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Spring 99 Table of Contents
Versión Español de este artículo (Spanish Version)

The Resilient Family

Reprinted from Institute for Health & Disability, February 97, Vol. 5, No. 1

Families don't stand still. They are constantly growing and changing. In the process of developing resilience, a family ebbs and flows, but there are some constants to be aware of. A resilient family can:

Balance the demands of the child with the chronic condition with other family needs. This does not mean the family is never at its wit's end. It means that, more often than not, the family has enough energy to attend to the child's developmental needs as well as the need of the chronic condition. Normal family routines are maintained most of the time, and there is time for everyone in the family. In a balanced family, the universe doesn't always swirl around the child with the chronic illness or disability. It just feels like that sometimes!

Maintain clear family boundaries. While everyone needs to pitch in once in a while, these families have the time and energy to meet the need of unaffected children. Siblings may have responsibilities, but they aren't treated like little adults. While families need to develop connections to service providers, they also need to maintain their own integrity and sense of control over their lives. Resilient families are not over-directed by what professionals want them to do.

Develop communication competence. Effective families are able to solve problems, make decisions and resolve conflicts. They are able to express feelings, even when the feelings are negative and seem to be unjustified.

Attribute positive meanings to the situation. Families who are able to think positively about their situation and develop positive attitudes, manage better. These families often acknowledge the positive contributions their child brings to family life and how they have developed a new and more meaningful outlook on life.

Maintain family flexibility. Flexibility is one of those family resources that benefits all families, particularly when long-term demands are present and when day-to-day life is not predictable. Being able to shift gears, change expectations, and alter roles and rules contributes to better outcomes.

Maintain a commitment to the family. Of all the family resources, cohesion - the bonds of unity and commitment that link family members - is probably the single most important protective factor for families who have a child with a chronic illness or disability.

Engage in active coping efforts. Resilient families actively seek information and services, and work to solve problems.

Maintain social integration. The ability to maintain supportive relationships with people in the community is another important protective factor for the child and family. Support from other parents who have a child with a chronic condition has become a major resource to many families.

Develop collaborative relationships with professionals. The quality of the relationships families have with health care and other professionals is another protective factor. Taking time to share information, working together to make decisions about the child's care, respecting differences, and avoiding attempts to control the other [person], contribute to satisfaction for both parent and professional.

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Last Revision: September 4, 2003