Musings of a Marfan Mom

Review: The Secrets of Happy Families


As I mentioned in January, I’ve been asked to review the book The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler. I hesitate to describe it as a “self-help book,” because it’s unlike any such book I’ve read. Feiler was tired of the “you must follow these precise steps in order to have a happy family” books, so he set out to interview all sorts of experts in seemingly unrelated fields (Warren Buffet’s banker, the Green Berets, and Silicon Valley gamers, to name a few) to see how their successes might be applied to the family unit. What resulted was a book full of ideas, with the expectation that no family could ever use all the suggestions, or that it’s even necessary to. There is no one type of family, so there’s no one way for a family to be happy.

Instead of a typical review, I was asked to implement one of the suggestions in our family and report back. Most of the suggestions were geared towards families of slightly older kids, perhaps kindergarten on up. My sons are 4 and 2, and in some ways my 4 year old is developmentally younger, given his autism. I did find a few I wanted to try for this review, and some more to try out later this summer, like the tips for family vacations.

One idea I really liked was introducing a new vocabulary word at dinner each day. We weren’t perfect about doing it every day, but it’s something I want to make into a true habit and maybe even into something a little more formal, so that it becomes a tradition. As M learns to read, perhaps we could have a sign in the kitchen where we put word suggestions, or a list of words that we’ve learned as a family.

Anyway, some words we used because they directly related to us. For example, M picked out a book from the library on oceans, so one night the vocabulary word was Micronesia, since a few pages of the book were about that region. Another night the word was electricity, and Mark tied it into what he’s been doing at work. One night I solicited ideas for words from my friends on Facebook. My favorite was hugger mugger: go look it up! M loved it and ran around the downstairs yelling “hugger mugger! hugger mugger!” for awhile after dinner that night.

Feiler talks a lot about helping children feel like they are a part of their family – and that includes the family beyond the walls of their own home. Traditions play a part in that, which is why as a child I was passionate about continuing the traditions we’d started (seriously…ask my family about the Turkey Bag, which I kept going till my sophomore year at college, when I started going to Thanksgivings at Mark’s grandparents’ instead of coming home!), and now as a mother myself I want to share and create traditions for my sons. Tied in with traditions though, is giving our children a sense of history. Feiler suggested sharing stories with our kids, and I realize I haven’t done that enough. It’s been really fun beginning to share those stories with M & J! Yesterday morning the boys let me sleep in a bit and M brought me Teddy the bear to keep me company. When the boys joined me in bed, I shared with them how Daddy gave me Teddy when I got sick for the first time at college, away from my own mommy. Their eyes widened at the idea that their Nona wasn’t there to take care of me, and they seemed delighted to know how their daddy had helped me. I hope it showed them what a caring man they have for a dad!

I did try one suggestion that ended up being a royal flop. To be honest, I altered it from its original intent though. Feiler suggests allowing children to pick their own punishments. I have mixed feelings on the subject. On one hand, he says that children tend to be harsher with themselves than we would be as their parents, and that they feel more invested in the rules when they have a say in the consequences. I can understand that. On the other hand, we don’t get to choose consequences in real life, so why should kids now? I didn’t feel as though M was capable of that kind of planning, but I thought I’d try giving him the option of 2 consequences when the opportunity arose and see what happened. Well, when M broke a major rule while on the way home from running errands, I laid out 2 equal consequences and offered him a choice. I told him he had until we got home to decide, or I would pick. Once home, he informed me “I decided I choose….NO consequence!” Yaaahhh…that didn’t work. I enforced a consequence and he had a huge meltdown because he didn’t understand the concept of the choice. Lesson learned. No more choices for the time being.

I definitely recommend The Secrets of Happy Families! I can honestly say I’ve been sharing tidbits from the book with my friends and family. Heck, I want to share some of these with the board of directors I’m a part of! This will be a book I reference again and again as the boys get older.

Out of curiosity, did any of you take me up on the challenge I wrote about? If so, leave your experience in the comments so we can discuss! If not, take it now and we can discuss later! :-)

You can buy The Secrets of Happy Families wherever books are sold. It’s also available on Kindle. If you want to connect with the author, his Facebook page is here.

* I received a copy of this book from the publisher and TLC Book Tours in order to conduct my review. I received no other compensation and all opinions are my own.

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  1. HA I can see me now asking Allie to pick her punishment. I have a feeling it would be on the line of M’s :)

    I like the idea of keeping traditions going. I really try that with the girls. Taking the best of the traditions (family holiday dinners) and leaving the rest (relatives who put the turkey in the oven but then forgot to turn it on).


    marfmom Reply:

    lol with the m&ms! and the uncooked turkey happened more than once?!


  2. I really want to pass down family history to my kid(s), and I’m also big on tradition. On my son’s birthday I want to make a tradition of telling him about the day he was born. I wish I had a better memory because I ask my grandma (95) for stories all the time, but can never remember them myself!

    Thanks for being on the tour!


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