Flexible Families are Forever Families: Part One

Healthy families do certain things right. A family can have some bat-shit crazy members and struggle with serious physical, financial, emotional and spiritual challenges and still be super healthy. How? Because healthy families have an abundance of three essential characteristics: flexibility, openness and love. Today’s post is about the first characteristic, flexibility. Let’s do this.

What do I mean by flexibility? I mean not rigid.

But wait, Nikki, isn’t it important to have rules and boundaries and structure?


So don’t we need to be rigid in order to have these things?


Families must be flexible in order to function. Without flexibility, there is no growth, and when a family doesn’t grow together, they grow apart. This is the saddest consequence that happens when parents adopt rigid styles of thinking and behaving. Unfortunately, sometimes we don’t even realize we lack flexibility until it’s too late.

When working with families who have a child in crisis more often than not, a lack of flexibility on the part of the parents is both a contributor and a source of exacerbation of a child’s problems. Here are a few all too common things I’ve heard during family therapy sessions along with my standard responses:

Client: My parents did it this way and I turned okay.
Me: But your child is not you, and your child is not okay right now.

Client: This is how we’ve always done it. Why fix it if it’s not broke.
Me: If it’s not broke, why are you here?

Client: Back when I was a kid, I would never have….
Me: Let me stop you right there, because you are no longer a child, and your child is not you. Let’s focus on the present time and the persons involved in the present conflict.

Client: If I give him/her an inch, he/she will take a mile.
Me: If you don’t give him/her an inch, soon he/she will be miles away.

The saddest thing of all is spending time with a client whose children are grown and gone, wanting nothing to do with them, blaming them for their troubles citing specific examples of rigid, inflexible thinking and behavior patterns that drove them away.

Being flexible is difficult. I am not suggesting that a certain level of firmness isn’t absolutely necessary for the health and safety of a child. The word “no” can and should be used as a complete sentence in many circumstances, especially when establishing the rules, boundaries and structure within a family.

However, anyone who has lived more than a second knows how quickly things and people can change. Change is the only constant in the life of a family. The rules, boundaries and structure will change. This is inevitable!

And so, there must be some flexibility! If we anticipate change, acknowledge it and attempt to adapt to it, we are being flexible. We need to pay attention! In the immortal words of Ferris Bueller…


It’s hard to look around when you are wearing blinders. If we don’t adapt to changes in our children, they will leave us behind before they even leave the nest and once they are gone, they might never come back. In the movie, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Ferris shares one of his best parent fake-out secrets…

The key to faking out the parents is the clammy hand. It’s a good non-specific symptom; I’m a big believer in it. A lot of people will tell you that a good phony fever is a dead lock, but, uh… you get a nervous mother, you could wind up in a doctor’s office. That’s worse than school. You fake a stomach cramp, and when you’re bent over, moaning and wailing, you lick your palms. It’s a little childish and stupid, but then, so is high school.

Are your kids giving you the clammy hand? Think about it!

The story of Ferris Bueller and his friends is a timeless example of how easy it is for parents to see only what they want to see and miss so much of what’s really going on. Family life is busy, stressful and fast moving. Each member of the family exists outside the bubble of the home, living a life and bringing their unique interpretation of experiences back into the family fold.

A family is a group of individuals, yet still are a part of each other. How much a part of each other and for how long this will be the case, has, does and will always depend on how flexible family members are with regard to how they anticipate, acknowledge and adapt to each other’s individuality.

Next post? How to bend without breaking, because flexibility in families makes for forever families. As our buddy Ferris says about Cameron…


You don’t want to be like Cameron, do you?

And don’t forget to read my earlier post about the ridiculously amazing parenting humor book Jason Good by clicking HERE!

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