House Plans for Happy Families

“Familiarity breeds contempt.”
  -Mark Twain

One of my dreams as a Marriage and Family Therapist is to work with an architect to design a home conducive to healthy and happy family living. This concept is so fantastic that it will be incorporated as the new template for modern home building.  As a result couples looking for a new home will demand the Happy Family Home Plan, and middle class America will change (for the better!) as we know it.

Sounds great, but the problem is that when I describe the actual characteristics that the house will have many people tend to resist. I know some folks have strong ideas about the way things ought to be, and it’s too bad so many are so quick to bat the idea down because I know what I’m talking about is a damn good idea.

So, without further ado, here are the qualities I feel the perfect family home must have …

1.    His and her master suites. The idea is to maintain some sense of privacy and mystery. That’s right, each partner gets his or her own bedroom, closet, and bathroom. Marriage is based on the assumption that two people create a legal “business” or contract together, and are also supposed to be affectionate, loving and, hopefully, have sex. To me, it’s not healthy for couples who are supposed to find some sort of romantic and intimate connection over the long haul to be around each other all the time. Yes, Ralph and Marie, watching your partner go to the bathroom, attempt to squeeze into pants or pick at their face is not conducive to the sort of lifetime romance I’m talking about. Each person having space and the option to connect is a healthy thing.

Which means that next I am calling for …

2.    A neutral and kid-free zone for adult hanging out together. Call it a den, date room, or whatever you want, but this is the central hangout for the couple. It can have a huge couch or even a bed to lay around, read, watch TV, or snuggle, but whatever you use it for, it teaches children and adults about the importance of maintaining boundaries and separate spaces. Note to those who desperately cling to your kids: Sorry, the little ones need to know and respect that parents have lives and needs, too.

So just for the kids … their own lair …

3.    A kid’s wing. In another part of the house there will be a magical place where kids will work and play. Ideally, the central room of the kid’s wing is a den especially for them with TV, computer, and a table big enough for board games and spreading out homework papers or science projects.  Doors on the walls of this central room will lead straight into their bedrooms. Kids can either have a club or individual bath. With this plan kids can congregate or hibernate …

4.    Toy/stuff closet. One room off the kid’s central room will be a closet where kid paraphernalia such as sports equipment, games, and arts and crafts projects can be organized and stored.

5.    Kitchen/family room combo for family gathering and congregation. A nice-sized room that combines the kitchen and family room for  family meals and general togetherness. I recommend at least 30 minutes of quality family time be spent here a day. That means being totally present and attentive with no TV, computer or cell phone interruptions.

6.    Media Room with comfortable seating for all. Movies, concerts, TV, music … a family media gathering place.

7.    Utility room.  The place for dirty shoes, hanging coats, etc. Each person in the family will have his or her own large cubby space by the door to keep backpacks, books, purses, and briefcases ready to grab on the way out to work or school.

8.    Library. Healthy families read, so we need a place to store books and reference materials as well as DVD’s and CD’s.

9.    His and her office.  In the old days dad got his own office and workspace in which to do his work – now mom and dad get it. This means work is done here and not anywhere else when at home.

OK, so beat me up for creating so many places for people to get away, but you must admit I also offer lots of space for togetherness as well. The important point is that each person in a healthy family needs his or her own space, and couples need individual and together space.  A mature couple (and you have to be mature if you want a healthy family life) will be able to negotiate when to be or not to be without taking it personally.

I am very aware that the Happy Family Home Plan will cost quite a few bucks to build, so if you can’t afford it may I suggest another option – buying two homes side-by-side and living next door to one another. Oops – that’s the suggestion that gets me in the most trouble.

What do you think?

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