Sometimes family life can seem like a crazy collision of everyone’s challenges and weaknesses. In our family Jim could get impatient and snippy, Lynne tended to nag, Daniel liked to dominate and demand fairness, Bethany was over-sensitive and cried easily, and Noah sometimes told fibs to avoid conflict. On a bad day it was mayhem! It was easy to get stuck in a negative pattern, making life pretty miserable. But fortunately as we gained insight into what makes for strong, caring families, we learned not to get stuck focusing on our weaknesses.
In this journey there were three important principles we learned.
1.) Each person’s challenge area has a corresponding strength.
Our strengths that corresponded to these weaknesses were:
- Jim was passionate and expressive
- Lynne had good attention to detail and follow-through
- Daniel had a gift of leadership and justice
- Bethany was compassionate
- Noah was easy going
Valuing everyone’s gifts helped us to be more patient when those gifts went off track. When Daniel whacked Bethany one day for accidentally stepping on Noah’s Lego creation, she said to me through her tears, “Daniel was just trying to protect his little brother.” She used her gift of relational sensitivity to identify his gift of taking charge of “justice.” This did not negate Daniel’s responsibility to make it right with her, but her response allowed for easier reconciliation.
When family members respond to challenges this way, it communicates messages of, “Even though you are having a hard time right now, I still see the good in you. You are so valuable and ‘wonderfully-made’.” What an important message for both ourselves and our kids!
There was a second layer to this view of our strengths. Once we identified gifts, we all had to learn to utilize them well. It flowed from our belief that each one of us was “called and capable” to do the good works which God had prepared for us to do in our families.
[To learn how to see the strength in struggles, read the article
12 Misbehaviors and the God Given Gifts Behind Them.]
2) Each person’s strengths are given by God to build up the family.
We began to discover and value ours:
- Jim’s passionate expressiveness made for lots of fun, connective interactions.
- Lynne’s attention to detail/follow-through kept the family machine running reasonably smoothly and helped kids learn responsibility.
- Daniel often used his leadership to engage siblings in creative endeavors together, growing lasting bonds between them.
- Bethany was compassionate and sensitive to everyone’s emotions.
- Noah was the easy-going peacemaker in our intense family.
[Read the article How to Parent Together When You Are Total Opposites]
This year when we took a trip with two of our kids, I learned something profound about family strengths. We went through amazingly beautiful country in an unforgettable experience.
But one of the most unforgettable things was how we traveled. On the first day we naturally slipped into roles rooted in our strengths, making for a smooth, joy-filled trip. Jim was trip planner/tour guide, I did food/supplies management, Noah was an adept navigator, and Bethany was our photojournalist. As I drifted to sleep at night, I often marveled at the beautiful way God designed families – We were each created to know – “I belong, and I have a unique contribution to make!” At Connected Families we believe that many troubles in families can be healed when parents communicate to their kids, “You belong! And you have a unique contribution to make.”
3) Parents must help kids identify their strengths and unique roles.
Research tells us that “…people who focus on their strengths are more than three times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life.”* We believe that families that focus on each others’ strengths will likewise have excellent quality of life together. So take some time to be thoughtful about this, and make this part of your family discussions!
Your Response – consider these questions:
- What is a challenge area for each family member? (As you discuss, lead with authenticity as you share your struggle area. Each family member can choose to identify their own, but don’t let family members identify each other’s weaknesses!)
- What is a corresponding strength? Encourage insights about each other.
– In what ways do people in your family demonstrate caring for one another?
– When have they worked hard to contribute?
– How do they bring joy and laughter?
- How could we each use our gifts even more to contribute to the family?
For younger kids you can describe challenges and corresponding strengths as “Super-powers” that can be used in hurtful or helpful ways. Heather McFadyen, one of our affiliates to our online courses is a podcaster and used this term in a podcast with her husband called Roles, Goals and Super-powers.
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* Gallup Strengthsfinders quote, shared by Neil Ihde, our Strengthsfinders trainer.