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Your Family Strengths: Flexibility

Strong families develop predictable routines, roles, and rules that govern everyday life and provide for continuity and stability. Some of the more obvious patterns are who cooks, washes dishes, does the laundry, or fixes the car. Other less obvious patterns include the following: Who has the right to make what decisions? How do we handle differences of opinion? How do we express anger, affection, or other emotions?

Reasonably stable patterns empower a family to deal with the many challenges inevitable in family life; without such patterns, chaos would result. At the same time, strong families stay flexible, realizing that changing their routines can help them cope with stress.

Families face a number of common challenges. Children get older. Adults switch jobs or retire. Families move to different communities. Older family members move closer and need care. Birth, adoption, marriage, divorce, sickness, and death all reshape families.

The families who are most successful in coping with change share leadership roles among parents and children. They adapt relationships and family rules when needs arise. Allowing children to stay out later at night as they grow older is an example of healthy adaptation. One adult taking on extra housework when the other's job is more demanding is another example.

The varied circumstances of family life may necessitate individual adaptation. Since no family knows what tomorrow will bring, being adaptive and flexible is a good trait for family members to develop.

Here are some ideas for doing just that:

Accentuate the Positive. Families are more adaptive when they see the positive in stressful situations. Begin a family night discussion by stating that while there are trials and tribulations in life, we are not to be overcome by them. It helps if we adopt a positive view of life's circumstances. Make a list of daily events (such as routine chores and traffic jams) and unexpected happenings (such as natural disasters and death) that can be stressful. Then make a positive statement about what could be gained from the experience.

What Would We Do If . . . During a family night or other time, discuss severe crises faced by individuals and families. Then discuss hypothetical situations relating to your own family, prefaced by the statement What would we do if . . . For example, What would we do if: the house burned down; Mom or Dad were ill or died; Grandma came to live with us; we had to move to another town? Choose one of these events and write down the changes that would take place and the adjustments each family member would need to make for the family to adapt well.

Scenes from television programs and movies can also be a catalyst for these types of discussions. Consider crises portrayed in dramas and ask, What can a person (family) do in this situation? Who can help? What did this person (family) do that helped or hindered?

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