Creating Comfort

Chicken noodle soup, meat loaf, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, bread pudding, brownies, doughnuts, apple pie. These are commonly referred to as “comfort food,” and with good reason. Most of us find great comfort in a tasty meal we’ve grown up with, a meal that doesn’t have to be explained by Gourmet or Saveur magazines.

But true comfort, the kind that heals emotional hurts and turns around bad days, involves far more than our palates. One dictionary defines the word comfort as “a feeling of relief or encouragement,” or “contented well-being.”1 A quick review of the word’s origin, though, uncovers a deeper meaning. We get the verb to comfort from the Latin com- + fortis, meaning “to make strong” (that is, like a fortress).

So to comfort literally means to make someone stronger. And that’s exactly what you do for your children. Comfort fortifies their spirits. Whenever you encourage your children with uplifting words, console them with a tender touch, relieve their sorrow with your mere presence, support them with heartfelt praise, or provide a wholesome meal and the love that’s served with it, you are helping to make your children strong.

What Would Strengthen Your Home?

If you could press a magic button to instantly strengthen your home, what would it do? We don’t mean the physical house. We mean the feeling, the chemistry, and the climate of the relationships within it. We’re talking about the spirit of your home.

Would you want it to include more laughter? Meaningful and engaging conversations? Vulnerability and respect? Mutual support? These are the things most parents mention. And if you’re like the hundreds of parents we’ve surveyed, you’re likely to sum up the desire you have for your home by saying you want it to be the safest place on earth.

The Secrets of a Healthy Home

Thriving families don’t just happen. Merely going with the flow or taking what comes is fatal to the heart of a home. Healthy and happy families are the result of deliberate intention, determination, and practice. Every family expert will tell you that a healthy home is the result of a proactive parent.

The largest study ever done on family life was conceived on Interstate 40 where it runs through the rolling hills of Oklahoma and the prairies of western Texas. That’s where University of Alabama professor Nick Stinnett was driving with his wife, Nancy, when, in the midst of their discussion on families, he determined to find out what healthy homes were doing right. Up to that point, family researchers were focused exclusively on dysfunctional and fragmenting families. Dr. Stinnett wanted to take a different approach. He wanted to know how people in healthy homes handled conflict and power struggles. He wanted to know how they communicated, and so on. In short, he wanted to know the secrets of healthy families.

That was in 1974, and his study took more than twenty-five years and involved more than fourteen thousand families who were ethnically diverse, had many kinds of religious beliefs, and came from all fifty states and twenty-four countries around the world. The one thing these families had in common was a thriving, successful, and strong family unit.

What did the world’s largest, longest, and most comprehensive study on family life teach us? First, that thriving families are not immune to trouble. They suffer financial setbacks, chronic illnesses, and all the rest. But in spite of the strain and stress of daily life, they create pleasant, positive places to live where family members can count on one another for support, love, and loyalty. They unite to meet challenges and solve problems. They pull together. They feel good about themselves as a family and have a deep sense of belonging with each other, a sense of    “we-ness.” At the same time, they encourage each person’s uniqueness and potential.