This is the third in a series about common conflicts in contemporary families.
Q: What is family conflict, and what are some of the common causes?
A: Family conflict develops when members of a family have different beliefs or viewpoints, when people misunderstand one another, when someone gets hurt feelings and develops resentment, and when miscommunication leads to mistaken assumptions and subsequent arguments.
Family stages often cause conflicts. These include learning to live as a new couple (cohabiting or married), having the first baby and any subsequent children, sending a child to school, dealing with adolescence and experiencing the passage of young persons into adulthood. Each of these stages has innumerable possibilities for conflicts.
The other times conflicts occur is during changes in family situations. Separation and divorce create conflict, as do moving to a new town, starting a new job or starting a new school. Starting to commute long hours to and from work creates family conflict. Changes in financial circumstances also are life changes that can create conflicts.
Through time, the needs, values and opinions of family members can change and create conflicts. Change can occur between spouses, between parents and children, between siblings, between nuclear families and in-laws, and among extended family members. The above information is from the website of the Department of Health and Human Services, State Government of Victoria, Australia. From the Livestrong Foundation, there is additional information. Expanding on some of the causes of conflicts, one of the most common is money. The conflict can be not having enough money to meet expenses, competition for control of the money between spouses or partners, and disagreements about how to spend money.
Disagreements about types of child discipline cause conflicts. Parents can become polarized into the good parent and the bad parent, or the disciplinarian and the comforter. Such divisions are unhealthy for parents and children.
Sibling rivalry can cause conflicts, such as jealousy leading to teasing, competition, or verbal and physical abuse. If a parent favors one child, there are even greater conflicts. Sibling rivalry is normal provided it is contained by parental intervention and not damaging to the development of any of the children.
In terms of in-laws and extended families, problems arise if family members other than the nuclear family or blended family are intrusive into family matters. In these instances, conflict is inevitable, especially since boundaries and values differ significantly from person to person and family to family.
The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry explores the conflicts created by family moves. Studies show children and adolescents who move repeatedly are more likely to have problems in school. If moves coincide with other changes such as divorce, death, decreases in family incomes or new schools, they are even more problematic.
Moves put children into positions of having to make all new friends. Schools differ and have varying curricula and schedules. Children can become stressed, bored or depressed.
Children in kindergarten or first grade are vulnerable to moves because they are already in the process of separating from their parents and adjusting to school. Moving might precipitate these children regressing to more dependent relationships with parents.
Because of the increasing importance of peers, teens and preteens have even more problems moving. They might not talk to parents about their distress but might become depressed, anxious, withdrawn, rebellious or aggressive. If there is disagreement between parents about moving, their conflicts will affect the teenagers and children.
There are additional conflicts between extended family members and nuclear family groups. Common problems include relatives who wear out their welcome by staying too long. Then there are relatives who visit too often. Conflicts also can arise about relatives who call too often or too infrequently.
Interfering relatives who meddle in other people’s lives can occur among extended family members or in-laws. It is not unusual for families to have interfering relatives. Further information concerning conflicts with relatives can be found on familyeducation.com.
Unemployment negatively affects families because of the ensuing financial hardships. An article from the University of Michigan Library reported on the effect of unemployment on automobile workers and their families. The results were about workers from a fairly well-off segment of blue-collar automobile employees, not workers from low paid-jobs. The authors of this article believed results were negative considering that these workers were fairly well-off and the study measured hardships at the end of two years. This data demonstrated families were not prepared ahead of time to sustain periods of unemployment.
• Next week’s article will continue with additional common causes of family conflicts.
Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.