The Secrets of Happy Families

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Leo Tolstoy

There are thousands upon thousands of parenting books in print. Let’s not even count the hundreds of thousands of mom blogs and parenting websites and magazines bombarding eager, albeit anxious, parents who just want to “do it right.” The funny thing is that this market will never be saturated. Why? Because those eager-anxious parents will always exist. There will always be a new generation treading into the waters of raising kids. There will always be people who want to do things a little better than their parents, who want to find the secrets.

Bruce Feiler wanted to find the secrets, too, and he wrote a book unveiling what he found.

“Unveil” sounds so mysterious. Most of these tips and tactics were right under our noses, but we didn’t see them because we weren’t looking in that direction.

Let’s try another direction.

A certain habit persists that believes the solution to every problem can and should be found within its own circles. Those who want to design websites for a specific market only look at existing sites already reaching that market. Those who want to write books only read books within their specific genre or written exclusively for their target audience. Those who want to be singers try to sound like everyone else with sold-out concert halls. Christians only read Christian books … and those who want to be good parents keep reading parenting books written by parenting experts.

This isn’t necessarily bad; we should want to imitate those who do things well, but … Is it possible that solutions, even wisdom, can be found outside expected realms? What if the solutions for happy families aren’t found in parenting books?

There is great value in thinking outside the box, in exploring solutions beyond the invisible walls of our subcultures. There is value in exploring fresh wells. This is why I enjoyed The Secrets of Happy Families so much and it’s why I’m sharing it with you.

Bruce FeilerMost parenting books look at roles and relationships. That’s what families are – right? Of course, but we’re more than that. And “that” gets complicated when circumstances enter, shift and impact those roles and relationships. All this leaves us a bit baffled, wondering how to keep up with ever-changing demands, never knowing for sure if we’re doing it “right.” Are our kids happy? Is our family strong? Are we doing the best to foster peace and unity in our home?

Huh. Maybe it’s time to look at families in a different light. That’s what Feiler did.

Redefining Family: How We Look vs. What We Do

Feiler took parenting out of its preconceived box of definition. Rather than define us by our structure, he defined us (families) by our common activities.

“Instead of breaking down families by size, make up or class, I’ve broken down families into the things we all do — love, fight, eat, play; food around, spend money, make pivotal life decisions — and tried to discover ways to do them better. I have sought out the most illuminating experiences, the smartest people, and the most effective families I could find as a way to assemble best practices of families today.”

Feiler spent three years tracking down these “smartest people” and then testing their theories and practices in his own home. These included a software engineer (with Asperger’s), movie producers, a celebrity chef, an architect, a “snoopologist” … Wait — really? Yup. Why? Because they’re doing something right and what they are doing has tremendous impact on families.

Here are a few pieces from his “playbook” for families:

  • Don’t worry about family dinner. (What you talk about is more important than what, when or where you eat.)
  • Let your kids pick their punishments. (They’ll take greater responsibility for their actions and likely place a heavier burden on themselves than you would.)
  • Ditch the sex talk. (Make it a conversation, a series of talks rather than an uncomfortable confrontation.)
  • Run your house like a corporate office. (Family meetings, goals and regular assessments decrease chaos and increase unity. This also grants a sense of “family ownership” to the kids that leads them to work harder and parents to nag less.)
  • Stop “neutralizing” your house with Pottery Barn style and magazine-worthy decor. (Personalized homes solidify identities and kids’ sense of belonging. Placed rightly, furniture and accessories can even promote togetherness and more open communication.)
  • Encourage Grandpa to tell more stories. (Understanding one’s heritage deepens a sense of belonging, security and protective spirit within one’s family.)

The book dives into the issues of communication; sibling rivalry and how to fight well; date nights, good marriages and great sex; chore distribution; setting budgets, allowances and teaching money management; promoting joy and much more.

Now, some of these things we already practice in our home. You may, too. Not everything in this book will fit with every family, but a lot of it makes a LOT of sense. I highly recommend it — otherwise I wouldn’t have told you about it! :)

Get the book: This should be available at your favorite local bookstore. You can also purchase it online HERE.

Bruce Feiler

About the Author: Bruce Feiler is a columnist for the New York Times and the author of six — yes, SIX — consecutive New York Times bestsellers. Even so, he had a monumental task in writing a parenting book. Visit his website at

This book was provided to me for review free of charge by LitFuse Publicity. (See my FTC Disclaimer in my website footer.)

Read more reviews and explore LitFuse HERE.

TALK TO ME. If you were to write a book about secrets to happy families, what tip or advice would you include?

Talk to me!

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