The Power of Family Life: What is Family?

An Introduction to The Family Life Series
(Blog 1)

Blog Series Description

This blog series is part of a discussion on family life and the importance such a unit has on our society.  This blog series aims to inform and inspire families in any capacity.  Content for these blogs draws on academic studies and personal experiences.  The Foundation for Family Life is a non-profit organization whose mission is to empower individuals & families to improve their lives through quality programs & services.  The Foundation for Family Life also offers sober living and addiction treatment programs, among other things.  Contributors to this series include Dr. Joseph White, Brynlee Winegar, Haylee Baker, Cooper Brown, Rachel Townsend, and Lauren Thompson.

The Power of Family Life

To ask, “What is family?” can be a loaded question!  This social structure is sometimes difficult to define because it may look different for various people.  For many, the activities associated with family life are the bread and butter of what family means to them.  Perhaps what a family does is a more important question and less complicated than trying to define family.  A recent study found that family is not as much about the structure, but more about what a family does together (Dermot & Fowler, 2020).  This suggests that family may be better understood as a verb rather than a noun.  In this blog, we begin our discussion about what family is and the power of family life.

Family is Supportive

Family life is not just about one individual; it’s about the whole unit.  Usually, that produces a sense of commitment to one another.  If someone in my family is struggling or needs extra help, many of us will become invested in problem-solving. Through difficulty, we make including and supporting each other a priority.  We work through challenges together and focus on the bigger picture.  Walsh (1996) said that family processes enable individuals and families to cope more effectively through crises. 

Both my parents made significant effort to ensure we had everything we needed.  They both contributed towards grocery shopping, household chores, yard work, and other daily activities.  My mother taught my siblings and me what it meant to be a good, upstanding member of society.  My father worked hard to provide for our physical needs, such as paying for a home, clothes, and schooling.  Together they created a loving environment where we could flourish.  They supported one another and supported our endeavors.  Their actions and beliefs follow the concepts promoted in The Family: A Proclamation to the World “…fathers are to preside over their families in love and righteousness and are responsible to provide the necessities of life and protection for their families. Mothers are primarily responsible for the nurture of their children. In these sacred responsibilities, fathers and mothers are obligated to help one another as equal partners.”

Family is Inclusive

One of my most cherished memories revolves around visiting the Hogle Zoo in Salt Lake City, Utah.  About every other weekend, we would pack up our minivan and spend the day with the animals.  It was our way to stay connected with one another, but especially with my brother.

Lucas was born with autism.  He had a difficult time connecting with us.  The only way he was able to express himself was through animals.  He was mostly nonverbal for the first eight years of his life, and the only words he spoke were animal names.  The zoo was where he could truly express himself.  I am grateful for those memories where we could connect and be involved in each other’s lives. 

Families are Imperfect

All families will face challenges.  Types of challenges vary from financial strains to personality differences but they each have something in common: challenges require families to adapt.  When difficulties begin to feel insurmountable, crises can occur and create pressure and uncertainty in family life.  Family stress scholars view change in family systems as the essence of stress and tension within families and parent-child relationships (Boss, 2002; Hennon et al., 2008; Hill, 1958; Patterson, 2002; Serido, Almeida, & Worthington, 2004).

My definition of family was solely about structure when I was younger.  I became familiar with family imperfections at the age of 13 when my parents separated and told us they were considering divorce.  I saw my parents make mistakes before, but I never expected this.  I thought our family was perfect and untouchable.  I believed divorce would invalidate our family relationship.  However, my parents’ would eventually work things out and mend their relationship – an experience that changed my idea of family forever.  I learned that families are far from perfect and will inevitably face challenges, therefore what families do in difficult situations is quintessential to the power of family life.  

Stress and the ABC-X Model

Ruben Hill (1958) developed the ABC-X model, a powerful tool to help families understand the challenges they face.  It offers informative insight into family coping and stress management.  The first part of the model is the (A) – the event or situation the family is faced with.  After a stress-triggering event, there are two indicators that determine how severe the situation affects the family.  The (B) – is the resources the family has, and the (C) – involves the family’s perceptions of the stressor.  The (X) – determines how high or low the stress is for the family, as well as the likelihood of a subsequent crisis (Hill, 1958). 

For my family, the (A), or event was my parents’ initial separation.  My father moved out of our house for about six months while they tried to analyze their situation.  There were several key resources (B) that my parents used throughout this time, the most helpful of which was a therapist whom they visited weekly.  This allowed them to talk through their challenges with an unbiased third party.  They also visited with an ecclesiastical leader who helped support their spiritual beliefs and foundation.  Even relationships with friends and family were essential during this time and proved to be helpful resources. 

One of the more important factors that led to everything coming back together was my parent’s perception (C) of the event.  My father was determined to work things out and find a solution.  My mother took a bit longer to shift her perception but also realized how much she wanted things to work out.  The resources and perceptions worked together to ease the stress of the situation, especially for my mom.  As she went to therapy, she began to see how realistic it was for families to struggle and successfully work through their challenges.  The support they received during this time led to a shift in the way they viewed the situation and changed their perspective.  Although it was difficult, there was a hope that eased the weight and stress of the situation.  My parents said this was one of the most difficult things they have been through but the best thing for their relationship. 

Although the main focus in reviewing this model here was on what my parents and family experienced, the outcome affected all of us in important ways.  As their relationship mended, we spent more time together.  Their therapy sessions not only helped their relationship with each other, but provided an opportunity for them to be better parents as well.  This experience also led to a change in perspective for me as I came to understand what family is to me.  I have a passion for lifting and helping others, especially families, because of this event in my life. 

Most people will face challenges: divorce, death, infertility, financial strain, job loss, or even natural changes that occur between married couples.  It is how individuals and families respond to stress, based on their resources and perceptions, that influence the outcomes. 

Conclusion

Family is about connection, efforts to support family members, and being involved in each other’s lives.  Most importantly, it is about accepting the imperfections and differences that exist.  Much of the discussion in this blog represents experiences that shaped one person’s definition of family.  Others have their own unique experiences and interpretations.  The purpose of this blog is to invite positive discussion of family life and those things that have the greatest influence.  Please share a personal definition of family and/or the power of family below.

References

  • Boss, P., Bryant, C.  M., & Mancini, J. A. (2002).  Family stress management: A contextual approach (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Brandon, P. D. (2001). State intervention in imperfect families: The child, the state, and imperfect parenting reconsidered from a theory of comparative advantage. Rationality and Society, 13(3), 285-303.
  • Dermott, E., & Fowler, T. (2020). What is a family and why does it matter? Social Sciences, 9(5), 83. https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci9050083
  • Hennon, et al. (2009). Poverty, stress, resilience: Using the MRM model for understanding poverty for understanding poverty related family stress. In C. A. Broussard & A. L. Joseph (Eds.), Family poverty in diverse contexts (pp. 187-202). New York, NY: Routledge.
  •  Hill, R. (1958). 1. Generic Features of Families under Stress. Social Casework, 39(2–3), 139–150.  https://doi.org/10.1177/1044389458039002-318
  • Patterson , J. M. (2002). Integrating family resilience and family stress theory. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 64, 349-360. 

2 Comments

  1. zoritoler imol

    I’m not sure why but this blog is loading incredibly slow for me. Is anyone else having this problem or is it a problem on my end? I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

    Reply

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12/21/16

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