4. Family Strengths

Learning Outcomes

At the end of this chapter you will be able to do the following.

Analyze family strengths and relate how they are fostered

Recall threats to a strong family

Recall proactive measures to combat family breakdown

The good news for fans of family relationships is that the family is here to stay. The family is by far the most enduring and central institution in society and has been throughout all human history. Family homogeneity is a thing of the past. Family diversity is the theme of the future. The formation, maintenance, and perpetuation of the family will continue as it has for thousands of years. It will adapt itself to changing technologies and economies. It will adapt itself to religious and political influences. And it will adapt itself to scientific discovery. Most importantly it will persist as long as humans persist.

World surveys of human values continue to document the selection of family issues as the most important value to people worldwide.1 Billions continue on with their traditions of tribal, monogamous, polygamous, matriarchal, and patriarchal family forms. Lesbian and gay couples continue to carve their niche into the mainstream of the various societies in which they live. Poor families, average families, and wealthy families continue to perform the core family functions and create another generation of adult children who will likely do the same by socially reproducing the next generation of fathers and mothers, husbands and wives.

The General Social Surveys (GSS) are national surveys of U.S. persons and have been conducted from 1972 to the present.2 When asked if a girl’s or boy’s chances for a happy family life were better than yours, about the same, or worse than yours, thousands of respondents (24,070) 19% reported girls had a better chance and 17% said boys had a better chance; 45% (girls) and 48% (boys) said about the same chance; and 36% (girls) and 35% (boys) said a worse chance.3

In the U.S. families are a source of satisfaction. When asked another question about how much satisfaction they get from their family life, 43% said a very great deal, 34% said a great deal, and 11% said quite a bit.4 When asked in general how satisfied they were with their family 90% indicated satisfaction at some level.5

With all the challenges families face researchers have been very interested in what can be done to strengthen families. A wealth of research has been conducted investigating what strong families do to stay strong.


Ever wonder why Grandma or Mom keeps asking you to attend the family picnic or reunion? What might they know that you don’t know? Even though it feels annoying at times, when you do attend, why are you glad you did? Perhaps your Mom and Grandma know that family rituals, traditions, and holidays are the way to build a connection between generations, to create new memories, and to keep family traditions alive.

Scientists have found that reunions and celebrations tend to promote cohesion and adaptability in family systems while offering mutual support between nuclear and extended family members. Rituals are very important to the family. These can be as simple as eating three meals a day together, holding weekly movie parties, buying fresh doughnuts on Saturday morning or reading to small children at bedtime. Rituals when practiced come to be expected. The ritual of taking driver’s education and obtaining a driver’s license is a common experience. For many family members it marks a rite of passage or an event that signifies the transition of a person from one stage in life to another (e.g., non-driver to driver). When a new driver emerges among the teen children, a new taxi driver emerges as well. Siblings can transport family members around town and provide the entire family with much needed support. A first date, high school or college graduation, and even marriage are also rituals that serve as rites of passage. There are rituals that take place outside of the family institution which are also important.


Religious rituals are found among the world’s major religions. Religion is a unified system of beliefs, rituals, and practices that typically involve a broader community of believers who share common definitions of the sacred and the profane. Religions provide meaning to us about what is sacred and what is profane. According to Durkheim the sacred is the supernatural, divine, awe inspiring, and spiritually significant aspects of our existence, and the profane is that which is part of the regular everyday life experience. These definitions originated from Durkheim’s studies of religion.6 For you religion might be a personal definition of how you feel about your place in the universe. It may also reflect how you understand categories of people who share a common system of beliefs that differ from your own (Jews, Muslims, Christians, etc.).

Religion shapes the attitudes and values of individuals. Gallup polling corporation collected US religiosity data during 2008. Religiosity is the measurable importance of religion to a person’s life. Religiosity can be measured by considering how active someone feels in her religion, how often she attends formal services, how much money she donates, how often she privately worships in her home, and other factors.

In January 2009 Gallup reported that after interviewing 350,000 U.S. individuals, there were some collective religiosity patterns which emerged. The ten most religious states were all in the South Eastern U.S. The ten least religious states were North Eastern (7), North Western (2), and Nevada in the West. They also reported that 65% of people in the U.S. said, “Yes, religion is an important part of their daily life.”7

There are many religious holidays, but suffice it to say that religiously-based family rituals are often a source of strength to families which use them for tradition and family cohesion. Many families also have spiritual rituals independent of formal religion. There are family fasts, family prayers on behalf of others, family offerings made in hopes of receiving blessings, and family outings designed to get family members in touch with nature and the forces of peace and creation.


One tradition utilized by many families is that of oral histories. All of us have an ancestral heritage. Family history is the process of documenting and cataloging one’s own ancestral heritage. Millions of family members worldwide have begun personal family histories to pass down to their children and grandchildren.

