Is Your Family Like a Wood Stove or Central Heat?

By Dr. Gary Sweeten

Several years ago a family that lived in a former home we rented called late at night with a complaint. “The furnace is broken. Please come down and fix it.”

I roused myself from the warm bed and headed down to the old neighborhood to fix the furnace on our former home. I grumbled and grouched, but it was part of renting. As I looked the furnace over I could find no problems so I walked upstairs and knocked on the door.

My friend Valerie came to the door wrapped in a heavy sweater and shaking with the cold of the living room. We went into the kitchen to find the thermostat and were greeted by a blast of hot air. Valerie’s husband Butch was huddled near the gas stove to get warm. Then I saw the problem. The thermostat was located directly over the gas stove. Upon a quick examination it was clear what happened.

When the living room became cool Butch and Valerie had turned the gas oven on to heat the kitchen. The thermostat felt the heat of the stove and said to the furnace, “You can shut down. It is plenty warm up here”. This made the rest of the house colder, but the kitchen stayed warm! It was a failure of communication.

Butch and Valerie had been raised with a wood stove. To heat the entire house they had to get the stove very hot to spread the heat to the rest of the rooms. But with a thermostat, that does not work. If the room with the oven heats up, the furnace shuts down. The thermostat sends a message to the furnace that the house is too hot so do not produce any more heat. This feedback loop keeps the whole house in harmonious comfort. It is designed to keep each room a similar temperature. A wood stove is designed to produce a lot of heat in one room and hope it spreads to the other rooms.

Is a family like a wood stove or a furnace? Is accurate and constant communication important or can one person provide all the important energy that a family requires to function? If one person produces too much energy will it cause the rest of the family to do less than is good for balanced responsibility? We believe that families operate more like a home with central heat. Constant communication is required to keep the family operating in harmony and order.

In my own life, I experienced the fact that families operate like a house with a thermostat when my Granddad became sick and it impacted everyone. When Granddad came down with a mystery illness it upset the apple cart in a big way. He and my Grandma operated a grocery store. When he was unable to work at the store. It had a dramatic effect on all of us. My Grandma had to work six days each week, my mother spent hours every day with Granddad, and my brother and I were called on to do more work at home, while Dad lost his wife’s support and home care.

This shift caused an enormous strain and conflict between my parents and we boys were caught in the middle of their pain. It is easy to see how one person’s illness and inability to function properly brought enormous stress and confusion to two entire families. (Just wait until I tell you what Mom and Dad did to solve the problem!)It is what we mean when we say that ‘any illness is a family illness’.

On our blog we will share stories and ideas about how to keep everyone in the family operating with as much cooperation, communication and harmony as possible, even in the midst of illness, stresses and difficulties. We will present stories and illustrations that can help you to better unravel the mysteries of a ‘failed furnace’.

We would love to hear from you so we can better understand how to scratch where you are itching.

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