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Family First: Your Step-by-Step Plan for Creating a Phenomenal Family Hardcover – September 14, 2004

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 286 pages
  • Publisher: Free Press; 1ST edition (September 14, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743264932
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743264938
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (110 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #375,356 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author

Dr Phillip C. McGraw is best known to millions as 'Dr Tell It Like It Is' from OPRAH and as the author of the bestselling LIFE STRATEGIES and RELATIONSHIP RESCUE. He has trained thousands of people in effective life skills seminars and is one of the most sought-after public speakers. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

Chapter 1: Family Matters

What's wrong with the world...

People livin' like they ain't got no mamas.


He lives in two worlds, this twelve-year-old boy. Every day, he troops in and out of those two worlds, in and out of the tiny paint-peeled tract house he lives in with his father, mother and three sisters. To say his is a modest neighborhood is kind. To the casual observer the houses are indistinguishable. There is kind of a peace and order to the cookie-cutter sameness, everything in its place and a place for everything. At least so it appears. Like every other neighborhood in America, suburbia or the inner city, every home is a façade, an outward face that betrays little of what lies inside. Sometimes what is inside is the opposite of peaceful. Behind the social masks, all too often lie families that are chaotic and disconnected, that threaten to disintegrate with the next crisis. The boy lives in just such a house and in just such an American family.

Outside the doors of his home, the boy finds a world that seems immeasurably more validating. He has a small group of friends and acquaintances to whom he in some ways feels closer than his own family. Yet they too seem distant and different because he is different, at least in his own eyes. Among them, he, like so many others, wears a social mask of "okayness," but he doesn't know theirs is a mask as well. He seems relaxed, even confident, but secretly he's always on guard, because he knows he's not like them, not really. He knows he and his family are poor and that they live differently with different problems, problems you just don't talk about. He's making one of the first and most common mistakes children make: He's comparing his private reality, his world behind the door, to the social mask of all of his friends. He assumes that what he sees is the truth, and in comparison, his image of his own family situation suffers dismally.

In the world beyond his home, the discovery of athletics has been an absolute godsend. He and his family don't have the money, the clothes or the ability to participate in any of the extracurricular activities except for sports, which are free to all students. In fact, at his young age, the boy already works two jobs, and so he embraces sports as a leveling device. On the playing field, he doesn't have to talk or be like everybody else; he doesn't have to have money or a fancy upbringing or even a stable home. He just has to be what he is -- a strong and coordinated kid, able to excel at just about any sport. Through athletics, he has found not only his self-esteem but an acceptable outlet for a burning anger that he doesn't understand, but knows is always there. Even with sports as an outlet, violence and fights are an everyday occurrence in a rough testosterone-driven world. Backing down is not an option. Because of sports, the urge to win has been planted in his head like a fast-growing seed -- he loves being in the thick of competition and he has learned what it takes to win and others are eager to follow. The seed has sprouted; he doesn't like being second-best.

School life is less comfortable. He is smart, though not academically motivated. He reads all of his textbooks from cover to cover the first few weeks of school and masters the material, but could care less about class or grades. Homework is turned in only if it is handy to do so. Teachers find him quietly charming but reluctant to get involved. His writing is excellent when he bothers to do it. His test average is A+.

To his twelve-year-old sensibilities, being out with his buddies, playing sports with a passion and getting through each day are what life is all about -- "out there," at least, in "that world." Out there, in that world, he is his own person, but always with an undertow from the other world, the world behind the door.

Once he goes home, he enters a completely different world, and he becomes a completely different person.

Cut off from his friends, his athletics and his school life, he is withdrawn, sullen, depressed, lethargic and emotionally detached from the rest of his family. Being the only boy, he has his own small room and he stays in it the vast majority of his time. He has no television, not even a radio. He just stays quietly to himself and even comes and goes through his bedroom window to avoid walking through the house. Unbeknownst to his parents he roams the streets after the family is asleep. He sleeps little as his paper route starts at 4:30 a.m. Days and nights don't seem much different when you are alone. He yearns for the hours to pass so he can make his way out into the other world, the one in which he is more functional, engaging, successful and motivated, at least in some areas of life. There is an astonishing contrast between what he is like in that world, out there, and what he is like in this world, in here.

But why?

Before that question is answered, let me tell you that in the many years that I've worked with the parents of troubled youngsters like this one, it became quite common to hear a mother or father request that their "problem" child be fixed. "Get our child straight!" they would demand. "We just don't know what happened! He just seemed to go downhill overnight. He is so withdrawn, so down and depressed. What is wrong with him? Can't you do something to fix this problem?"

