authoritative bosses. They see their job primarily as one of teaching their children how to be truly human in ail situations. They readily acknowledge to the child their poor judgment as well as their good judgment; their hurt, anger, or disappointment as well as their joy. The behavior of these parents matches what they say. How different from the troubled parent who tells the children not to hurt each other, but slaps them whenever displeased.
Parents arc people; they arc not automatically leaders the day their first child is born. They learn that good leaders arc careful of their timing: they watch for an opportunity to talk to their children when they can really be heard. When a child has misbehaved, the father or mother moves physically close to offer support. This helps the offending child overcome fear and guilt feelings and make the best of the teaching the parent is about to offer.
Recently, I saw a mother in a nurturing family handle a troublesome situation very skillfully and humanly. When she noticed that her two sons, ages five and six, were fighting, she calmly separated the boys, took each by the hand, and sat down with one son on either side of her. Still holding their hands, she asked each of them to tell her what was going on; she listened to one and then the other intently. By asking questions she slowly pieced together what had happened: the five-year-old had taken a dime from the six-year-old’s dresser. As the two boys talked about their hurts and feelings of injustice, she helped them make new contact with one another, return the dime to its rightful owner, and pave the way for better ways of dealing with each other. Furthermore, the boys had a good lesson in constructive problem-solving.
Parents in nurturing families know that their children are not intentionally bad. If someone behaves destructively, parents realize some misunderstanding has arisen or someone’s self-esteem is dangerously low. They know people learn only when valuing themselves and feeling valued, so they don’t respond to behavior in a way that will make people feel devalued. Even when it is possible to change behavior by shaming or punishing, the resulting scar is not easily or quickly healed.
When a child must be corrected, as all children must at one time or another, nurturing parents rely on being clear: asking for information, listening, touching, understanding, using careful timing, and being aware of the child’s feelings and natural wishes to learn and to please. These things all help us to be effective teachers. Children learn from the modeling of direct behavior.
Rearing a family is probably the most difficult job in the world. It resembles two business firms merging their respective resources to make a single product. All the potential headaches of that operation are present when an adult male and an adult female join to steer a child from infancy to adulthood. Parents in a nurturing family realize problems come along, simply because life offers them, and they will be alert to creative solutions as each new problem appears. Troubled families, on the other hand, put all their energies into the hopeless attempt to keep problems from happening; when they do happen—and, of course, they always do—these people have no resources left for solving the crisis.
Nurturing parents realize change is inevitable: children change quickly from one stage to another, nurturing adults never stop growing and changing, and the world around us never stands still. They accept change as part of being alive and try to use it creatively to make their families still more nurturing.
Can you think of a family that you would call nurturing at least part of the time? Can you remember a time recently when your family could be described as nurturing? Try to remember how it felt to be in your family then. Do these times happen often?
Some people may scoff at my picture of the nurturing family and say it isn’t possible for any family to live that way. Unfulfilling family living is so habitual that it’s easy to think there’s no other way. To these people I would say, I have had the good fortune to know many nurturing families intimately, and it is possible. The human heart is always seeking love.
Some may protest that there just isn’t time to overhaul their family lives. To them I would say, their survival may depend on it. Troubled families make troubled people and thus contribute to the devaluing of self, which is linked to crime, mental illness, alcoholism, drug abuse, poverty, alienated youth, terrorism, and many other social problems. Giving ourselves full permission to make the family a place to develop people who are more truly human will reflect itself in a safer and more humanly responsive world. We can make the family a real place for developing real people. Each of us is a discovery, and each of us makes a difference.
THE NEW PEOPLEMAKING