FamilyLife Today®

Factors That Lead to a Strong Family

with Brett Johnston | April 6, 2010
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Your sibling relationships are the longest relationships you’ll ever have. Wouldn’t it be great then if you could do something now to ensure your children would stay close through adulthood? Well you can, says Brett Johnston, a father of three who surveyed 10,000 people about their sibling relationships. Join us to find out the key things families do that bond siblings for life.

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  • About the Guest

  • Your sibling relationships are the longest relationships you’ll ever have. Wouldn’t it be great then if you could do something now to ensure your children would stay close through adulthood? Well you can, says Brett Johnston, a father of three who surveyed 10,000 people about their sibling relationships. Join us to find out the key things families do that bond siblings for life.

Wouldn’t it be great then if you could do something now to ensure your children would stay close through adulthood?

Factors That Lead to a Strong Family

With Brett Johnston
April 06, 2010
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Bob:   If one of your goals as a parent is to have sons and daughters who get along with each other Brett Johnston says sharing meals together as a family may be more important than you ever realized.

Brett:  Not only do we eat together as a family but we spend an extra 15 minutes after the meal is over just sitting around and talking.  We have little kids, and we started this two years ago and all we were trying to do was add a minute or two after meals were over to sit and talk.  It’s amazing how kids will open up - say you know what guys we’re going to sit here for a few more minutes and just talk.  They turn into Chatty Cathy’s – they want to do it.  They love to have their voice heard!

Bob:  This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, April 6.  Our host is the President of FamilyLife Dennis Rainey and I’m Bob Lepine.  In addition to sharing meals together as a family we have other thoughts today on how you can build strong sibling relationships that last for a lifetime.

Welcome to FamilyLife Today thanks for joining us.  You know when I think about what we’re talking about this week – kids being close with one another I just have this enduring image in my mind and I don’t know that I’ve ever seen it I’ve just heard you describe it.  It’s the bedroom door up in the upstairs at the Rainey house?


Dennis:  Right!


Bob:  I guess the door that is no more – the one that was ripped off the hinges?


Dennis:  You know I think we got it repaired finally.  What Bob’s referring to – I’m sure all of our listeners know exactly what that was Bob.  Well, let me introduce our guest and he can comment on this because he’s written a book called:  Close Kids.  Brett Johnston joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Brett welcome back!

Brett:  Thank you.  I’m happy to be here!

Dennis:  He’s written this book about how to connect your children’s hearts with one another for a lifetime.  That is what a parent dreams about:  That their kids would not only get along at home but after they leave home they really would like each other.

Bob:  But in the teenage season of life with your boys you were not sure they would both survive were you?

Dennis:  You know the boy’s bedroom was right above the kitchen and there was a light that was suspended by a chain in our kitchen that when the boys were wrestling upstairs—it was like it was tethered—it just kind of bounced – that light did.  You could hear it and one day there was a sound where they must have wrestled their way into the door.

Bob:  Now, was this playful wrestling?  Was this just…

Dennis:  Oh, I’m sure – couple of teenage boys always playful – sure.  Yes they get strong, the testosterone hits the muscles – they’re trying to hurt each other.  You kidding me that’s why they rolled over into the door and somehow the door literally was partially ripped off the hinges.  I bought a screw Brett that was about that long  - almost eight inches long thinking I’d find a stud somewhere in there to make that door work and all the way through our adolescent years that door was a monument to the sibling rivalry between those two boys.

Bob:  You wondered whether those boys would ever like each other again didn’t you?

Dennis:  Well, what parent doesn’t – you know?  Unfortunately we didn’t have a book like what Brett’s written about how to help your kids stay close.  You actually created this book out of a research project, which you went to 10,000 people on the Internet.  What were the key findings of this research project?

Brett:  One of the key findings is really that the relationship between siblings is the longest relationship that we’ll ever have as people on the earth, and it’s an important relationship.  As I was going through the material the gravity or the weight of what my wife and I were trying to do really hit me that this is an important deal.  This is a big deal. 

