University of Missouri Extension

GH6640, Reviewed April 2001

Promoting Family Strengths

Kelly A. Cole
Extension Associate
Janet A. Clark
Associate Program Leader and Associate State Specialist
Sara Gable
Human Development Extension State Specialist

Why are family strengths so important?

In our society, families take on many different structures. Although they may be formed in different ways, most families accomplish similar tasks, such as childbearing, providing for members' basic needs, providing emotional support, socializing members, establishing family traditions and delegating responsibility. By accomplishing these tasks, families influence the way individuals and society function. Few other social institutions have such a great impact on society. This profound influence makes evident the importance of strengthening families.

Family diversity

American families are characterized by great diversity. The traditional family has undergone numerous changes in recent decades. Many of today's scholars refer to the current trend as the postmodern family. Factors that have led to this change include divorce, remarriage, adolescent childbearing and changing social values. Following are descriptions of common family types.

Family resilience

According to the National Network for Family Resiliency (1995), resilience is the ability of an individual, or in this case a family, to use its strengths in order to positively meet life's challenges. It involves the family's ability to return to previous levels of functioning following a challenge or crisis.

Throughout the 21st century, individuals and families will be characterized by increased diversity, which could be experienced as stressful. Because of this, individual and family resilience may become increasingly important.

Resilience is exercised when family members demonstrate such behaviors as confidence, hard work, cooperation and forgiveness. These behaviors contribute to the effectiveness of Family Protective Factors - factors that help families withstand stressors throughout the family life cycle. For example, shared experiences such as family time, yearly vacations, holiday celebrations and other traditions can help strengthen the bonds among family members.

When a family is confronted with a crisis, Family Recovery Factors become critical. These are factors that help promote a family's ability to bounce back following a period of difficult family functioning. Events in which recovery factors may be especially beneficial include coping with a serious illness, an untimely death, the loss of a primary job or a natural disaster. Aids to recovery include the availability of family and community support, participation in recreational activities, optimism about the situation and shared family experiences.

Characteristics of strong families

Strategies for strengthening families

Building and maintaining healthy family relationships

In recent decades, a number of changes have contributed to a reshaping of American families. Examples include high rates of adolescent and unmarried childbearing, a high divorce rate, single-parent households, stepfamilies and dual-earner families. Families need to be prepared to cope with these and other stressors and demands that may be placed upon them. Regardless of family type, there are times when all families need to be nurtured. Nurturing families in times of need can provide family members with a greater opportunity for building and maintaining healthy relationships.

A number of recommendations have been offered that can help families build and maintain healthy relationships. Selected recommendations follow.

Encourage open communication

Maintain and strengthen relationships in the family

Manage crises and conflict

Conclusions

Families have evolved in a number of ways over time, and these patterns of change can only be expected to become more common in the future. These transformations may be challenging for families, but the strategies outlined here can help minimize the stress these families experience. It is important to remember that all families have some strengths, although these strengths may be more evident in some families than in others. Individual family members play a significant role in determining how well a family functions. Although each member's actions are important, strengthening family relationships requires the commitment and cooperation of all family members. By working together, family members can build and maintain close relationships during periods of normal family functioning as well as during times of stress.

Resources

Many thanks to Brenda Procter and Lucy Schrader for reviewing this guide.

GH6640, reviewed April 2001

GH6640 Promoting Family Strengths | University of Missouri Extension

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