Strong families develop predictable routines, roles, and rules that govern everyday life and provide for continuity and stability. Some of the more obvious patterns are who cooks, washes dishes, does the laundry, or fixes the car. Other less obvious patterns include the following: Who has the right to make what decisions? How do we handle differences of opinion? How do we express anger, affection, or other emotions?
Reasonably stable patterns empower a family to deal with the many challenges inevitable in family life; without such patterns, chaos would result. At the same time, strong families stay flexible, realizing that changing their routines can help them cope with stress. In one national study, family adaptability was associated with fewer behavior problems among children age ten to seventeen.
Families face a number of common challenges. Children get older. Adults switch jobs or retire. Families move to different communities. Older family members move closer and need care. Birth, adoption, marriage, divorce, sickness, and death all reshape families.
The families who are most successful in coping with change share leadership roles among parents and children. They adapt relationships and family rules when needs arise. Allowing children to stay out later at night as they grow older is an example of healthy adaptation. One spouse taking on extra housework when the other's job is more demanding is another example.
The teachings of The Family: A Proclamation to the World recognize that the varied circumstances of family life may necessitate individual adaptation. Since no family knows what tomorrow will bring, being adaptive and flexible is a good trait for family members to develop.
Here are some ideas for doing just that:
Accentuate the Positive. Families are more adaptive when they see the positive in stressful situations. Begin a family night discussion by stating that while there are trials and tribulations in life, we are not to be overcome by them. It helps if we adopt a positive view of life's circumstances. Make a list of daily events (such as routine chores and traffic jams) and unexpected happenings (such as natural disasters and death) that can be stressful. Then make a positive statement about what could be gained from the experience: Because of (insert the event), (positive statement). For instance, Because of Dad's heart surgery, I learned to chop wood, which was fun.
What Would We Do If . . . During a family night or other time, discuss severe crises faced by individuals and families in the Bible or other inspirational literature, such as Job's catastrophic experiences, or Adam and Eve's expulsion from the garden. Then discuss hypothetical situations relating to your own family, prefaced by the statement What would we do if . . . For example, What would we do if: the house burned down; Mom or Dad were ill or died; Grandma had to come live with us; we had to move to another town? Choose one of these events and write down the changes that would take place and the adjustments each family member would need to make for the family to adapt well.
Scenes from television programs and movies can also be a catalyst for these types of discussions. Consider crises portrayed in dramas and ask, What can a person (family) do in this situation? Who can help? What did this person (family) do that helped or hindered?
Walk a Day in My Shoes. This activity asks family members to trade some responsibilities for a day. For instance, the oldest son would cook dinner and the youngest daughter would do the dishes, while parents do the chores normally assigned to their children.
Get Out of the Rut. Deliberately plan new experiences into the family schedule. On occasion, reverse or exchange responsibilities; once a month, participate in a new recreational activity; periodically, invite a person or family you don't know well to join you for a meal or other activity; change a routine; change a route; do something new; do something differently. Assign one or two members of your family each month to plan or arrange something that the family has not done before.
See You in the Funny Papers. Cultivate humor in the family. Collect funny comic strips, poems, newspaper columns, stories, videos and books you especially enjoy. Have an occasional "family funnies" night for sharing. Give a prize to the person whose joke or anecdote makes everyone laugh the hardest.
Store Water and Strength. Be prepared for the unexpected. Areas of preparation include things like three month's salary in savings; stored food, water, clothing, and (if possible) fuel; wills, retirement plans and funeral arrangements; faith and hope. Spend time developing skills that build confidence in dealing with emergencies and other unplanned situations. Take time to demonstrate such skills as the following:
- Social skills (how to answer the phone and take a message; how to host guests).
- Safety and survival skills (how to escape a home fire; how to perform the Heimlich Maneuver; what to do if the power goes out).
- Car maintenance (how to handle a breakdown on the road; how to change a flat tire).
- Household maintenance (how to operate the washer and dryer and fold laundry; how to do simple home repairs).
- Meal preparation (how to make a casserole; how to operate a stove or microwave oven).
- Financial skills (how to balance a checkbook; how to pay a bill).
I Love Reading Mystery Novels. Filling your life with things you love is a wonderful way to deal with stress. Think about the things you love. Do you love to sing? Do you love to be alone in nature? Do you love to talk with friends? List twenty things you love to do. Pick out some of these things and make time to do them. Help each other find time to do them.
Written by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, and Kristi McLane, Research Assistant, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.
- Duncan, S. F. (1999). Building family strengths (MT 9405). Bozeman, MT: Montana State University Extension Service.
- Duncan, S. F. (1994). The activity book: Activities for building family strengths (EB 128). Bozeman, MT: Montana State University Extension Service.
- Duncan, S. F. (2000). Practices for building marriage and family strengths. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the proclamation on the family (pp. 295-303). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.