It doesn't matter what size or shape yours is—these tips ring true for any family
The concept of the traditional, nuclear family has been outdated for years. In its place are modern families—ones of all sizes, colors, and parenting combinations. Not only are they becoming the norm, but also their so-called “differences” make them incredibly strong and happy. Here, ten big success secrets “modern” families have learned—that all people can apply to their own lives.
Anna Whiston Donaldson, blogger at An Inch of Gray and author of the forthcoming memoir Rare Bird, experienced devastation when her son, Jack, drowned three years ago. “Grief is a time of upheaval and profound disorientation because the world as you know it is changed forever,” she explains. And while it’s a helpless feeling to know that you have little control over your life, there are always some glimmers of hope and positivity, she says. No matter your situation, take time to appreciate every moment. Donaldson says that losing something precious to her—while incredibly sad—reminds her to cling to the bright spots where you can.
During the aftermath of Donaldson’s son’s tragedy, she found the support—small and large—from friends helped her family stay afloat. The lesson: No family is an island, and having as large a support network as possible gives your family the foundation it needs. And that works both ways: Know a family going through a tough time? Instead of asking what you can do, drop off dinner, offer babysitting hours, or give them a just-because gift certificate. The more effort you put into maintaining relationships (the good ones, not the ones that drain you), the more connected you’ll feel, reminds Joseph Mallet, a licensed clinical psychologist in Coral Gables, FL.
“When my son, Max, was diagnosed with cerebral palsy shortly after he was born, I wished he would walk and talk on the same timeline as other kids,” says Ellen Seidman, who blogs about her family at LoveThatMax.com. “But now, taking satisfaction in our realities and abilities—and not always aching for improvement—has permeated our family life,” explains Seidman. Sure it can be hard that your mom can’t be bothered to talk through the seating arrangement for your wedding or that your dad mixes you up with your sister a little too often—but instead of cringing, remember that all their quirks make them the unique people they are.
“One time, we rented bikes in the park with a child harness for Max, but when we actually rode them, my husband found out Max was too heavy to pull for more than a few minutes,” remembers Seidman. “But that didn’t matter. What mattered was that we had a great time while we were doing it.” Try this challenge: Spend a day with the people you love without Instagramming, tweeting, or doing any social media updating, suggests Mallet. Sure, if you’ve got some great shots, share them a day or two later, but simply keeping the focus on where you are now may make you enjoy the present even more.
Jessica Bruno, who blogs at fourgenerationsoneroof.com, lives with her husband, kids, parents, and grandparents. And even though there are occasionally disagreements, living with a lot of family has far more benefits than drawbacks. “You tend to see your parents, especially, with different eyes when you’re an adult and a mom than you did when you were a kid. Now, I see them as friends!” Obviously, everyone has different relationships with their own folks, and occasionally, it may be the best thing, sanity-wise, for you to keep them at a distance, reminds Mallet. “Learning how to communicate with your parents as a grown up is a skill.” Letting them know (calmly) how their actions make you feel—ie, explaining that you appreciate their advice, but sometimes getting it unsolicited makes it feel like they’re judging you—can be a huge step in all talking like adults.
Every Saturday night, the Bruno family sits down and eats together. Not only that, but Bruno has found that the pre-dinner prep is a great time for her and her mother to bond over recipes. “My mom and I share so many moments of cooking together that never would have happened if we lived apart,” explains Bruno. Make it work for you: Invite everyone over for Saturday afternoon board games or get into a habit of sending a letter to your far-flung nephew every Friday. No matter how small, traditions can help cement families together—even if you are far apart.
Working mom Tina Fey seems to be superwoman—but she’s made it clear she’s anything but. Instead, she dives into each day and goes for it. According to Fey, “I think every working mom probably feels the same thing: You go through big chunks of time where you’re thinking this is impossible…and then you just keep going and going, and you do the impossible.” Of course, that doesn’t mean you should push yourself to exhaustion, but if you want to go for something, do it!
Two years ago, Iowa student Zach Wahls gained national attention when a clip of him speaking to the Iowa House Judiciary Committee on the proposed ban on gay marriage went viral. As he explained: “Not once have I ever been confronted by an individual who realized independently that I was raised by a gay couple. And you know why? Because the sexual orientation of my parents has had zero impact on the content of my character.” The lesson: You’re going to hear stereotypes for any type of family, but they’re just that—stereotypes—and not some sort of guidelines for what your family “should” or “should not” look like or be. And at the end of the day, no matter what your feelings about your family, you’re the one who has to take responsibility for your own life.
The Jolie-Pitts' may be megawatt stars, but they feel it’s imperative their kids know that they are only a tiny part of the universe. “I think [our kids] see the world as their home,” Angie has said in the past. “I’ve seen Maddox run through the markets of Addis Ababa [in Ethiopia] and not notice that it’s very poor, or that everyone is African or that he’s Asian. It doesn’t matter to him.” We’re not saying you should emulate this glam fam’s jetsetting lifestyle, but appreciating just how similar we all are at the end of the day is a good lesson in perspective for any family.
At the end of the day, no matter who’s in your family, the most important thing is how you feel about them. Explains actress Maria Bello, in her New York Times Modern Love column, “Whomever I love, however I love them, whether they sleep in my bed or not, or whether I do homework with them or share a child with them, love is love … maybe, in the end, a ‘modern family’ is just a more honest family.” Blood relations and family trees will always have a place, but there’s something to be said for defining family on your terms with whomever you feel is worthy enough to fall under that title.