Single-parent households are the norm in South Africa and the majority of children grow up with one parent (usually the mother) only. However, researchers have found that any family, whether single, blended or whole, can be a happy and successful family unit.

Do happy and successful families still exist?

Happy, successful families seem to be the exception to the rule these days. As people’s lives become more and more complicated and busy, family life seems to deteriorate and disintegrate accordingly. However, researchers have found that any family, whether single, blended or whole, can become a happy and successful family unit by following the habits and established patterns of thinking and doing things that all successful families have in common.

Habits of happy, successful families

Successful families have some or most of the following attributes in common:

  1. Nurturing spiritual awareness
    Successful families nurture a spiritual awareness, whether they follow an organised religion, worship pray and have family devotions together or just spend time counting their blessings and giving thanks for the good things in their lives.
  2. Expressing love and affection every day
    Physical affection, hugging, kissing, snuggling and other expressions of affection seem to abound in happy families and most children seem to thrive on it. In happy families, children are encouraged to be courteous, kind and forgiving to one another and to say “I love you” often. It’s a sad fact of life that many parents, especially dads, never show affection or say “I love you” to their children and this can be a serious blow to a child’s self-esteem. Another characteristic of happy, successful families is a husband and wife who love each other and aren’t ashamed to show it in the presence of their children.
  3. Setting family “indaba” times
    Happy families establish a regular family get-together-time to plan, teach, solve problems and have fun. All these activities help build the family’s emotional bank account.
  4. Communicating openly and honestly
    This characteristic and habit is closely aligned to the previous one. Members of happy and successful families have learned to communicate openly and honestly with one another without fear of reprisals. They are not afraid to put across their own point of view and parents are not afraid to discuss tough or sensitive subjects.
  5. Playing and laughing together
    “A sense of humour helps you overlook each other’s faults and lightens up tense situations”, reports one happy family. Happy, successful families also make it an absolute priority to spend quality and quantity time together. One family who placed a high priority on spending time with their kids, especially on family trips had the following motto: “Making memories is more important than material things. Through the years, if given a choice of a family vacation or a new piece of furniture; we bought a slipcover and were gone!”
  6. Disciplining children with love and consistency
    In happy and successful families, boundaries are established and consequences are explained – and children are allowed to suffer the consequences of bad choices. Also, mother and father do not disagree concerning discipline, especially not in front of the children.
  7. Making time to eat and talk together
    Sitting down together to have a family meal and talk, even if just three times per week, is highly recommended by most successful families. This is only possible when all electronic media (cell phones, TV, radios, etc.) are turned off!
  8. Sharing household chores
    “Clean up as a clan”, advises Charlotte Latvala, “you work, you talk, you get closer”. Other happy and successful families report that sharing the chores not only teaches children responsibilities but also practical life skills such as cleaning, cooking and mowing the lawn.
  9. Knowing that creating family rituals and traditions matter
    According to scientific research, the social development of children and feelings of family cohesiveness are encouraged by consistent family rituals. These can be as simple as having a formal sit-down lunch every Sunday or having a brunch or braai every Saturday. Rituals can also be developed around birthdays and other special occasions and how they are celebrated.
  10. Coping with adversity together
    How families cope with adversity, tribulation and problems will either make them stronger or tear them apart. Successful families have learned to work together as a team and support one another during the good and the bad times.

Barker, E. 2014. Twenty simple secrets of happy families — all backed by science. Retrieved from:
Covey, S. The seven habits of highly effective families.
Dykes, D. Ten habits of highly successful families. Retrieved from:
Latvala, C. Eight secrets of happy families. Retrieved from: