March 30, 2009

Is Your Family Built For Change?

Vestina F. Crayton, Extension Specialist, Urban Sustainability, Pinellas County Extension

Whether you are an architect, contractor, or simply a person who has an interest in how buildings are constructed, you understand that a building is only as strong as its foundation. The same principle applies to building a solid family. According to research conducted by the University of Florida, Institute of Agriculture and Science (IFAS) Extension the building blocks for a creating a strong family are their “commitment to each other; physical, spiritual, and emotional wellness; effective family communication; appreciation of all family members; meaningful and sufficient time together; and effective strategies to deal with stress.”

It is important to take the time to examine your family’s inventory of abilities and strengths. Take this moment to celebrate the qualities you currently possess and work on acquiring the ones you feel you lack. Having these characteristics will help families deal with unplanned changes. Change is inevitable. In a family, change can range from a child’s first day of school to the loss of a job. No matter the change, good or challenging, a family exhibiting these basic qualities is better equipped to handle the stress that comes with change.

Handling Unexpected Change

Have a candid discussion with your family about the situation. Be aware that each family member may deal with unexpected change in a different way. Researchers, at the Michigan State University Extension Office (MSUE) have identified five distinct stages that individuals will go through when dealing with life-altering loss:
  1. Shock and Denial – “I can’t believe this is happening to me.” This is a natural initial response. Accept and acknowledge the loss. This will help you move towards recovery quicker.
  2. Panic and Fear – “I don’t know what to do.” At first glance, the situation may seem insurmountable. Take a step back, breathe, and deal with one issue at a time.
  3. Anger- “Why is this happening to me?” Be careful that you do not express your anger in an unconstructive manner. Find ways to vent such as taking a walk, counting to ten or taking deep breaths.
  4. Hope- “This may be an opportunity to try something new.” Sometimes the excitement of the endless possibilities is attractive. Take the time to sit down and evaluate the pros and cons of each possibility. Be realistic. Examining your options objectively may eliminate further disappointments.
  5. Despair – “It’s never going to get better.” For example if someone in the family lost their job, searching for a new job may take longer than expected. Don’t give up! Consider acquiring new skills during this time that will increase your marketability.
Determine what stage you are in. Understanding and knowing that what you are feeling is normal, can help you deal with it.

Identify Roles
Each family member has a role to fulfill. It does not matter how the family is composed, each member can operate in one of these roles: provide resources, manage the resources or provide support. Each role is critical to the effective functioning of the family as a whole.

Assign Roles
Make sure expectations are discussed. Make it clear that as time progresses and change continues expectations will change. Be flexible.

Handling the Loss of Income

Set Priorities: Needs versus Wants
In the event of a loss of income, setting priorities on how to manage your finances is critical. If priorities are not set, you run the risk of spending money unnecessarily. As a family, define and discuss the difference between “needs” and “wants.” To initiate your discussion use the following definitions provided by MSUE “A need is something that you must have; it is essential for living. Some examples of a need are shelter, warmth, good health, and food. A want, on the other hand, is something that is not necessary to survive, but you really desire. Examples of a want are a new car or a winter vacation.”

Set Goals
Decide what your short term, mid-term, and long term goals are. Short term goals are goals that you plan to achieve in a few days or weeks. Mid-term goals are goals you plan to achieve in one to six months. Long term goals are goals you plan to achieve in a year or more.

Create a Plan
Developing a plan requires decision-making. Start the process by answering the following questions:

· What do we want to accomplish?
· How will we do it?
· When will we do it?
· Who will be responsible for each assignment?
Every good professional builder takes inventory of the tools and materials they will need to erect a sound building. Building a stable foundation for your family is no different. Make it a priority and identify your family’s strengths. Taking the time to examine what tools you already have will provide encouragement and will highlight the areas that need improvement. Every change brings with it some level of stress. However, making sure that your family embodies the basic characteristics of a strong and resilient family will alleviate some of the stress and will help you be more optimistic about the future.

For more information on how to help your family build and enhance their strengths, visit Pinellas County Extension’s 4-H Family at

Smith. Suzanne 1990 Building a Strong and Resilient Family
Furthering Families - Change is stressful!
Furthering Families – Income Loss

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