Secrets of Happy Families

It’s been one year since I wrote about our then hectic daily family life and our plans to make some small changes to our weekly routine as outlined in Bruce Feiler’s book The Secrets of Happy Families. Heading into the new school term this year I can contest to these three simple ideas we took from the book that have helped us lead a happier home life:

Weekly Family Meetings

I was reluctant about these at first but Feiler was adamant in the book that his kids fully embraced the idea, even the younger ones. He emphasised that the key to the weekly meetings is keeping the topic on the family itself and not discussing external problems or issues. Short 20 minute meetings once a week is all it took to discuss goals, personal schedules and evaluate work. Keeping the discussion about the family itself and not bringing external problems into the mix are key.

We let the kids pick their own punishments and set their own rewards (within reason) and it worked really well. Research has shown that empowering them in these ways can build up their pre-frontal cortex and develop their decision making skills. 

The meetings should focus on things like 1) What went well in the family this week? 2) What didn’t go well? 3) What will we agree to work on this week? Everyone offers answers, and then everyone votes on two problem areas to focus on. 

Family Meal Together

The traditional daily evening family dinner is important to a lot of families however Feiler’s research shows that the benefit of having a meal together doesn’t have to be a nightly dinner. It can be a breakfast or brunch together once a week at a time when everyone is relaxed, calm and more focused. Often the daily evening meal doesn’t suit everyone with differing schedules (working late, evening training, playing outside) so taking the emphasis away from the idea that everyone must eat together at least once a day has been freeing.  We now set aside dedicated time on Saturdays at lunch or Sunday brunch to eat together, to chat and spend quality time together. 

Morning Checklists

Checklists help keep everyone focused in high pressure, high stress situations and Feiler applies the same principle to the weekly family morning rush to school. Feiler suggested that each child should have their own morning checklist, which includes simple tasks like teeth brushing and bag packing.

This was the one thing that worked really well in our family. Mornings are hard on everyone and enabling the kids to be responsible for their routine certainly improved my life. Everyone knows exactly what they need to do each day including one chore that will help the family overall (set the breakfast table, clear away the dishes etc.). Here’s one we made for Seán that will be updated for the new school term in September. 


There are lots of other strategies detailed in the book but these three are great to start with. If you only pick one thing to introduce to the family this new term I recommend the morning checklist. We are much more organised in the mornings as a result, I’m certainly less stressed and everyone is much happier. 



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