If I can somehow help my kid’s because to be honest with you I was in it for us at the beginning.  How can I help my kids and then it kind of grew because some other people really thought it was interesting.  But, how can I help my kids have a great relationship as adults? 

If you look at almost every book on siblings today if you type in siblings you’ll get four or five hundred books on sibling rivalry.  Well, most of them are geared in the present, and I didn’t care about the present.  I cared about 20 years from now – 30 years from now.  The thought of my kids growing up and never speaking to each other just hurt our heart as parents to have that thought.  That’s just something we want to avoid and if there’s anything we can do we’re going to do it.

Bob:  What about if there are big age gaps between the kids how does that factor in here?

Brett:  The closest kids were about one and a half years to two and a half years apart.  But that being said there’s an awesome story that came to me from a gentleman in New York.  When he was growing up his sister was in high school, and he was ten years old. 

He said that one night his sister went out on a date or went out with her friends and when she came back home she looked at him and just like a devastating look that he gave her about you know she felt she was abandoning him.  So, she made a promise to him:  She said you know what I’m going to go out with my friends on Friday night but Saturday’s are yours.  She kept the promise and he writes about all the things they used to do – go to Yonkers Park, different things that they did, inside jokes that they still have today.

Well, he’s talking about that with his kids.   He’s saying you know Aunt Catherine did this for me – I want you guys to think about that and he’s trying to teach his kids the importance of that sibling relationship and what it means over a lifetime.  Because if you start thinking about a high school boy or girl abandoning their friends for a sibling that’s ten years old it’s phenomenal that she did that.

Bob:  I think you make a great point here and Dennis this is where parents can really come alongside their older kids the teenagers and coach them and charge them and get them involved in building a relationship with their younger siblings.

Dennis:  That’s right and I’m thinking of a conversation I had with one of our older daughters who had gone away to college and she was coming back.  I just kind of pulled her aside before she reengaged the family and I said you have to understand you my dear are really a hero to these younger children especially your sisters.  As you come back in the family I want you to look for ways that you can cheer them on in the choices they’re making.

You know what she did that and that made a big difference in those relationships.  You know it’s obvious here this is a program that is built around biblical principles and referring to how God has put a family together but you found that the relationship of a family to their belief system and how they handle the scriptures determined a great deal on what kind of relationships they had?

Brett:  I did.  There’s actually two things in the top eight what I would call a pillar of having close kids:  Things that those families did!  Two of them relate directly to God – one is praying together as a family and the other is attending religious services together as a family. 

I didn’t break that out.  I didn’t care about denomination just the fact that God is important in that family.  I just think it speaks to a bigger picture as we are part of a bigger family than just us, and it kind of eliminates a lot of selfishness, which is a big issue in individualism of a family if you say hey there’s something bigger.

Praying together certainly is one of those things also, and something interesting that I found out about praying together as a family – that statement came from WWII and you guys can probably talk more about it than I could but the family that prays together stays together.  Everybody’s heard that but I had never seen anyone do any research to see if that was actually true or not. 

So, the book was done, it was going to publishing, and I’m driving down the street and I think you know what you have the divorce rates of adult siblings, and you have how much they prayed together as a family when they were kids why don’t you correlate that together to see – force people to when they answer the question did your family pray together when you were growing up into four different categories:  Never, seldom, most of the time, or all the time.

I didn’t allow for a middle choice because I wanted people to have to go one-way or another.  So, if you take the families that prayed together the most and compare them to the families that prayed together the least the divorce rate in the families that prayed together the least was three times higher than it was in the families that prayed together the most.  So, I think Father Flanagan was onto something. 

Dennis:  Well, you know it stands to reason again the Bible is about our relationship with God, it’s about forgiving each other just as God in Christ has forgiven us.  One of the stories I really like that you told in your book was the story of two adult brothers who had a major disagreement with one another and they owned adjoining farms.  Would you mind sharing that story because I think it’s a great picture of how we need to be approaching our relationships with our siblings as we grow up to become adults.

