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Dimensions of the Ideal Family

December 2013

Over the last fifty years, psychologists have envisioned what the dimensions of the ideal family would be. In doing so, they have come to understand that just as plants and animals need certain basic elements to survive and grow, all children require specific conditions to develop their full potential. For example, infants need food, water, warmth, shelter, and stimulation to survive. Young children require contact with affectionate, empathic, mature adults who function as positive role models. A child of any age benefits from living in congenial harmony with family members who communicate honestly and openly and who provide genuine experiences that enhance the child’s search for happiness and meaning in life.

What are the dimensions of the hypothetical ideal family? First, in the perfect setting, each family member would be acknowledged, heard, felt, and experienced by the others in a way that gives that person a sense of his/her own unique identity. Everyone, especially the children, would be seen as being in a state of change and capable of assuming an active role in their own growth and development. This would mean that no one would be labeled or perceived as having a fixed identity and that each person would be valued as a distinct individual.

The ideal family would have a spirit of easy sharing and a lack of possessiveness. There would be an open exchange of feelings, thoughts, ideas, good times, and humor. Communication between all members would be straightforward, honest, and compassionate. Everyone would feel free to express any opinion and experience any emotion without self-consciousness. Humor would not be cynical or sarcastic, but would be reflective of the good feelings the individuals within the family have for each other. Each person’s uniqueness, foibles and sexual identity would be acknowledged and validated.

The adults in this ideal family would not rule by force, coercion, or authoritarian means but would operate from an inner strength and authority that would be naturally recognized and respected by the children. There would be no attempts to manipulate through domineering power plays or passive aggressive behavior. Parents would avoid unnecessary or arbitrary restrictions, rules, and standards. These would be unnecessary because the parents themselves consistently behave in a responsible manner. When discipline is necessary it would be practiced with firmness and understanding, not with cruelty or condemnation.

The ultimate goal of parenting for the ideal family would be to allow and enable children to strive for their goals, gradually achieve an independent life, and eventually to separate from codependent ties with their parents and siblings. The good parents of this ideal family would take pleasure in observing the unfolding personality of their children as they emerge from dependency and move toward autonomy. They would also genuinely value themselves, accept their own feelings and priorities, and actively participate in their own lives independently of their children. Because everyone is known to have value and importance, parents and children alike would naturally have respect and show consideration for each other throughout their life-spans

An ideal family provides all of its members with many advantages, including a warm and fulfilling lifestyle, financial security, companionship, acknowledgement of each person’s accomplishments, encouragement of each family member’s independence, and support for the development of everyone’s unique abilities, talents, and careers. In short, it provides all of the qualities of a meaningful and fulfilling life for each of its members. Admittedly, there may be no such thing as the perfect ideal family. Nonetheless, each one of us can and should apply ourselves to making the family we are in as ideal as possible. By doing so we can rest assured we are contributing to the long range good of ourselves and to those whom we are most directly related.

More information on the ideal family can be found in the book Compassionate Child-Rearing by Robert W. Firestone, PhD.




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