There are many benefits to stable family relationships, in contrast, there are just as many, if not more, pitfalls to unstable family relationships. Much research has been conducted to determine success or failure of the family unit and one thing is certain; a strong foundation is the key to success. A stable relationship provides a platform for strengthening our own personal, physical, and mental health as well as our children’s.
The first equation for our future success comes from our own upbringing.
We tend to repeat what we a have learned from the people who spent their days raising us. If it was positive, we tend to bring that into our own families someday, and likewise, we bring the bad. It is just a cycle that is difficult to break and our family journey begins with picking our mate. Once again this is where our childhood comes into play. Often times we will pick a partner that is just like what we are used to.
If we have endured abuse, chances are we will unwittingly pick an abuser to pair up with and start our family.
“Maintaining a healthy family relationship is important in making every family member feel safe, protected and loved, which is vital in influencing their well-being” (Ageing, 2012). This statement could not be truer. Imagine, as a child, coming home to an abusive home where everywhere you turn something is frightening you or holding you down mentally. That environment cannot be pleasant, but all too often present.
One of our main goals as a family unit is having the unparalleled responsibility of teaching our children how to be respectable, upstanding future members of society. If we take our responsibilities as parents seriously, acting as good role models for our children, then that opens the door for them to emulate us as they begin to make their own outside relationships.
The family unit is traditionally comprised of a father (dad), a mother (mom), and at least one child, if not more. Let’s take a look at them individually to understand their role and importance to a stable family relationship. Let’s face facts. It is no secret that men are, in fact, one half of the equation when it comes to procreation. However, that is the easy part. Living up to the challenge of fatherhood is where the separation of men and boys becomes apparent. A father is much more to the relationship in general, and specifically, more important to the child. If a father takes his role seriously, a real struggle in today’s society, he contributes to his child/children that enhances development both personal and social. His/her cognitive growth is enhanced as well as their ability to achieve in school, gives them a strong sense of who they are but more importantly who they can become. Conversely, the children will form all of their future relationships and what is acceptable or not.
In Dr. Gail Gross’ article, The Important Role of Dad, she states, “Fathers are central to the emotional well-being of their children; they are capable caretakers and disciplinarians” (Gross, 2014, p. 2).
We can also break it down even more between the gender of the children (son vs. daughter). Girls tend to follow a pattern of involvement set by their own father and go with what is a sense of comfort for them. On the other hand, if their youthful years were spent in fear of the father who was not loving, kind or gentle, the daughter will tend to pursue those characteristics in a future mate. Boys do not tend to search for a mate with their fathers characteristics but they will, on many occasions, emulate their father’s characteristics.
This pattern is not something that is written in stone but rather just a gauge. For instance, my situation does not follow a certain pattern. My parents were divorced when I was five and my two sisters were four and three, respectively. From what I remember of my dad, he was not an abusive father figure. I remember him to be loving, caring, and compassionate. Our situation was different in the fact that we received most of our rearing from grandparents, aunts and uncles. These surrogates, in my opinion, did a remarkable job in developing me into the person I am today. They were attentive, loving, caring, and provided just the right amount of discipline to keep me and my sisters from becoming a negative statistic on society’s roles.
We can see how a father plays a major role in a stable family but what about a mother? Does she just give the child life and play no further role? That is the other part of the equation. As we start from conception, the mother typically has a nine month head start on bonding with the child as she carries it to term. From the day of birth, a mother becomes a role model for the child, providing care at various levels including physical, mental, and emotional growth. She is instrumental in providing a female perspective during childhood. Not all mothers in the typical American family are biologically the child’s mother (Boehlke, 2017).
Not everyone is fortunate to have a biological mother in their life. For those instances, many have been blessed by other forms of influence. Today, more than ever, we see an unfortunate rise in the absence of a father or mother, but fortunately we can find an alternate presence in a child’s life that can have just as big an effect if not bigger.
Some could be family members, adoptive moms, or caregivers who take the place of a mother and assume the role of the mother to the child. Some families have more than one mother figure in the household, such as an aunt or family friend who cares for the child full-time or part-time to provide assistance. Teenage mothers may rely on help from their own mothers or other family members while raising their child. Older moms may have their own older children in their 20’s or 30’s who help with raising and providing a mother figure in the younger sibling’s life (Boehlke, 2017, p. 2).
