Five Signs of a Loving Family (by Gary Chapman)

Gary Chapman is best known for his books about the ‘five love languages’, which have so revolutionised many people’s abilities to communicate love to their spouses and children. I’ve read three or four of his books, and while there’s inevitably some repetition as the author explains how different people ‘speak’ and ‘hear’ love, there are many different angles. I’ve found all the books thought-provoking and helpful. So when I spotted another of his books available second-hand, I bought it at once.

‘Five signs of a loving family’ is rather different from the ‘love language’ books. It was written after an anthropologist spent a year with Chapman’s family - including teenage children, at the time - and discusses some aspects of a healthy family life which are usually lacking in today’s society. The author has picked out a handful of traits that were observed in his family, and which he believes are of major significance to the many families in danger of disintegrating.

The first aspect is an attitude of service. I thought this section quite interesting: it looks not just at the way parents do things for their children, but at the attitude involved, and the importance of pulling together to do chores, and generally to help each other. I felt that some of the author’s suggestions were a tad coercive, but he had some good ideas too, in particular harnessing the natural enthusiasm to ‘help’ that is present in so many toddlers, yet pushed aside by parents who know they can do things better on their own.

The second section is about intimacy between husband and wife. Again, I know that this is vital in any family situation - and the author acknowledges that, these days, there are not many traditional nuclear families; instead there are second marriages, blended families, and of course single parents for whom this is not relevant. The importance of parents putting each other first is emphasised, and I would agree that this is of primary importance to children, and to family life in general. The ‘love language’ concept is mentioned as being important in marital communication, but not explained in detail.

However, I began to find myself increasingly uncomfortable with the final three sections of the book. The third one is about ‘teaching and training’ children. The difference between the two words is explained well, I thought, and I liked the emphasis on answering children’s questions, and introducing them to new ideas - recognising that when children ask questions then respectful parents help them find out answers. However the ideas about ‘training’ seemed overly authoritarian; possibly occasionally necessary in families where utter chaos reigns and where children are out of control, but far too inflexible, in my opinion. Some of the examples given seemed unfair, and likely to cause resentment.

The fourth section is about children honouring and obeying their parents; again, I found this rather negative. Certainly mutual respect is important, and in a healthy family it’s likely that children do honour their parents to some extent, but ‘obedience’ is a somewhat overrated concept, in my opinion. I prefer to think of mutually acceptable solutions to problems, with children thinking for themselves, and making their own decisions as far as they are able to. To be fair, Chapman doesn’t recommend a highly controlling parental model, and certainly encourages discussion, but some of his ideas felt too strict and structured for everyday family life.

The final section is about husbands giving loving leadership - with many provisos, and warnings, and the acknowledgement that many husbands have no wish to do anything of the sort. But it somehow felt forced, and very dated. The book was first published in 1997, so it’s not THAT old - yet it felt, in many ways, like something out of the 1980s.

There are assessment sheets throughout the book which, I suppose, could be helpful to people trying to figure out what they can do to help their families. It’s good that readers are not expected to buy another ‘workbook’, as happens so often with this kind of material; on the other hand, these assessments were a bit distracting placed in the middle of the text. I would have preferred them as an appendix.

On the plus side, the writing is good, some of the anecdotes are interesting, and there is plenty to discuss if a couple decided to read this book together. Gary Chapman is a Christian, and this is spelled out in a couple of places; however the book is deliberately written from a mainly secular point of view, and should thus be relevant to people of any faith, or none.

I don’t think I’d recommend this, particularly, but it could be of use to families struggling to find any kind of relationship between parents and children; even if readers don’t agree with most of the suggestions, they could well trigger some new ways of relating.

Not currently in print, but often found second-hand at reasonable price.

Review by copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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