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The Resilient Family: Meeting Challenges Together
By North Carolina Cooperative Extension

Q. What do bungee cords and families have in common?

A. Both need “bounceability"

While that may sound like a joke, the truth is that the power to “bounce back– otherwise known as resilience – allows a family to adapt when change is needed and to cope when something serious happens. And families today do, indeed, face many serious challenges – everything from divorce to job loss, time pressure to poverty.

The National Network for Family Resiliency defines “resilience" as a family’s “ability to cultivate strengths that will allow it to meet the challenges of life."

“All families have some strengths," says Wayne Matthews, PhD., an associate professor in Family and Consumer Sciences at North Carolina State University and a human development specialist for North Carolina Cooperative Extension. “By building on those strengths, families can minimize the stress they will experience when something like the death of a loved one, job loss or divorce occurs."

In studies conducted in the United States and around the world, researchers discovered that strong, resilient families share several characteristics. Among these characteristics are:

Commitment – Members of strong families are devoted to the well-being and happiness of other members, and family unity is highly valued.

Appreciation – The human need for appreciation is strong, and a genuine appreciation for one another motivates family members to behave positively toward one another.

Communication – Talking – about everything from the trivial to the deep – is key to expressing love and other emotions and is also at the root of our relationships with each other.

Connection – Strong families spend time – and lots of it – together.

Spirituality – Whether formally religious or not, strong families have a sense of a greater good or power in life, which gives them strength and purpose.

Coping ability – Strong family members have a positive outlook that allows them to see stress or crisis as a chance to grow and learn.

Leadership – Someone – typically the adults – needs to lead for a family to stay strong. While strong families allow children a voice in some decision-making, in times of crisis, it’s the adults’ role to get everyone to pull together.

How can you nurture these characteristics in your own family? Matthews offers the following practical suggestions:

Make plans

Prioritize – Rank your activities and then schedule time to accomplish your top priorities. (Be sure to schedule some family time!)

Be well – You’ll cope best with stress when you’re healthy, so eat wisely, exercise and get plenty of sleep.

Budget – Make a family budget and work together to stick to it.

Work together

Cooperate – Engage every member of the family in making a positive contribution to the family’s well-being.

Encourage – Help build confidence by promoting self-reliance.

Communicate – Share concerns as well as love and affection.

Enjoy each other

Laugh – Humor is a great stress reliever.

Think – Before saying anything, stop and think first – the impact of hurtful words is long-lasting.

Celebrate – Significant moments – birthdays, holidays, good report cards, etc. – deserve special recognition.

“A stronger family requires the commitment, cooperation and hard work of all its members," Matthews says. “The payoff is a close, more vibrant family that functions well during normal times and during times of extreme stress."

North Carolina Cooperative Extension, The Department of Family & Consumer Sciences, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, North Carolina State University. Copyright 2004, NC State University. For more information, visit: www.family-info.info

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