The Well-Oiled Family Machine

When the family works like an efficient machine, everyone benefits.

Parenting Advice: The Well-Oiled Family Machine

Does your family life ever feel like you're just going through the motions? If the day-to-day work of homework, chores, dinner and work is leaving your family burned out, it might be time for a tuneup.

Why a family machine metaphor? 
A machine is a tool that contains moving parts and requires energy to perform its intended function. So far so good — families have children (certainly they are the moving parts!) and parents who need lots of energy to keep up with those moving parts. Let's take a look at what parts of this family machine need constant attention.


When gears mesh, they create a mechanical advantage. One gear turns another and the end result can be the ability of a small machine to literally move a mountain of coal. When the gears do not mesh, the entire machine comes to a grinding halt; productivity declines. Nobody wants a broken machine. In the family, the gears are the conversations that help the rest of the family understand each member. There are a number of ways to encourage the conversation gears to mesh within a family:

  1. Designate one evening a week for family dinner and conversation. No TV allowed! Families are busy with soccer practice, piano lessons, and committee meetings. At family dinner night, everyone shares what they did during the week, what worries them, and what made them happy. Take turns choosing the menu. Take turns helping to prepare that menu. Or simply get take-out occasionally to make the family dinner night easier.
  2. It has been proven that when people are moving, they are more likely to engage in emotional conversations. When you take your son to baseball practice, talk about kids who pick on him because he can't catch the ball well. When you take your daughter to dance lessons, talk about the other girls who have outrageously expensive costumes while hers is homemade. All manner of topics can be covered in the fifteen minutes from home to destination if you unplug your kids and yourself.

"You're pushing my buttons." You've said it; I've said it. Everybody knows what it means: you're getting on my last nerve. The switches in the family machine can either be labeled OFF or ON. When children taunt and tease each other, wrestling on the floor, making undue noise, and arguing about the TV program, they're pushing your button labeled "yell", so you can be heard. When you come home late from work and the house is a mess but you prefer a neat space (Is that truly a realistic expectation?), your "make some noise so this doesn't happen again" button just got smashed to ON. What are your buttons labeled?


But what about all the OFF buttons — the ones that turn off the anger and frustration?  These are the switches that most families notice least, but they should actually be the most noticed and used buttons. When your son comes home with an A in math after he struggled last marking period, he should have switched OFF the "is your homework done yet button". When your wife makes a special dinner even though her own job fatigued her, she should have switched OFF your "why don't you ever cook good meals" button. Pay attention to those moments when your OFF button has been pushed and reward your other family members with your kind words or actions on their behalf.

Every machine needs a source of power — electricity, oil, coal, natural gas, steam, solar, etc. What is the power that drives the family machine? That's an easy answer: respect. When the family members respect each other, the machine chugs along smoothly. When one daughter asks another daughter before borrowing a sweater, that's a sign of respect. When you call your children demeaning names, that's a sign of disrespect. Respect lets the others know that they are loved as valuable members of the family. 

So how do you keep this family machine well-oiled? With love. Love softens the edges of an argument. It sweetens the words during a difference of opinion. And love brings all parts of the famiy machine together so they operate the way they should. 

The next time you look at a machine — the washer, dryer, dishwasher, hair dryer, radio, refrigerator, etc. — think about how your family compares with the machine. Is the family operating as it should so the family machine works properly? Or is the family machine broken? If the dishwasher is broken, you either look inside to see if you can figure out what's wrong, or you call a professional repairperson. The same is true with broken families. Never accept that the family is unfixable until you try to identify what is causing the malfunction. If it is beyond your understanding, then definitely call in a professional family counselor. 


Are all the parts of your family machine working together efficiently?

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