This is the fifth in a series of articles about 21st Century families.
Q: How are stressors in the 21st Century related to family types?
A: In the Single Parent Families Magazine, posted on the Internet, there was an article titled the "Top 5 Mistakes that Stop Singles Having a Good Parent-Child Relationship." The single parent carries the total parenting responsibility and therefore fills two parenting roles.
There are certain pitfalls for single parents to avoid. The first is trying to be a friend to one's child. Establishing trust and closeness is essential, but not as a friend. Single parents especially need to remain parents because they are the only parents in their households.
Another dysfunctional pattern for single parents to avoid is manipulating their children to get them to do things. Using guilt is harmful to children. These efforts might work at the time but will damage relationships in the long run.
Sometimes, single parents are too permissive. They might feel guilt about depriving their children of better lifestyles and other losses. These single parents believe permissiveness helps make up for all the children have lost.
Single parents also need to learn not to dwell on minor issues. Ignoring curfews and using drugs are significant problems. Wearing clothes that don't match or fixing one's hair parents don't like are minor issues.
A final common dysfunctional practice of single parents is conditional love. Children need to know parents still love them, even when they are angry. Children should not be made to believe that whether or not parents love them depends on their behavior or attitudes. Discipline is the way to correct behavior in children, not withholding love as a punishment.
In an article titled "Stress and Coping Across Life Style," specific stressors are related to different family structures. To begin, marriage itself presents stressors. Role definitions are imperative for work, household tasks, incomes and religious preferences. If expectations are unrealistic, either too high or too different, problems arise. Conflicts are prominent in communication, problem-solving skills, child-rearing practices and control.
For married couples who transition into parenting, there are physical stresses, such as lack of sleep. Sometimes the costs associated with children cause financial strain. Parenting responsibilities have to be worked out between spouses. Big adjustments occur when children enter families and when they leave.
In today's economy, both parents usually work in two-parent homes. There are definite stressors with two working parents. Childcare is a big concern in terms of quality and cost. Because working parents are overloaded, there are chronic fatigue and frequent health concerns of the parents. Children also might have health issues and problem behaviors. Families with dual careers and children in the home often are chaotic. Family members come and go at different times in different directions.
In working-parent families, there is the continual need to balance work and family. Who stays at home with a sick child? Who takes care of the children if the child care provider is sick or on vacation? What arrangements can be made in summer when the children are out of school but the parents still are working?
Even though men are more involved with the children, married working women have more stress at home than men because they assume more traditional housework responsibilities. Of course, single parents, whether they are mothers or fathers, have all the household responsibilities.
The greatest single stressor for two working parents is lack of time. These families seem to live their lives on the fast track. Their leisure time becomes a rarity, as does their couple time. Marital quality suffers because maintaining quality relationships requires time, communication and energy.
Another family type with its own set of stressors is the divorced family. Divorced husbands might not pay child support. Divorcees and their children might lack good support systems with both families and friends. The stress of coping with divorce often precipitates mental health and physical health problems.
Children of divorce often get lost in the process, when parents who were good parents before the divorce become preoccupied and obsessed with their own sorrows and anxieties. Children of divorce are prone to perform less well in school and to develop behavior problems or mental-health disorders. Various family members might have great difficulty accepting a divorce, and the lack of acceptance affects the parents or the children.
After the separation of divorcing parents, many divorce-related issues have to be resolved. These are co-parenting, residential custody, child support and property settlements. The division of holidays and vacations often are conflictual.Women generally experience more economic stress than men because they earn less.
Children of divorce are placed at an increased risk of three types of difficulties. The first of these is cognitive deficits, which means learning becomes comprised because of the interference from negative feelings and lowered self-esteem following divorce. A second increased risk is internalizing problems, in which children develop depression, anxiety and other disorders in which they turn their feelings inward.
The third type of adjustment problems is externalizing problems. These are symptoms in which children lash out at others. These patterns include bullying, physical fights with peers and delinquent acts such as stealing and destruction of property.
Divorced children also might be defiant and oppositional, not well-liked by peers and not good students. A long-term effect is children from divorced families are more likely to get divorced themselves. They tend to marry as teenagers, which might be a factor in their increased divorce rate.
* Next week's article will continue with more stressors in different family types.
Judy Caprez is associate professor of social work at Fort Hays State University. Send your questions in care of the department of sociology and social work, Rarick Hall, FHSU.