Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Dr. Gary Chapman's book, "The Family You've Always Wanted: Five Ways You Can Make it Happen," (Northfield Publishing, 2008).
Here's how you can build the family you've always wanted:
1. Develop a heart for service. So much work needs to be done in a family -- from household chores like laundry, dishes, and paying bills to errands like grocery shopping and taking cars for oil changes. Make sure that every family member pitches in to help with a fair share of the work. Assign age-appropriate tasks to each of your children. Even very young children can help set the table for meals; older kids can do a wide range of chores like mowing the lawn or organizing closets.
If your family learns to serve each other, you'll learn to serve others outside your family, too. Such service pleases God and enlarges your hearts. Model service to your children by letting them see you engaged in service projects that make a positive difference in other people's lives. Give them opportunities to serve alongside you whenever possible. Affirm your children when they complete the work you've assigned them to do; your words will encourage them to keep serving.
2. Start relating intimately to your spouse. If an emotional wall has developed between you and your spouse, break it down by regularly acknowledging your failures, asking your spouse to forgive you, and forgiving your spouse whenever he or she hurts or offends you. Communicate well with each other, sharing your thoughts and feelings openly and honestly and listening carefully to what your spouse has to say.
Move beyond simply sharing information (such as when you plan to pick up a child or what you'd like to eat for dinner) and start sharing your deep desires and frustrations with each other. Develop intellectual intimacy by telling your thoughts, develop emotional intimacy by discussing your feelings, develop social intimacy by spending time together and discussing the time you've spent apart, develop spiritual intimacy by opening your souls to each other, and develop physical intimacy by sharing your bodies through sex.
3. Guide your children well. Keep in mind when training your children that they must feel loved in order for your training to work. If they feel loved by you, even poor attempts at training can produce good results. Discover each of your children's love languages -- how you can express love to them in ways they'll best understand. The main love languages are:
Words of affirmation,
Physical touch, receiving gifts, and
Acts of service.
Look for clues to your children's love languages in how they express love to you, what they request of you most often, and what they complain about most often.
Make time to teach your kids creatively throughout every part of life you experience together. Pray with your kids often. Engage in conversations with them regularly, in which you discuss their thoughts and feelings and show a genuine interest in their lives. Encourage your children to take risks as God leads them and to learn from both their successes and failures. Speak encouraging words to your children often and write them encouraging notes or send them encouraging texts messages or e-mails.
When you need to correct them for misbehavior, aim to do so in a way that motivates them toward positive behavior. Choose your battles wisely. Correct only behavior that is truly destructive or detrimental to your children's development and let the rest go. Correct out of love instead of uncontrolled anger. Seek your children's wellbeing and choose discipline methods designed to benefit them.
Affirm your children for who they are, rather than just for what they do. Let your children know that you notice and appreciate their personal qualities, from how clever their minds are to how their decisions show strong moral character. Accentuate the positive to help your children overcome the many negative messages they sometimes receive from their peers and analyzing themselves.
Make time to show your children how to do the tasks you want them to perform instead of just telling them what to do. When they're trying to learn a new skill like reading or riding a bike, teach them how to deal with emotions like fear, anger, and disappointment and emphasize the importance of values such as courage, hard work, and honesty. Aim to be a healthy role model for them as you show them how to do something. Weave your actions in with your words and be consistent with your training to help your children learn best.
4. Help your children obey and honor you and your spouse. While making every effort to make sure your children feel loved, also make sure that your children experience the consequences of their behavior. Think and pray about what rules to set, and if your children are older, listen to their input about what rules should be set and why. When considering a particular rule, ask:
"Is this rule good for the child? Will it have some positive effect on this child's life?"
"Does this rule keep the child from danger or destruction?"
"Does this rule teach the child some positive character trait, such as honesty, hard work, kindness, or sharing?"
"Does this rule protect property?"
"Does this rule teach stewardship of possessions?"
"Does this rule teach the child responsibility?" and
"Does this rule teach good manners?"
Set consequences -- both good and bad -- for your children's behavior. Tie the consequences as closely as possible to the rules to which they relate. Give older children opportunities to help decide their own consequences for certain behaviors; that will make them more likely to accept the consequences when they break rules. Aim to be consistent, loving, and kind yet firm when disciplining your children.
Model what it looks like to honor parents by treating your own parents well if they're still alive. Visit and call them often; help care for their needs. Whether or not your own parents are still living, choose a lifestyle of generous service -- investing your life to honor God and bless other people -- and your children will be inspired by your example and motivated to do the same themselves.
5. Build a family where the husband loves and leads. A healthy husband is crucial to the health of a family, since God has planned for husbands to serve as the spiritual leaders of their homes. A healthy husband:
Views his wife as an equal partner and works well with her when making decisions
Communicates with his wife openly and in positive ways
Makes his relationship with his wife his top priority after God
Loves his wife unconditionally
Is committed to discovering and meeting his wife's needs, and
Seeks to model his spiritual and moral values.
A healthy father:
Is actively involved in his children's lives,
Makes time to be with his children often, engages in conversations with them regularly,
Plays with them often,
Teaches them his values,
Provides for and protects his children, and
Loves his children unconditionally.
Wives can motivate their husbands to grow by encouraging them and praising their efforts without expecting perfection. If wives share their desires in terms of requests rather than demands, husbands will respond better. Wives should give their husbands plenty of love and try to meet his basic needs -- including his strong sexual needs.
When they feel cared for, husbands will be motivated to act in loving ways themselves. Wives whose husbands get defensive also need to learn how to communicate in ways that don't strike at their husbands' self-esteem.
Adapted from The Family You've Always Wanted: Five Ways You Can Make it Happen, copyright 2008 by Dr. Gary Chapman. Published by Northfield Publishing, Chicago, Ill., www.moodypublishers.com.
Dr. Gary Chapman is the author of the New York Times bestselling book The Five Love Languages. With over 30 years of counseling experience, he has the uncanny ability to hold a mirror up to human behavior, showing readers not just where they go wrong, but also how to grow and move forward. Dr. Chapman is the host of the weekly one-hour radio program, Building Relationships, and has been featured at the Pentagon and United Nations. He is a prolific conference speaker and makes his home with his wife in North Carolina.