Keep It Simple – Making Happy Families

Research shows that there are some basic habits that combine to make a winning formula for families with successful, well-adjusted children who will flourish in life.

“Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated,” are the wise words of Confucius.

Albert Einstein said it this way: “Everything should be made as simple as possible but not simpler.”

And one final word of wisdom from Steve Jobs is, “Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end because you can move mountains.”

Recently, my wife and I attended the National Grandparents Conference in Wollongong. Ian Barnett, the founder of this amazing movement, spoke at the conference and said something that, for me, was very profound. He quoted Alistair Begg, who said,

“The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.”

Ian’s talk really challenged me as a father and grandfather. I tend to complexity. We all do but we have to work hard to keep focussing on the simple things and making sure we do them well.

Eric Barker, author of a Wall Street Journal bestseller, Barking Up the Wrong Tree and with an informative blog of the same name, wrote an article titled “How to Have a Happy Family — 7 Tips Backed by Research”. It is well worth the read, but because I am trying to keep things simple, I have reduced his wisdom to three main points (they are points 1, 2 and 7 from his list).

1) Having Dinner Together Matters

Kids who have dinner with their families do better across pretty much every conceivable metric.

A recent wave of research shows that children who eat dinner with their families are less likely to drink, smoke, do drugs, get pregnant, commit suicide, and develop eating disorders.

Additional research found that children who enjoy family meals have larger vocabularies, better manners, healthier diets, and higher self-esteem. The most comprehensive survey done on this topic, a University of Michigan report that examined how American children spent their time between 1981 and 1997, discovered that the amount of time children spent eating meals at home was the single biggest predictor of better academic achievement and fewer behavioural problems. Mealtime was more influential than time spent in school, studying, attending religious services, or playing sports.

Doesn’t work for your family’s schedule? It doesn’t have to be dinner. And it doesn’t have to be every night.

Many of the benefits of family mealtime can be enjoyed without sitting down together every night.

Even the folks at Columbia University’s centre on addiction, the ones responsible for a lot of the research on family dinners, say having joint meals as infrequently as once a week makes a difference.

2) Share the Family History

Children who know the stories of those who came before them have higher self-esteem and a sense of control over their lives.

Marshall and Robyn asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001, and also taped several of their dinner table conversations. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests and reached some overwhelming conclusions.

The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.

I’ve posted many times about the power of story. Having a family narrative is great for children.

“The most healthful narrative,” Marshall continued,

“It’s called the oscillating family narrative. ‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital.

But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’”

Marshall says that children who have the most balance and self-confidence in their lives do so because of what he and Robyn call a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.

3) Grandmothers Have Superpowers

Scores of studies show the incredible benefits that grandmothers bring, like teaching kids to cooperate and to be compassionate.

Children who spend time with their grandparents are more social, do better in school and show more concern for others.

Countless studies have shown the extraordinary benefits grandmothers have on contemporary families. A meta-analysis of sixty-six studies completed in 1992 found that mothers who have more support from grandmothers have less stress and more well-adjusted children.

So, what are these grandmothers actually doing? They’re teaching children core social skills like how to cooperate, how to be compassionate, how to be considerate. Researchers at Brigham Young University in Utah interviewed 408 adolescents about their relationship with their grandparents. When grandparents are involved, the study found, the children are more social, more involved in school, and more likely to show concern for others.

I hope this post helps your family be happier.

Most of the research to back up all the above facts can be found in this book: The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Rethink Family Dinner, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More.

Let me just add that grandfathers also have superpowers. If you don’t believe me, check out this great article from Fatherly called, ‘5 Scientifically-Backed Benefits to Grandmas and Grandpas’ by Lauren Vinopal.


I love the KISS formula, ‘Keep It Simple, Stupid,’ It is a tad derogatory, so you can substitute my version, ‘Keep It Simple, Sugar.’

Whatever the case, I hope you get the message because, “The main things are the plain things, and the plain things are the main things.”

Yours for more happy families,
Warwick Marsh


First published at Dads4Kids. Photo by cottonbro.

By |2022-10-07T20:44:00+10:00October 8th, 2022|Children, Families|0 Comments

About the Author:

Warwick Marsh has been married to Alison Marsh since 1975; they have five children and nine grandchildren, and he and his wife live in Wollongong in NSW, Australia. He is a family and faith advocate, social reformer, musician, TV producer, writer and public speaker.

Warwick is a leader in the Men’s and Family Movement, and he is well-known in Australia for his advocacy for children, marriage, manhood, family, fatherhood and faith. Warwick is passionate to encourage men to be great fathers and to know the greatest Father of all. The Father in Whom “there is no shadow of turning.”

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