7400.362 - Family Life Management
School of Family and Consumer Sciences
Instructor: David D. Witt, Ph.D.
Topic 11 - Managing Stress and Fatigue

There's enormous stress out in the real world as people attempt to raise families and live their lives. The text only mentions stress that comes from within the family, between husband and wife. But there are forces outside the family that work to break it apart.
Unfortunantely, when marriages fail, the family members often blame themselves.

Think about this table:

Stressful events can occur inside the family, due either to normal day-to-day living, or because of abnormal conditions. They can also come from outside the family, in the course of normal world conditions, or because of abnormal ones. Quite often the symptoms of Abnormal stress are the same as Normal stress, depending on the courage and fortitude of family members. Similarly, Outside causes of stress can cause damage to the family even though they are the fault of no one in the family.

Also, some families seem to do well when under severe abnormal stress, while others can't seem to withstand the slightest snag in their routine. While being socialized, some people experience more of life, and therefore have more experience to draw on in times of crisis.Others are sheltered more from life's experiences, and have less to use when faced with tough times.

The moral of the story is this:

  1. Never think you are so smart that you have nothing to learn from others and from life.
  2. Keep your eyes open and be slow to comment on what's happening around you.
  3. Listen to people who are older than you when they offer advice. You don't have to take their advice, but they might say something that you can use.
Here's a quiz from a recent PBS series about spending and materialism called Affluenza.

1. Which of the following is comparable to the size of a typical three-car garage?
a. a basketball court b. a McDonald's restaurant c. an "RV" (recreational vehicle) d. the average home in 1950.
Answer: d. Many of today's three-car garages occupy 900 square feet, just about the average size of an entire home in the 1950s. Many people use the extra garage space to store things they own and seldom use. Often we hear that Americans have lost ground economically and have less purchasing power. But Americans are buying more luxurious items, partly by working more and going deeply into debt. The homes they live in and the cars they drive today are often bigger and more technologically advanced than those purchased by their parents.

2. The percentage of Americans calling themselves "very happy" reached its highest point in what year?
a. 1957 b. 1967 c. 1977 d. 1987
Answer: a. The number of "very happy" people peaked in 1957, and has remained fairly stable or declined ever since. Even though we consume twice as much as we did in the 1950s, people were just as happy when they had less.

3. How much of an average American's lifetime will be spent (on average) watching television commercials?
a. 6 months b. 3 months c. 1 year d. 1.5 years
Answer: C. In contrast, Americans on average spend only 40 minutes a week playing with their children, and members of working couples talk with one another on average only 12 minutes a day.

4. True or false? Americans carry $1 billion in personal debt, not including real estate and mortgages.
Answer: False. Americans carry $1 trillion in personal debt, approximately $4,000 for every man, woman and child, not including real estate and mortgages. On average, Americans save only 4 percent of their income, in contrast to the Japanese, who save an average of 16 percent.

5. Which activity did more Americans do in 1996?
a. graduate from college b. declare bankruptcy
Answer: b. In 1996, more than 1 million Americans declared bankruptcy, three times as many as in 1986. Americans have more than 1 billion credit cards, and less than one-third of credit card holders pay off their balances each month.

6. In the industrialized world, where is the U.S. ranked in terms of its income equality between the rich and the poor? (First being the most income-equal.) a. 1st b. 5th c. 12th d. 22nd
Answer: d. The income disparity between the rich and the poor is greatest in the U.S.

7. The world's 358 billionaires together possess as much money as the poorest _____ of the world's population?
a. 15 percent b. 30 percent c. 50 percent d. 10 percent
Answer: c. Nearly 50 percent. The world's 358 billionaires' combined assets roughly equal the assets of the world's poorest 2.5 billion people.

8. Since 1950, Americans alone have used more of the earth's resources than:
a. everyone who ever lived before them
b. the combined Third World populations
c. the Romans at the height of the Roman Empire d. all of the above
Answer: All of the above. Since 1950, Americans alone have used more resources than everyone who ever lived before them. Each American individual uses up 20 tons of basic raw materials annually. Americans throw away 7 million cars a year, 2 million plastic bottles an hour and enough aluminum cans annually to make six thousand DC-10 airplanes.

9. Americans' total yearly waste would fill a convoy of garbage trucks long enough to:
a. wrap around the Earth six times
b. reach half-way to the moon
c. connect the North and South Poles
d. build a bridge between North America and China
Answer: a. and b. Even though Americans comprise only five percent of the world's population, in 1996 we used nearly a third of its resources and produced almost half of its hazardous waste. The average North American consumes five times as much as an average Mexican, 10 times as much as an average Chinese and 30 times as much as the average person in India.

10. Which president feared that untamed American capitalism might create a corrupt civilization?
a. Jimmy Carter b. Ronald Reagan c. Theodore Roosevelt d. Abraham Lincoln
Answer: c. President Theodore Roosevelt feared that allowing American capitalism to develop unleashed would eventually create a corrupt civilization. He was a strong proponent of simple living.

11. Which economic indicator counts pollution three times as a sign of a growing economy?
a. the GDP (Gross Domestic Product) b. the GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator)
Answer: a. The GDP counts pollution three times: first when it is made, second when it is cleaned up and third when health-care professionals treat pollution-related health problems. An organization called Redefining Progress developed an alternative economic progress measurement, the GPI (Genuine Progress Indicator). GPI takes into account 24 aspects of economic life that the standard GDP (Gross Domestic Product) ignores. The GPI adds value for such activities as housework and volunteerism, and subtracts for the costs of such problems as crime, car accidents and family breakdown.

12. Of the Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption, what percent said (in 1995) that they are happier as a result? a. 29 percent b. 42 percent c. 67 percent d. 86 percent
Answer: d. Eighty-six percent of Americans who voluntarily cut back their consumption feel happier as a result. Only 9 percent said they were less happy. In 1996, 5 percent of the "baby boom" generation reported practicing a strong form of voluntary simplicity. By the year 2000, some predict this number will rise to 15 percent.

How'd you do? This last question gets at a possible solution to what's ailing many families these days. Life at the end of the 20th century is confusing - It is increasingly the best of times ... the worst of times to quote Dickens. About 100 years ago, one of the first sociologists, Emile Durkheim, charged that modern society was afflicted with a social disease he defined as anomie, or normlessness.

It is a notion that is similar to the spoiling of a child. Very simply, the more we get, the more we want; but it is more complicated. The idea is this. We begin life learning about what to expect. We come to count on these expectations and are disappointed when they aren't met. If our desires are satiated beyond our expectations, our appetites for these new rewards increase and so do our expectations, until we expect rewards beyond actual reason.

See if this sounds familiar:
With increased prosperity desires increase. At the very moment when traditional rules have lost their authority, the richer prize offered these appetites stimulates them and makes them more exigent and impatient of control. The state of de-regulation or anomie is thus further heightened by passions being less disciplined, precisely when they need more disciplining. (Suicide (1987).

Sociologist Robt. K. