The Family Strengths Perspective
This is not a theory or conceptual framework, which would imply a set of hypotheses which can be precisely tested through scientific research. The family strengths perspective is a positive, optimistic world-view or orientation toward life and families, grounded in research with more than 21,000 family members in twenty-seven countries. It does not ignore problems, but relegates problems to their proper place in life: as vehicles for testing our capacities as families and reaffirming our connection with each other.
Researchers looking at families from a strengths perspective have developed a number of propositions derived from their work with families that they believe merit serious consideration:
- All families have strengths. All families have challenges and all families have areas of potential growth.
- If one looks only for problems in a family, one will see only problems. If one also looks for strengths, one will find strengths.
- It's not about structure, it's about function. When talking about strong families, it is common to make the mistake of focusing on external family structure rather than internal family functioning. But, there are strong single-parent families, strong stepfamilies, strong nuclear families, strong extended families, strong families with gay and lesbian members, strong two-parent families. For every family structure in the world, there are countless representative strong families. Likewise, every type of family structure in the world also has many families that are not functioning well. Simply knowing the type of family does not tell one anything about the strength of the family.
- If you grew up in a strong family as a child, it will probably be easier for you to create a strong family of your own as an adult. However, it's also possible to do so if you grew up in a seriously troubled family.
- Strengths develop over time. When couples start out in life together, they tend to have considerable difficulty adjusting to each other, and these difficulties are predictable. Adjusting to each other is not an easy task, but many couples who start out shaky end up creating healthy, happy families.
Strengths are tested through normative developmental transitions. For example, couples commonly face many challenges when their children reach adolescence and young
TABLE 1 Qualities of strong families Appreciation and affection Commitment Caring for each other Trust Friendship Honesty Respect for individuality Dependability Playfulness Faithfulness Humor Sharing Positive communication Time together Sharing feelings Quality time in great quantity Giving compliments Good things take time Avoiding blame Enjoying each other's company Being able to compromise Simple good times Agreeing to disagree Sharing fun times Spiritual well-being The ability to cope with stress and crisis Hope Adaptability Faith Seeing crises as challenges and opportunities Compassion Shared ethical values Growing through crises together Oneness with humankind Openness to change Resilience
- Good things take time. A family's strengths are tested by everyday stressors and also by the significant crises that all families face sooner or later. It takes several years before for many couples and families to believe they have become a strong family, but they know this because they have been tested by the significant challenging events that life inevitably brings.
- Crises can tear families apart. Crises can also make family relationships stronger. Families in crisis sometimes forget their strengths, and need to remind themselves.
- A family's strengths are the foundation for growth and positive change. Families become stronger by capitalizing on their strengths.
- Most families in the world have considerable strength. Human beings would not have lasted across countless generations without these qualities. There are many more strong families in the world than families who are deeply troubled. As a global human community, we cannot afford to forget this.
- Families are about strong emotion. If family strengths could be reduced to one single quality, it would be the positive emotional connection and sense of belonging with each other. When this emotional bond is present, the family can endure most any hardship.