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Balancing a family with all of its needs can be as difficult as a high-wire act. Once we understand that a family is a living structure, “an environment of minds,” it is easy to see how important it is to maintain that structure in a way that facilitates harmony, resilience, productivity, and balance. It is incredibly difficult to keep this living structure in working order because we are talking about multiple relationships among all family members. Each relationship must be flexible, yet maintain its equilibrium within the entire configuration.

As a child I remember reading about the Great Wallendas. They were a family of aerialists with several generations participating in the act. They created mind-bending pyramids of people on a high wire—performing without a net. A terrible accident occurred when one of them, the individual who was supporting the lower level of the human structure, slipped. The experienced aerialists tried to hold the structure together, but could not. The configuration was so interdependent that the single misstep resulted in one member and then another, falling to their deaths. So it can be within a family unit. The example above is extreme but born out of the psychic disasters I have encountered in my office—situations in which a family member becomes the scapegoat—the source of all problems—so that other family members can remain blameless. The point is that family members are indeed interdependent—physically, financially, emotionally, and spiritually. A misstep by any member is felt by all, and for that reason we must attend to the interests of each individual while monitoring the well-being of the whole.

A healthy family has safeguards and supports to accommodate unexpected missteps. Each person does his or her part, from the smallest to the largest, to maintain the balance of the group. But they also can all go tumbling down. It’s the same with an orchestra. If the conductor is doing one thing and the percussion section is doing something else, the whole thing can be out of kilter. If one instrument is out of tune the others can try to cover over it. The members are interdependent, yet every person contributes to the sound that emerges. Whether it’s a high wire act or an orchestra or a mega-corporation, it is essential in any living organism, especially the family, that balance among its members be monitored in a continuing way.

Balance within a family is not easy to achieve. It’s an ideal to ponder in those rare moments of reflection, but it is also an action concept—one that is played out every single day in questions like: Whose turn is it to do the dishes? Who gets to ride shotgun? Why is she getting the biggest piece? Can you please turn down the TV? Do I (as a parent) have any rights at all? Those are merely the surface questions. They occur continually because they mask the real issues: Who do they love best? When they fight like that are they going to leave? Can I be honest about how I really feel? Will I be accepted if I am? Because these questions recur again and again, it is not effective to answer them once and for all and hope that will suffice. The issues need to be discussed frequently and openly.