Three Ways to Have a Happy Family Life, as Shown by our Alumni

As the name implies, the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences at BYU is particularly concerned with studying the family as the basic unit of society, as part of our broad mission to study patterns of human behavior from diverse disciplinary approaches. Our current students and faculty spend a lot of time looking at families through the lenses of anthropology, economics, geography, history, neuroscience, political science, psychology, social work, and sociology. Some of our 71,000 alumni, even after they leave our campus, are devoted to the cause of studying and supporting families, and provide examples of ways in which we can do the same:

1. Do your research

sheffieldrachel-webAlumnae Rachel Sheffield puts her degrees bachelors and masters degrees in marriage, family, and human development into action by influencing family policy in Washington, DC.  She’s spent the last eight years with the Heritage Foundation, a nationally recognized conservative public policy research institute, promoting family-friendly policies through solid research on policy issues and marketing the findings to members of Congress, policymakers, and the media.

As an undergraduate, she worked for Family Life faculty member Alan Hawkins, who said of her, in a 2013 interview: “Rachel was one of the quietest students I’ve ever interacted with. Her peers working on the project were boisterous extroverts and I worried a little about her in our meetings. But she always delivered first-class work to me.” She says that much of the research done in her classes, as well as her experience working for Dr. Hawkins in the Research Hub of the National Healthy Marriage Resource Center, helped her.

Of her work now, she says: “Talking to a student group that will come in, and telling them about why marriage is important, why a married mother and father make such a big difference in a child’s life and seeing the light go on, and realizing that’s not something that they hear every day—those experiences have been really rewarding.”

We too can take time to research successful family practices, regardless of whether we work to apply it in our own homes or the White House.

2. Seek to Understand and Engage

Some people might think economics grads are destined for Wall Street, but what about comedy skits?  Jared Shores is the producer and director of Studio C,  a popular comedy troupe made up of BYU alumni. “I was sort of a fish out of water in economics,” he told BYU Magazine. “My advisors did not know what to say to me. I always knew I wanted to be involved in the entertainment industry, but I found the modeling and projection in my major fascinating. Through economics I could study human behavior with a framework that tells me who people are and what they value by how they use their resources and how they behave.

Matthew R. Meese (a.k.a., Scott Sterling)  says: “We often remind ourselves we are guessing. We don’t know how well we are doing until the audience tells us. But Jared is an excellent, discerning guesser with a good sense of what is going to work.” And that understanding has helped them garner over a million YouTube subscribers.


Photo by Jaren Wilkey/BYU

And it makes him a good boss to work for. Meese adds: Shores “allows creative leeway, which we value. There’s no feeling that this comes from the top down. Jared wants to know how he can help and does a lot of extra-mile work for the show.” Shores knows how to make work fun.  Even though he is “the boss,” he is a team player. Like Jared, parents can lead their kids in engaging ways.

3. Create Safety

sandberg-jonathanAlum Jonathan G. Sandberg got his masters degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from BYU, went to get a PhD in the same subject from Kansas State University, and since returned to BYU as a faculty member in the School of Family Life. He is a Certified Emotionally Focused Supervisor with the Ottawa Couple and Family Institute, and a licensed marriage and family therapist in Utah. He said: when a child feels a parent is accessible (“I can find you”) and responsive (“you reach out to me and comfort me when I call”), a secure attachment can develop. The same kinds of feelings with regards to accessibility and responsiveness can increase engagement with our spouses. These steps can make a difference in [any] marriage. He suggests these “do’s and don’ts” for creating relationship safety.


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