On the Internet, genealogy and family history searches account for the second most common Internet search topics today.8 Family history buffs can trace their ancestors back to the 1500s before records become sparse. After the 1500s, only European royalty have such records. There are a number of family history websites with ancentry.com being one of the largest and most comprehensive. Many who study and write down their family history share it with their children and grandchildren, creating bonds of unity that span the generations.


Another key strategy is spending quality time together as a family. Work, school, friends, recreation, and entertainment exact a tremendous toll on family cohesion and adaptability because it distracts them from taking time to simply be together. Family members need time together, not just doing electronic stuff, but being bored, doing chores, cleaning, and cooking together. When we get bored we get talkative and start opening up to one another. We then get an idea of what’s going on in each other’s life and become aware of the details that make us who we are. We know each other’s hopes and fears, concerns, and aspirations. Conversation and interaction is needed to reinforce loyalties and affirmations of one another.


All of the rituals, traditions, holidays, and spiritual approaches mentioned above are valuable because of the intimate bond that persists between family members. Family system entropy is the process of decay within a nuclear family system that is facilitated by the diverse roles and demands placed on family members as they travel their life courses together. Children are very close to their parents before their teen years. It is essential to connect with children and establish a strong bond before they hit age 13. Around the time of puberty, rational thinking processes mature, self-consciousness increases, and the importance of peer-acceptance increases. All this happens while teens prefer their friends over their family, especially over their parents. That is not to say that teens hate their parents, typically the opposite is true, they need their parents, but crave peer-acceptance and interaction.

Make sure to control your technology, don’t let it control you. Remember that technology demands attention. While you use it, your attention is distracted from people. Experts have even found that driving while talking on the cell phone impairs your judgment because you are distracted mentally from the details of driving. The same is true for being distracted by TV, video games, texting, GPS, Blue Tooth, IPods, and computers. It is safe to assume that all our electronic gadgets are a distraction to us and they have the potential to undermine our relationships if not managed. Some families declare a techno-free day where all the electronic gadgets are turned off for 24 hours and family together time is shared.


By far and with few exceptions, the marital bond is the core of a nuclear family system. Married couples are decidedly better off than singles in a number of key quality of life areas. Couples may not be aware of how much their quality of life is enhanced by being married. Awareness in this case hopefully will bring a strong commitment to resist marital entropy (couples have to work diligently against the forces of decay and chaos that wear down a marital bond). A family system functions much better when the married heads of the family have strength and unity in their marriage.


Parenting and work stressors, financial burdens, health issues, long-term fatigue, extended-family issues, electronic distractions, over-complicated schedules, grudge holding, and entitlement issues all lead to breakdown in a family. Good communication skills are a strength, but if one spouse is overburdened with parenting or work stressors, is distracted by electronic gadgets, or the spouses rarely see each other because of complicated schedules good communication becomes a challenge. Health issues of one family member are a common threat to family security. These challenges often are accompanied by financial burdens. The more threats present, the more difficult it is to maintain a strong family.


Parental dating, romantic gestures, united (and written down) goals, practice of stress management techniques, having fun on a regular basis, and seeking professional help when needed are some proactive measures families can take to avoid the breakdown of their family.

Judith Wallerstein wrote about the ability strong married couples have to support and nurture one another and to manage the daily wear and tear on the marriage and family.8 Rescuing one another is one of the duties and benefits that come with marriage. Today the husband may help her get through difficult times. In a few years she may reciprocate and support him. The key is to take the time, sacrifice the needed resources, and be your spouse’s number one support, especially when the chips are down. Wallerstein (1995) also talked about using humor and having fun with and without the children. When a couple discovers one another, they establish a relationship filled with fun, romance, and togetherness. Once married and pursuing their goals, married life bears down so heavily at times that it becomes easy to forget those early attractions that prompted you to marry.

Finally, families can be the most fun, most meaningful, and most rewarding social groups we belong to in our lives. Many elderly rate their family relationships as being among the most satisfying aspects of their golden years. The family experience can be valued or endured, cherished or loathed, essential or distracting. Regardless of the circumstances we face in life, our efforts to build and enjoy the family as individuals, couples, and other family members will most likely be rewarding to us throughout our entire lives. If neglected, just the opposite could prove to be true.

  1. retrieved 11 April, 2013 from http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/index_organization
  2. www.norc.org, General Social Surveys
  3. retrieved 13 may, 2010 from http://www.norc.org/GSS+Website/Browse+GSS+Variables/Subject+Index/
  4. retrieved 13 May, 2010 from http://www.norc.org/GSS+Website/Browse+GSS+Variables/Subject+Index
  5. retrieved 13 May, 2010 from http://www.norc.org/GSS+Website/Browse+GSS+Variables/Subject+Index/
  6. 1947 The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Glencoe Press reprint of 1912
  7. retrieved 11 April, 2013 from http://www.gallup.com/poll/1690/Religion.aspx
  8. retrieved 18 May 2010 from http://www.google.com/trends
  9. Judith Wallerstein & Sandra Blakeslee. The Good Marriage. 1995. Warner Books