Dr Eddie Column: Psychologically healthy families

Dr Eddie advises on how to create a secure loving family
One in four children under the age of 21 live in a family that does not conform to the model of a child living with two biological parents.

One in four children under the age of 21 live in a family that does not conform to the model of a child living with two biological parents.

All family styles have the potential to nurture psychological well-being, and provide a secure base for its adults and children.

My UCD Prof Alan Carr, an excellent psychologist and therapist, says families need the three R’s – Rules, Roles, and Responsibilities.

Children can flourish once the important ingredients of love and security are offered. Good early attachments help them to perform well socially, academically and emotionally.

The Psychological Society of Ireland (PSI) promotes the value of stability, security and predictability in family structure regardless of the makeup of the family unit. 

Caoimhe Nic Dhomhnaill is a psychologist and member of the PSI.

“Families present as rich and varied, ranging from twosomes to threesomes to much larger groups, single parent families, step families, families with one or two gay or lesbian parents, adoptive families, foster families and reconstituted step families. It is important that whatever the particular family constitution that this is recognised and affirmed by its family members and by society,” she says.

support for mums

D.W Winnicott, a renowned paediatrician and psychoanalyst, suggested that it is very hard for any mother to be ‘good enough’ unless she herself is also held and supported, either by the child’s father or other supportive adult. In single parent families this supportive adult could be the mother’s sibling, the child’s grandparent or some significant caring adult in the community or extended family.

In my practice, mums often beat themselves up for not being “perfect”. I try to promote being “good enough”, that’s all that is needed. Pressure Off?

It takes a village to rear a child

This old adage captures something of the wisdom of drawing on resources outside of family.  For example, the life of a child of older parents might be greatly enriched by a young teenage babysitter, and supportive grandparents may resource families and allow them to manage emotional and practical challenges. Conversations between children and grandparents can help the child construct his/her family narrative which enhances his/her sense of identity in the world.

Urban families, and children in particular, create their own village by inviting others into the family unit such as friends and neighbours.

The benefit of this is a dilution of intensity. Intense enmeshed environments create a breeding ground for neurotic familial patterns. A larger playing pitch promotes creativity and psychological space and encourages children to exercise all their psychological muscles.

a vessel to hold ‘the good the bad and the ugly’

Messiness goes hand in hand with family life. When functioning well, the family can hold and digest aggression, rage, envies and jealousies which otherwise leak into society in challenging ways. It is also a vessel for joy, contentment and excitement. The strength of this vessel can be enhanced if the vessel itself is held within a community or within a wider family network.

Next week I will explore further how families can manage change, and the role of flexible family rituals. In the meantime, I ask that you reflect on the rules, roles and responsibilities in your family.


If you are organising a speaker or training for school, community, voluntary, sporting and work groups. Call Dr Eddie on 087 1302899 or visit www.dreddiemurphy.ie