Friday, December 26, 2014

The Family Beat: What Makes Families Resilient in the Face of Challenge

English: A photograph of a 2 month old human i...
Four generations (Wikipedia)
by , Deseret News:

Lisa Salberg became “Mom” to her own niece and nephew after her beloved sister died. Ron Williams scrambled away from a neglectful, abusive childhood and his own later mistakes to become a good husband and father, pastor, soldier and fitness expert.

Michelle Eborn figured out how to parent her children alone in the midst of sorrow after her husband, Chris, died unexpectedly. Caleb Dunham left behind wars overseas only to battle internal conflicts at home. He has post-traumatic stress disorder and his family is benefiting from a program that provides dogs as companions and helpers.

This is a small cross-section of the families I’ve written about - and learned from - this year while covering the family beat for the Deseret News. Each faced challenges they didn’t expect and for which they felt unprepared.

Family life is not always what couples picture on their wedding day or what kids expect as they plan their lives. The day-to-day of family life is both rewarding and fraught with challenge. But some families rise above anything that's thrown at them and thrive - and it's usually a group effort.

As I write this, I’m picturing Lisa Speckman, a nurse and mom who lost multiple limbs to an infection right after giving birth to her second child. She almost died more than once, but I’ve met very few people as active and fearless as she is. She volunteers in her daughters' classrooms, and she and her family continue to enjoy activities together from traveling to skiing.

One who rivals her, though, overcoming an entirely different set of challenges, is Arvie Burgos. The teenager was in foster care for some time because his dad was absent, his mom used drugs and his grandmother - the light of his life - died. Sometimes family can let a kid down, but Burgos managed to remain hopeful, carve out deep and caring relationships and earned his high school diploma this year.

If I were whipping together a recipe for overcoming challenges, the first ingredient I’d toss in would be resilience, something both Speckman and Burgos showed. It’s a topic my colleague Marjorie Cortez and I explored this year, documenting the power it has to right lives that have veered off track, often as a result of unexpected calamity.

Family is a big part of what kids need to thrive and overcome. And the science on that is clear: Kids need actively involved, loving parents - both mom and dad. We explored the impact that absent fathers have on their children's lives during a joint project this year with The Atlantic.

I’m a mom with teenage daughters, so I am naturally interested in what makes families do well. Talking to families who have faced difficulties and experts who have studied what works has given me a chance to not only share stories with readers, but improve my own parenting skills.

Taking a broad look at family life and then focusing in on how some families handle the specific challenges we all face has given me some great ideas, and I hope it has done the same for readers.

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