Developed by Saralee Jamieson, Human Environmental Sciences Specialist, and
Lisa Wallace, Human Development Specialist University of Missouri Extension

Relationship to Building Strong Families
Families are crucial in the development of human competence and character. Recent research tells us that the family's influence is even greater than we have imagined. Families play a major role in how well children do in school, how well they perform on the job as adults and how well they contribute to society in general. Families have the first and foremost influence on our development.

Brief program description
Despite the stress and troubles families face, there are ways to keep the family strong. This module presents information on the definition of the family, the function and roles of families, types of families, and nine characteristics of strong families identified by researchers. The information and activities in this module celebrate existing family strengths and encourage skill development to create stronger families. This module provides a foundation for upcoming sessions on other skill-building topics.

Research findings
Research indicates that many problems of individuals and society are related to dysfunctional family relationships. For instance, early teen sexual acting out, youth suicide, teen pregnancy, runaways, substance abuse, childhood and adolescent depression, child abuse and neglect, family violence, and civil unrest are known to be aggravated by problems in the family.

What makes families strong? Researchers have worked hard to answer this question and agree that strong, healthy families have nine traits in common (Krysan, Moore, & Zill, 1990). These traits have been found in families of different types, races, social backgrounds, nationalities, and religious beliefs.

The nine traits are:

  • caring and appreciation 
  • time together 
  • encouragement 
  • commitment 
  • communication 
  • cope with change 
  • spirituality 
  • community and family ties 
  • clear roles

Family Forms and Trends
Family units take a variety of forms, all of which involve individuals living under one roof.

Married nuclear families: in these families, both adults are the biological or adoptive parents of children. There are three types of married nuclear families depending on employment status of the woman and man. In the first type, the man works outside the home while the woman works inside the home caring for the children. According to the 1990 U.S. Census, 28 percent of all households fit this description.

In the second type of married nuclear family, the woman works outside the home and the man cares for the children. This constitutes 2 percent of the families in this country. In the third kind of married nuclear family, both the husband and the wife work outside the home or are income providers. In some situations, the woman might have a home-based business, such as a day care center. Nearly 60 percent of women with children under the age of six were in the workforce during the past decade.

Single-parent families: in this family there is only one parent in the home. Due to high divorce rates and adults choosing not to marry, this is currently the fastest growing family form in America. More than half of all children will spend some of their lives in a single-parent family. Currently, 88 percent of these families are headed by women.

Step families: these families are generally created by divorce and remarriage rather than by the death of the mother or father. In step families, biologically unrelated children often live in the same household. There are 9,000 new step families being created each week in this country.

Cohabitation families: two unmarried adults who are committed to a long-term relationship and, sometimes, children from this union or from previous relationships are included. This can include heterosexual or homosexual partners.

Cross-generational families: two or more adults from different generations of a family, who intend to share a household during the foreseeable future. This family type may include children. Sometimes children are raised by their grandparents when their biological parents have died or no longer can take care of them. The number of these families has increased by 40 percent in the past ten years. In addition, many grandparents take some primary responsibility for child care, particularly when both parents work.

Joint/shared-custody families: in these families, children are legally raised by both parents who are not living together. Generally, the children move back and forth between the residences of each parent, depending on the legal agreement between the parents.

Foster and group-home families: foster parents and institutional child-care workers often provide a substitute family for children referred by the courts or government agencies. While problems with their parents or guardians are being resolved, the children may live in these families.

These changes in family forms in recent decades did not take place in a vacuum. They were a product of our society's complex industrial, technological, and social changes. These changes forged new prevailing attitudes about women working outside of the home, about divorce, and about single adults.

The family form or structure does not indicate how healthy the family is or how they function. The family form is merely the physical makeup of the family members in relationship to each other without respect to roles and function.

Goals and objectives

  • To recognize the functions of families; 
  • To identify and become familiar with types of families; 
  • To understand the nine traits that strengthen families; 
  • To identify personal family strengths; 
  • To set goals for personal family strength development.

Target audience
Working families with children


If you have any questions or need information contact:

Lucy Schrader
Building Strong Families Program Coordinator
University of Missouri Extension
162 Stanley Hall
Columbia, MO  65211
573-882-4071
SchraderL@missouri.edu  

Copyright 2010 Published by University of Missouri-Columbia

Last updated:07/26/2010
Copyright  ADA Equal Opportunity