One question that has intrigued researchers in the field of family studies for many years is the question of what constitutes a strong family. Why are some families so close-knit with well-adjusted members who openly love each other and lead productive lives, while other families flounder in a quagmire of dysfunction and trouble? What are the qualities that make for success in families? Finding an answer to this question is important, because the answer can give researchers the foundation they need to give families information they can use to create their own strong families (DeFrain). A fair amount of research into this question has been conducted over the past twenty years, and researchers are finally starting to put together the pieces that make up successful families. This paper will examine the current research on strong families, provide real-life examples of strong families in action, and determine the most important indicators of families that are headed toward success.
So, what are the characteristics of strong families? John DeFrain, in his essay "Creating Strong Families," found that strong families have six main attributes that help them succeed over the long-term. These attributes are:
Appreciation and Affection -- Strong families regularly express love and affection for each other.
Commitment -- Strong families make the family a priority and invest time in each other.
Positive Communication -- Strong families talk regularly with each other, often for no other reason than to just chat.
Enjoyable Time Together -- Strong families do things together and enjoy each other's company.
Spiritual Well-Being -- Strong families have members who have love and compassion for each other and the world.
Successful Management of Stress and Crisis -- Strong families develop good stress management skills and use them regularly.
Families who exhibit these characteristics generally have closer, happier relationships with one another. However, these characteristics do not just develop overnight. Somebody has to put them into practice. Those "somebodies" are parents. Parents are the key to strong families. They are the ones who provide the lead for children on how to act toward one another. The parents are to the family what a hard drive is to a computer; without them, the family can not operate.
It takes strong parents to make strong families. What, then, are the characteristics of strong parents? The YMCA asked itself that very question, and conducted a nationwide poll of 1,005 parents to answer it. The most important thing in making strong parents, the poll found out, is for the parents to have a good relationship with each other ("Building Strong Families"). Parents who have an excellent relationship with one another are more likely to feel successful as parents and up to the challenges of parenting ("Building Strong Families"). In fact, having an excellent relationship with each other is the parenting factor most consistently related to a wide range of strong parenting factors. Parents with healthy relationships with each other do the things that help their children grow up healthy ("Building Strong Families").
Another important characteristic of successful parents is having standards for themselves as parents. Parents of strong families set standards for themselves that they feel they must reach in order to be successful ("Building Strong Families"). Some common standards of successful parents are having respectful children with good behavior and good values, being able to give their children love, getting involved with and making time for their children, and helping their children live happy, productive lives ("Building Strong Families").
The final characteristic of successful parents, the YMCA discovered, is the willingness to utilize outside resources ("Building Strong Families"). When parents seek and obtain the support and encouragement of those around them, they experience less stress and greater satisfaction with their parental roles. Family, friends, and community resources are common areas for parents to turn to for support. The support of others helps parents to feel more competent in their role, and allows them opportunities to learn things that will improve their parenting skills ("Building Strong Families").
Another important hallmark of strong families is a good relationship between siblings that extends into adulthood. Successful parents lay the foundations of strong sibling relationships while their children are young. Parents who tell their children that they should be loving, kind, and helpful to their siblings, and who foster a sense of attachment between all of their children promote lasting close relationships among them (Shriner). Adult sibling relationships are often categorized as either being intimate, congenial, loyal, apathetic, or hostile (Shriner). The type of relationship adult siblings have with each other is indicative of the strength of the families from which they came. Intimate sibling relationships are characterized by siblings who are devoted to each other and place their relationship with each other above all else in their lives. Congenial siblings are close friends, while placing their own children and spouses in a higher place in their lives. Loyal siblings are attached due to their shared family background and make an effort to stay in touch and attend family gatherings together (Shriner). These are the best sibling relationships, and the ones that are built by strong families.
A startling example of just how close siblings can become when they come from a strong family are the Austin siblings of Lawrence County, Tennessee. These tightly-knit brothers and sisters, ranging in age from 70 to almost 90, all live on land purchased by their father almost a century ago. Their father, Charlie Austin, purchased 40 acres of land in Lawrence County and built the family home there. Over the years, as he was able, he bought eight other forty acre parcels on adjoining land. As each of his eight children got married, he built them houses on their own 40 acre parcels; he gave them the houses and they sharecropped to pay him back for the 40 acres (Stewart). All eight siblings still live on their 40 acres, all within a mile of each other. Many of their children and grandchildren live on this family land, too. For years, the entire group would get together for lunch every Sunday after church (until the oldest grandchildren started dating).
This family truly models the attributes of strong families. Friends and neighbors marvel at how loving and close the entire family is with each other. While most of the grandchildren have stayed close by, many of the ones who moved away have come back so they could raise their own children in the loving family circle. Neighbors report that the Austins are a family who look out for one another; if any family member is sick or needs anything, other family members see that they get it (Stewart). They also help the people in the community around them in whatever ways they can. It is this outpouring of love for each other and the world around them that has made the Austin clan the embodiment of a strong family.
Of course, happy, well-adjusted children are the very best indicator of a strong family. Ask any child what they think makes a happy family, and he or she will rarely reply that it is money. The things that make a family happy are, for children, simple things that money can not buy, and always revolve around being with the people they love. Diana S. DelCampo, in her essay "Creating Strong Families," gave a sampling of responses from children who were asked the question, "What is a happy home like?" Some of their answers were:
When I come home, my mom and dad hug me a lot. That's when my house feels happiest." (Nora, age 8)
My house has a big refrigerator with kids' artwork and magnets all over it and even some that falls off!" (Tobias, age 5)
In a house that is happy, people ask you how your…