4 min read

Review of The Secrets of Happy Families

Want to know how to keep sex alive in your married life?  How about talking to your kids about sex, religion and doing chores?  And have you had to tell grandma she's going to a retirement home yet?  This book is an amalgamation of all resources you need to have a happy family life.  It references many great books in pop psychology, many of which I have already read.  But it takes it to the family context brilliantly.  I guarantee that no matter how many other books you've read, you will learn something new in this book.  And it will be relevant to you whether you're raising kids, caring for an aging parent, or want to stay happily married.  No, the author is not paying me to say this.  I simply know a good book when I listen to one.  Yes, it comes in audio form as well.

There were many worthy lessons in this book.  But here are 5 highlights.

  1. Family Logistics can take a lesson from Agile methods used in making software.  I work at Atlassian where we make software for agile software teams, so I found this an interesting opening chapter.  Agile methodology centers on three main behaviors: stand-up meetings, work-tracking checklists, and retrospective meetings.   Adapted to the family context, that means making chore checklists for your kids' morning routines.  Train them to use it everyday.   Keep it visible and let the kids check things off, taking ownership for the quality of the work completed.  People tend to have a higher quality bar for themselves than you would set for them.  This checklist method takes the crazy out of family mornings, and give kids a sense of control and pride over their routine.  Then set up family meetings every week to go over 3 questions: 1) What has gone well for the family?  2) What didn't go well for the family?  3) What will each person commit to do the coming week [to fix something mentioned in 2]?  Focus on talking about what went well or not for the family and not for individuals.  The goal is to work as a team and troubleshoot together.  You may be surprised by what others state as problems, then be surprised again by the proposed solutions. More heads are better than one.  You have those heads in your family, use them.
  2. Have a family mission statement.  In order to work as a team it is important for every member to know what the goal is.  The author's family mission statement was "May your first word be adventure and your last word be love."  It is important to keep the statement short, and to work together to come up with it.
  3. Kids need to learn about money early.  Create a Mom and Dad bank account for them, experiment and have fun.  Try techniques like a 70% interest rate to incentivize kids to save, and/or assess a 15% tax to the family since the kid is a citizen of the household.  People are more averse to losing what they have, than to gaining something they don't already have.  This means if you want to pay a kid to do something, it is more effective to pay up front and say, "if you don't do the work you have to give the money back."  The goal of money training is to teach the concept of constraints. Constraints forces creativity.  By constraining what the kid can afford by having his/her own account, he/she learns to prioritize what's important, and more importantly, be creative in satisfying needs that are outside the budget.  One kid in the book learned to buy clothes that look expensive but are not actually expensive.  In all this, it is important to fund passions.  The goal with funding passions is to be fair, not equal.  If one kid gets a sports scholarship to a state school and another gets accepted to an ivy league college, you don't compensate the first kid with cash because that kid is lighter on your wallet.  Both are getting what they choose.  It's not about giving the same dollar amount to each kid.  It's about what's fair and supporting passions.
  4. The intro to this blog promised some sex talk, so I'm saving two bullet points to satisfy your desires.  For long-married couples, keeping it fun in the bedroom is difficult.  Skip the bed, and forget stoking "intimacy" as a path towards sex.  Intimacy is important for other parts of the relationship, but hinders sex.  Sex thrives on mystery and adventure, so distances does make the heart grow fonder.  Have a lunch rendezvous, book a hotel for a night, try the bathroom.   Finally, individuals report that they find their spouse attractive when they see them in the work context or working on something that he/she is passionate about.  There are more opportunities for this during early phases of the relationship, when couples are learning about each other's life.  Keeping this discovery alive is key.
  5. Talk to your kids early about sex.  The birds and the bees are less "ewww" when your kid is 5.  Answer questions directly when asked, but no need to elaborate and tell the whole story if the kid is only 5.  Save some for later.  Use real names for body parts.   A study found that the majority of children know the words penis and testicles but not vulva, labia and vagina.  Using substitute words for female body parts send the signal to daughters that female body parts are shameful. That's wrong. Learn those words and use them.  That's my five.  And I didn't even get to the topics of family negotiation, religion, travel, and sports.  Read this book, you won't regret it.

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