Why a close family is worth preserving

Close, quality relationships to family and friends, and enduring, supportive marriages lead to health and happiness

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RED DEER, Alta. Dec. 30, 2015/ Troy Media/ – Do you hear what I hear?

It’s the glorious sound of post-Christmas silence, and it is all around us – at least in our house.

Our three grown sons and their partners have all gone home, north or south in Alberta, and it is time to decompress.

More precisely, for my wife and I, it is time to catch our breath and smile. To savour what we have and reflect on why it is so precious. And to enjoy the silence.

When a family reaches a certain maturity, Christmas becomes a tug-of-war of sorts. Our best option is a rotation, and at the moment all three sons and their partners are in synch.

This year, that meant they all were home two days after Christmas Day (for what they called “Christmas 2.0”), so we threw most of the standard family traditions out the door because they had already been through the traditions with their partners’ families.

The basic components of the season, for us, were never in the meals, rituals, presents and decorations anyway.

All discussions of traditional faith aside (however you find peace, love and happiness should be your business – just keep searching until you find it), each of us believe in the strength and sanctity of family, and that goodness starts from that foundation. And for us, Christmas is the perfect time to reinforce and reaffirm those values.

While it is not always easy to put family first, it is always worth it.

Because our children travel widely and have lived in far-flung places, we have enjoyed some unorthodox Christmas Days as we strove to prevent dislocation, particularly at this time of year.

Once, one of our young couples spent the day on Skype, watching their families go about the festive fun from England.

Another time, my wife and I spent a makeshift Christmas in a downtown Toronto hotel with our youngest son whose house was without power for several days as the result of the great ice storm which struck the city in 2013. We had Christmas dinner at Fran’s diner that year.

Another year, a partner of one of the boys spent Christmas in transit between Amsterdam and Helsinki, where she was studying. The Internet kept us all connected.

It’s not that we attempt to keep the rest of the world at arm’s length at Christmas. It’s just that our primary focus is inward, on the things that make our little world strong and comfortable: our love for each other, and our trust in all the components of our family and each distinct personality. And certainly the humour and the food don’t hurt.

These things, of course, are all blessings. But we are aware that far too many people can only envy our good fortune. We have comfortable homes, good educations, fulfilling pursuits, plenty of love, and we live in a strong and inclusive country.

Of course, every family have their moments of discord. The trick is to minimize the gaps and maximize those things that bind us. If you are paying attention to one another, and staying close, you hope there is no random error that disrupts the harmony.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development is a 75-year examination of the factors that create lives of health and happiness. It found that close, quality relationships to family and friends (rather than looser relationships of greater quantity) and enduring, supportive marriages pay off immeasurably in achieving a happier and healthier life, both physically and mentally.

While my family’s research is quite a bit more limited, our findings are consistent.

In the tight circle that is our family, we have found and fostered the greatest of gifts: support, trust, honesty and love. And usually a great deal of noise.

It is the sound and commotion of a life well lived. It is something to treasure every day, not just during this season of joy.

Troy Media columnist John Stewart is a journalist based in Red Deer. John is included in Troy Media’s Unlimited Access subscription plan.

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