Is this right thinking? Not even almost. No matter what maladaptive behaviors a child is exhibiting, I can guarantee you that the problem is almost certainly with the entire family, and most often the child is just the sacrificial lamb dragged to the altar of the counselor because he or she happens to be making the most noise and has the least amount of power or ability to shift the focus to someone else.

Trying to understand a child's behavior without interviewing the rest of the family just won't cut it, and any therapist worth their salt knows it. I want to be sure you know it too. So let's step through the front door with the twelve-year-old boy I described earlier and observe the other five parts that would be missed if a therapist, or more importantly, you, as a defensive parent, trivialized or ignored the family aspect.

Life "in there," life with his family unit, is tumultuous, volatile and unpredictable. Here's the real cause for this boy's refusal to plug into his family: His father is a severe and chronic alcoholic. He is typically emotionally unavailable to the boy, and to the rest of the family. He and the boy have clashed violently when the alcohol takes over and while the father barely remembers the confrontations, the experiences are seared into the boy's mind and heart. Further, the father has aborted his career in sales, uprooted the family, moved to a new state and returned to school at a university in the hope of a brighter yet highly speculative future. Though nobly inspired, this decision hurtled this family of six into grinding poverty. There is little inner connection as each family member's own personal struggles drain them of energy. Hunger gnaws at times and doing without is just how it is. Life is insecure, as the children are the poor "new" kids. Life is emotionally barren, full of desperation and drama, with one crisis after another. Tired and struggling, this family is not coping well at all.

dClearly scarred by the psychological and emotional stress, the boy's two older sisters try in their own way to escape the turmoil. But this turns out to be a classic case of "out of the frying pan into the fire." Both sisters have ill-fated elopements with boyfriends before finishing high school. Tension is everywhere in the home. The boy loves his sisters and they have protected him and helped him in a number of ways, but then they were gone. When they returned home, they were strangely different. They weren't just the other kids in the family anymore. And so, the boy feels further isolated. Although loving and caring, the mother works long and grueling hours on her feet as a store clerk just to keep food on the table. She is ill-equipped to deal with or counterbalance such a dominantly patriarchal family and such disconnected kids fleeing from their father's alcoholism. Baby sister is cute but silent. God only knows what she must be thinking. She is extremely dependent, afraid to leave home even to sleep over at a friend's house. She must stay close; this deal could cave any minute. The boy stays close to her, and they talk late at night, but he realizes that the less she knows, the better.

Both the mother and father were born into poor, uneducated families, and consequently, they had very little idea that life offered anything other than what they were exposed to. Tragically, the father had suffered severe mental, emotional and physical abuse at the hands of his own mother, and this legacy crippled his relationship with his own wife and children.

This is the world in which we find this twelve-year-old boy. He is embedded in a family on the verge of imploding and to evaluate him in isolation would be an exercise in futility. There is in this world an enveloping bleakness.

Trouble runs in packs.

If you haven't figured it out already, I know every detail of this story because I lived in that house. The story is my own. I was the twelve-year-old boy who moved from one world to the next, and back again. That was how I saw and experienced my life. That doesn't mean that my perception is correct or is how the other five members of my family would describe it. Every family member's experience and perceptions are different, but you can bet that everything each member thinks, does or feels bears on every other person in the family.

Although it isn't much fun to recall, I'm telling you this story because it's one I lived, and one I can say with great confidence illustrates that family matters. Family matters because it is the single most outcome-determinative factor shaping one's outlook and achievement. Your family powerfully determined what you've become and how you think about yourself, a... --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

More About the Author

Phillip C. McGraw, Ph.D., has worked in the field of human functioning and strategic life planning for over twenty years. Dr. McGraw is co-founder and president of Courtroom Sciences, Inc., America's leading litigation consulting firm, and has been associated with some of the highest-profile cases in the country, including Oprah's highly publicized "Mad Cow" case. A professional psychologist, he appears regularly on Oprah as her resident expert on human functioning. He lives in Dallas.

Customer Reviews

I got an early copy of the book and read it cover to cover.
Ms. S
In this book, Dr. Phil discusses how to help your child set and achieve goals, and how to take responsibility for their own actions.
Paul K.
I want her to feel independent, like she is the one making all the right decisions instead of me mandating all the time.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Warren T. Baldwin on August 24, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I checked out a copy of "Family First" from the public library. By the time I read a few chapters I returned the library's copy and bought my own. The chapter on "Parenting Style" is worth the price of the book, especially for the little test to determine if your style is authoritarian, equalitarian or permissive. Also helpful is the test to determine if your child is rebellious, cooperative or passive. It is important to know something of your own personality and your child's to determine how you (and your spouse) are going to teach and discipline. I teach "Marriage and Family" for a college and I will be incorporating these two tests in my curriculum.