Brett:  Sure, I got the story sent to me actually by a man that took the survey.  It’s interesting but just to cut right to the story.  There are two brothers that live on adjoining farms, and they spent their whole life working together, building things together, and just picking up each other when they needed it.  They had a falling out, and one of them decided I’m going to put a river in between his place and mine.  So, he gets a plow, and he goes out there and plows and makes a river.

The other brother not to be outdone says you know what I’m going to do him one better.  I’m going to build a fence between where I don’t even have to look at his place anymore.  So, he goes and hires a guy to come out and build his fence – a carpenter.  The guy says I’m going to do something that pleases you!  So, the brother that was paying to get the fence built went into town and when he came back there wasn’t a fence there, there was a bridge there over the water.

As he was walking out I guess to tell the carpenter he wasn’t very happy he noticed his brother coming the other direction with his hand out saying I can’t believe you did this after all I’ve done to you.  They reconciled their relationship, and it’s a great story about it’s never too late.

Dennis:  I couldn’t help but think after reading that story I wonder how many adults who’ll read your book and they’ll be thinking about helping their children establish a right relationship with their brother or sister and in the process they’re going to become convicted that there’s something that’s come between them and their brother, or them and their sister. 

Perhaps instead of building a fence they need to build a bridge, and they need to be obedient to God and go to their brother, go to their sister and say, “You know life’s too short.  Will you forgive me for…, could we build a bridge together:  Is there a possibility we could work this out?”  The Bible is a great book that tells us about forgiveness, about redemption and reconciliation.  If there’s a hope of that happening it ought to be to the person who says he’s a follower of Jesus Christ.

Bob:  You know I was interested in the fact that you said there’s a leading factor in what causes siblings to be close with one another.  It’s did you have a great childhood.  I’m thinking about my Mom who grew up in the depression and would probably say even in the midst of the depression she had a great childhood.  We tend to associate great childhood with lack of adversity, but that’s not necessarily what leads to a good or a bad childhood.

Did you see any correlation between family trauma or childhood adversity because sometimes that can knit families together rather than push them apart?

Brett:  Right and it does.  It’s interesting because people ask that question a lot.  Will a divorce hurt our family?  If there’s other trauma to the family what’s that going to do to my kids?  I think the short answer of that is it’s going to do something.  Be prepared for it, think about it, and talk about it. 

There’s a great story in the book from a lady in Cincinnati and she writes about how her mother was an alcoholic, her father was always gone, they were always fighting together.  When someone would come home in a rage the five kids would go plow in a closet together.  Sometimes they’d stay there for hours, and sometimes they’d stay there for a day. 

She said there’s no question in my mind that is why we’re close today, and she’s in her 60’s.  They have a great relationship and they came from a total turmoil.  So, it says a lot about the power of siblings to be able to get through that together, and come out on the other side.

Bob:  One of the things that you identified in your book that we haven’t talked about that I think a lot of parents know instinctively but in our culture today it just seems virtually impossible to pull off – it’s mealtimes.  You found that families where there was a common regular mealtime that had an impact on sibling relationships.

Brett:  It does, and I think that we’ve heard that before.  People talk about mealtime and what I did was a little bit different as I looked at not only do we eat together as a family, but do we spend an extra 15 minutes after the meal is over just sitting around and talking?  So, there were two different questions there and mealtime was significant, as people have said before.  But, what was even more significant was those families that sit around after a meal is over and talk, and it’s not easy to do. 

We have little kids, and we started this two years ago really and all we were trying to do was add a minute or two after meals were over to sit and talk.  It’s amazing how kids will open up at that time if you just try.  Just say, “You know what guys we’re going to sit here for a few more minutes and just talk.”  It amazes me that I have three girls but they turn into Chatty Cathy’s – they want to do it – they love to have their voice heard.

