Growing up in the United States, re-runs of The Brady Bunch dominated afternoon programming and introduced society to an unconventional family model – the blended family.
However, the concept of family has always encompassed a variety of household arrangements, especially here in China. In the West, the nuclear family is the norm, but in the Middle Kingdom generations of extended family members have lived together around a central courtyard. Though that arrangement is no longer as common, modern-day Beijing is still home to all kinds of households (blood-related and otherwise) who consider each other family and may be raising children together.
There are many debates about the “best” kind of arrangement. Are two parents better than one? Should single parents find a partner so that their child has a mother or father figure? Is it healthier to have the grandparents around or an ayi? These are all valid questions, but what I’ve found is that it’s not the way the family looks that matters, but how it behaves. Here are some guidelines for promoting happy and healthy relationships:
Create family bonding time with intention. This means regular time that the family spends together, face-to-face. For many this consists of the evening meal, but nowadays even that must be set aside with purpose. Think about how to create these opportunities; when they do happen, put down your mobile phone and be all there.
Maintain stability. It’s very important for children to have consistent
caregivers, whoever they may be. Parents traditionally fill this role, but it can also include ayis and grandparents. If circumstances hinder the stability of your family life, make every effort to change them.
Get on the same page. All of the adults in the household should agree on a set of house rules governing appropriate behavior and consequences. Discuss the latter with your kids and involve them as much as is appropriate in formulating rules and consequences. Try writing the rules on a large sheet of paper and putting them on the wall.
Consistency is key. All of the adults involved in raising the children (including ayis) must maintain consistency with consequences. Kids quickly learn how to exploit an adult they perceive as “soft.”
The buck stops here. If there are multiple caregivers, the child must understand that there is a final authority in case of disagreement on an issue. Usually, this lies with the parents.
Provide a consistent message of love and acceptance. No matter who is involved in your child’s life, make sure the message your child receives is that they are loved. This should remain the same regardless of successes, failures, misbehavior, bad grades, etc.
As always, if you are concerned about your child’s relationships or behavior, or about your family environment, consult a qualified healthcare professional. Let’s work together to promote a positive family environment!