This is another example of me and my siblings’ experience. Just as our many uncles played important fatherly figure roles in our lives, so did the women. Our maternal and paternal grandmothers, aunts, and sometimes cousins, help mold us into better people.
Perhaps no other indicator of successes that a stable family can provide a child is found in statistical data. The family structure, which once was a static entity, is now dynamic and has, and continues to change. According to the Pew Research Center, a study conducted in 2015 illustrates this change quite well. The study took a look at three different years in three different decades; 1960, 1980, and 2014. The following data is summarized: In 1960, 73 percent of children were living in homes with two parents in a first marriage (Center, 2015). In 1980, the number fell to 61 percent, and once again dropped in 2014 to 46 percent. Looking at those same years, children living in a home where the parents were in a remarriage to someone else had these results; 1960-14 percent, 1980-16 percent, and 2014-15 percent. When it came to cohabiting parents, they did not find data in 1960 or 1980; however, in 2014 that number was seven percent. When they examined the single parent category we see once again that all three years provided feedback and, interestingly, we find our highest numbers here. For instance, in 1960, nine percent were living in a single parent home, with 19 percent in 1980, and 26 percent in 2014. The final category was children living in a home with no biological parent. Here we see our smallest numbers in the study with four percent in 1960; virtually no change in a twenty year span with the same four percent in 1980, and to cap it off we see a minimal one percent spike in 2015 to 5 percent (Center, 2015).
Today’s family is governed by many facets. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see the trend of more and more people divorcing for one reason or the other (maybe because of the kids). Remarriage and cohabitation is especially on the rise, failing to commit to a relationship is all wreaking havoc on what we used to think the definition of a stable family meant. Mothers entering the workforce now when the majority of them used to stay at home and raise the children. So we can see, even if a child and their siblings had two parents but they both worked, the family dynamic is changed. The children, perhaps as a result of dual working parents, may be affected but that is not written in stone. This trend, I think, takes a special approach. For example; my wife and I met and married early in our military careers and soon after had three children. All three of our boys were raised by two working parents for their entire childhood and they seem to have developed into well-educated, responsible citizens and we are extremely proud of who they have become in life.
Children develop more steadily, and so do parents for that matter, when family relationships are stable. The more transitions a family undergoes the more the unity is threatened. It would stand to reason that the more unstable the family unit is the harder a child has to work to overcome the adversity.
Unfortunately, instability is more common in American kids’ lives today, according to research collected by the Urban Institute. By the time they’re in fourth grade, more than one-third of children will experience a change in their parents’ relationship (whether it be marriage, separation, divorce, re-marriage, or the beginning or end of a cohabiting relationship). Changes in child care providers and schools are also common: the average child care arrangement lasts only one year, and as many as one in three fourth graders has switched schools at least once in the past two years. Twelve percent of all Americans change residences in a given year, and two in five adults living with kids suffer a major drop in income (of at least 25 percent) during the course of a year. Especially since the recession, tens of millions of families have experienced a period of unemployment or under-employment, with the financial and mental health challenges that accompany them (Sutherland, 2014, p. 3).
In summary, we explored just the tip of the iceberg on what elements constitute a stable family unit. A two parent household in which the parents are happy and in love with each other seem to carry the biggest weight in terms of success of the family unit. Open lines of communication are extremely important to make sure each voice is heard (notice I said heard, which means not necessarily implemented). We all may not agree what constitutes a stable family, but, we should all agree the ability for everyone in the home to feel safe, and secure is paramount to success.
Ageing, A. G. (2012, Apr 10). The building blocks of healthy family relationships. Retrieved from kidsmatter.edu.au: https://www.reference.com/world-view/family-relationships-important-4bfbed221d1ac4d6
Boehlke, J. (2017, Aug 14). What Is the Role of the Mother in a Typical American Family? Retrieved from Livestrong: https://www.livestrong.com/article/70779-role-mother-typical-american-family/
Center, P. R. (2015, Dec 17). The American Family Today. Retrieved from Pew Research Center Social and Demographic Trends: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2015/12/17/1-the-american-family-today/
Gross, G. D. (2014, Aug 12). The Important Role of Dad. Retrieved from Huffington Post: https://www.huffingtonpost.com/dr-gail-gross/the-important-role-of-dad_b_5489093.html
Sutherland, A. (2014, July 29). How Instability Affects Kids. Retrieved from IFS: https://ifstudies.org/blog/how-instability-affects-kids