Bob:  Let me see if I can summarize really the things we’ve talked about this week that are the factors that you look at that really lead to a strong family.  You said it’s supporting one another in extracurricular activities:  The siblings going to piano recitals and games and cheering one another on.  You’ve even taught your kids how to clap for one another, and how to cheer for one another right? 

Brett:  Absolutely, and we started at a young age.  We love to perform – as a matter of fact as crazy as it sounds my wife and I had a weekend off.  Parents came and took the kids for the weekend and what did we do we built a stage for the girls upstairs so they could perform.  They loved it – they came home.  It was great.  We looked at ourselves and thought wait a minute we could have sat around and just had a weekend to do nothing, and we built a stage.  But, what that’s done is it allowed the kids a moment to shine on their own, and it allows our others to look at them and clap for them.  We do more clapping and rooting for each other in our family – it started really young.

Bob:  So, cheering on a sibling.  You talk about kids having an equal voice and parents insuring that all the kids are heard.  You talk about praying together.  About attending church together or religious services together.  You talk about reading aloud as a family.  Spending time together as siblings, and doing fun activities.  You talk about mealtimes – being close.

Then the last factor, which we really haven’t talked about, is that kids are really watching how mom and dad get along with their brothers, and sisters aren’t they?

Brett:  They are and it’s amazing what we say within earshot of the kids that we don’t think about.  To your question it is really important for both family members to be as close as they can to their adult siblings.  Just, if we can pattern and show kids what it’s like to be in a great conversation with Aunt Tara, and we love Aunt Tara, and the things that she does, and just all the positive things that we can talk about with our siblings then they see that. 

If we talk about bad situations that we may be in with our brothers and sisters in front of them then they’re going to learn maybe siblings are supposed to be more adversaries.

Bob:  If there are strained sibling relationships between mom and her siblings, or dad and his siblings that doesn’t mean that you can’t go to your kids and say we want something different for our family right?

Brett:  Right – absolutely I think that’s a conversation that you need to have and kids can understand that, and maybe even learn something from it.  Not just be close themselves but say hey this is how they’re acting in this situation what can we do to make it different?

Dennis:  Brett to that point as you were compiling the data you would kind of sort it from top to bottom and one of the sorts measured the experience you had with your sibling in terms of it being excellent or maybe poor you came upon a discovery at someone at the bottom of the list.

Brett:  I did – the very bottom of the list I did a sort from those who are closest and have the best relationships with their siblings to those that had the worst relationship  - that rated their sibling relationship a 1 out of 10.  On the very bottom of the list was my own mom’s name and I just looked at it and just stared.  I didn’t know what to think about it!

She talks to her brother and I love my uncle.  He’s a great guy.  But, their relationship was just not that good.  They grew up with a single Mom in Dallas, Texas and my Mom used to get on a streetcar at five years old and go to a movie by herself – that’s phenomenal!  She’s a very independent person, and my uncle’s a very independent person.  So, it just shocked me though to see her name on the very bottom of that list.

But, the redemption side of that is I rated my personal childhood a perfect 10, and she rated her personal childhood extremely low.  So, that gives hope to people because in one generation she said I’m not going to have this for my kids.  I’m going to give them the gift of a great childhood and she did that:  I rated mine a perfect 10! 

My dad looked at that and he says, “You know what I did my job.”  That’s true, he did do his job, and I didn’t grow up with a lot of money so it had nothing to do with that but it had to do with love and affection and the things that they gave me at home that they committed themselves to-to turn that thing around.  So, anyone that has a situation that you’re in that you don’t think you can get out of she’s proof that you can – you can turn it around.

Dennis:  Yes, and I just would remind our listeners of the story of Joseph who didn’t have a real pleasant experience with his brothers.  I mean they sold him into slavery and it says in the scriptures what men intended for evil God used for good.  I’ve seen it just like you shared Brett how God can take a situation that is not just less than perfect buy maybe evil, maybe has some really incredible tragedies in it and He can turn around and redeem it if we’ll yield to Him and be obedient.  That’s really the story of Joseph – he refused to become embittered towards his brothers but instead was a part of their redemption and ultimately their survival.