Also, I really enjoyed the stories he told about family. One particularly moving story is when his dad would not let him drive one night because of bad weather. Even though Phil argued his case and lost, he says he is glad his dad didn't relent. His parents loved him enough to set up boundaries. They valued Phil's life more than they did his agreement on their decisions. His dad was decisive and strong and Phil respected that. Phil apologized to his friend for ruining the plans. His friend looked at him with tear filled eyes and said, "I wish my parents cared enough about me to tell me I couldn't go. They wouldn't care if I drove straight off a cliff."

Phil writes, "It struck me that though John had asked his parents for permission to go to the game, what he had really needed was for them to provide some boundaries and leadership." (Pp.157-58). Parents, even though discipline is sometimes difficult, it does communicate to our children that we care.

I like to use Dr. Phil's book in conjunction with Dr. James Dobson's "The New Strong-Willed Child" and "Parenting Isn't for Cowards" in parenting classes and situations that I teach. (See my reviews on the Dobson books). I recommend all three books.
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27 of 29 people found the following review helpful By DI on September 20, 2004
Format: Hardcover
I find Dr. Phil's newest book just super. I have been stuggling with a way for my family to really spend some quality time together.In chapter 3 he gives some great ideas about how to spend time with your family and how to make your kids want to spend more time with you. Although I am not done with the whole book I am really looking forward to reading more words of wisdom from an incredible family man.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Sammi on September 15, 2004
Format: Hardcover
If there's anyone who can tell it like it is, it's Dr. Phil. My wife has turned to him for support in these past years, and has bought each of his books hot off the presses. Her enthusiasm used to baffle me, but then I retired and settle down with her on the couch for what is like a good home-therapy session. We've been looking forward to the family first series on the show, and now that the book - the handbook, the guidebook, is out we read it and are buying copies of it for our children so that our grandkids grow up happier and healthier. Not to say my kids don't know what they're doing, but everyone can use a little bit of help and guidance along the way. This guy's a real honest-to-goodness expert and he knows what he's saying. Having raised three children, I just wish he was around then, telling me what my parenting style is so I could have related better to my kids. My kids struggle with disciplining their kids in these days of no-spanking. I think Dr Phil has some solutions for them. Go out and buy this one, study it, and pass it along! It's for a good cause - there's nothing more important than family.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By L. Smith on April 21, 2006
Format: Paperback
I became the legal guardian of a teenager a year ago and in preparation for her arrival read loads of parenting books. I also work in youth violence prevention and routinely research risk factors for teen delinquency. This book was the best book out of the bunch I read, which was surprising to me because I sometimes don't like the advice Dr. Phil gives. However, this book was inspiring, it posed great questions and activities, and offered sound advice. I particularly liked the focus on defining your goals for your child and parenting with purpose, as well as the chapter on modifying behavior. It also addresses teen behavior/discipline better than any of the books I encountered, which are typically better for younger kids. Very comprehensive book! I recommend it to all parents.
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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Blaine Greenfield on August 17, 2005
Format: Hardcover
Heard the cassette version of FAMILY FIRST, written and read

by Dr. Phil McGraw . . . even if you're not a parent or grandparent,

methinks you'll find useful advice here about improving any

family . . . and it would be a good book for present or prospective

teachers to read, in that it contains suggestions as to how

to both better understand and relate to children of all ages.

In listening, I got the same feeling that I do when seeing

Dr. Phil on television--only better, if that's possible . . . it was

like having him in front of me, telling me what can and has

worked . . . however, I also liked how he gave examples (many

from his own life) of times when things didn't work--and what

could have been done differently.

Perhaps most significantly, I took away this one idea that

can be applied to virtually any situation: Don't say you can't contain

your anger. That's not true. What is true is that you don't control

your temper, as you do when at church, work or at a restaurant

with friends.

In addition, if you want to create the "phenomenal family" that the

author frequently mentions, you'll find the following thoughts helpful:

* If there are any problems with a child, the family has to be looked

at too.

* Continually ask yourself: What can I do today to make my family


* Best time to get a divorce: When you are past the hurt feelings.

* If you want your children to be able to handle anger, then you

have to be able to handle it yourself.

* The things in life you wont' regret will be the things you don't do.

* Provide family members with at least one supportive statement

each day.

* Don't tell a child what NOT to do.
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