Bob:  Yes, I think the point is that ultimately it is the spiritual foundation in the lives of our children that sustain relationships over a lifetime.  It is learning how to love one another – even the one another’s close to us, the one another’s where life gets messy.  We’ve encouraged parents for years to be pro-active and not just assume that the spiritual development of your children is something that they’ll take care of at church or at the Christian school.

But you be a part of training them and fulfilling the mandate of Deuteronomy 6 to talk about the things of God as you walk by the way, as you’re on the path together, as you rise up, as you lie down.  In fact the resource that Kurt and Olivia Bruner put together with our team called:  Just Add Family was designed with that in mind.  It gives moms and dads a quick and easy way to have some family fun together around a spiritual theme.

We have a lot of families who have ordered this and have used it and found it to be very helpful in putting their family devotions together.  You can find out more when you go to our website  You can order a copy from us if you’d like. 

Again it’s  Now on the website you’ll also see more information about Brett’s book which is called:  Close Kids: Connect Your Children for Life and you can order that from us as well on-line at or call 1-800-FLTODAY – 1-800-358-6329.

When you get in touch with us we’ll let you know how you can order Brett’s book or the Just Add Family resource or how you can order both of them.  You know we’ve said for years probably the greatest foundation parents can provide for their children is a marriage that lasts.  A marriage that is a strong healthy relationship between a husband and wife.  That’s what we’re committed to here at FamilyLife helping strengthen marriages and strengthen families.

Our goal is to see every home become a godly home.  That’s what this radio show’s all about, our web-site, our resources, our events, and it was more than two decades ago that we introduced a resource called:  The HomeBuilders Study Guide – this was a small group study for couples designed to help strengthen marriages.  The series went on to become the best selling series on marriage for small groups that’s ever been produced. 

We have recently taken those HomeBuilders Study Guides and completely renovated them, refreshed them, updated them, and this month we wanted to make a couple of those HomeBuilders Study Guides available to any of our listeners who can help support the ministry of FamilyLife Today with a donation of any amount.  We are listener supported; your donations are what keep us on mission and keep us pressing toward the goal of seeing every home become a godly home. 

So, if you’re able to make a donation on-line at this month, and you’d like to get two copies of The HomeBuilders Building Your Marriage to Last Study Guide – you can use it together as a couple to strengthen your marriage but probably the best way to use it is to invite other couples to join you, and put together a little marriage small group – talk about how to strengthen your marriage relationship.

Go on-line at make a donation of any amount and when you do type the word “BUILD” into the key code box on the on-line donation form and we’ll send out a copy of The Homebuilders Study Guides to you or call 1-800-FLTODAY.  That’s1-800-358-6329. You can make a donation over the phone and just ask for the HomeBuilders Guides.  Again let me say thanks for your support of the ministry we appreciate your partnership with us.

Now tomorrow we want to talk about what to do when relationships become toxic.

Leslie:  The difference between a healthy relationship or a destructive relationship is one of safety.  I think when you feel safe enough to say ouch to somebody that really hurt me, and the other person says you know I shouldn’t have said that – I was tired or I lost my temper or you know I need to get better control over my temper, my words, whatever.  Then, you can move on but when someone doesn’t feel even safe enough to tell someone that really hurt me, or that really bothers me they can’t express their opinion – they can’t be who they are because who they are is unacceptable to the other person then it becomes a really destructive relationship.

Bob:  Leslie Vernick joins us to talk about emotionally destructive relationships and how to respond to those.  I hope you can be here with us as well.

I want to thank our engineer today Keith Lynch and our entire broadcast production team on behalf of our host Dennis Rainey I’m Bob Lepine.  We’ll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas.

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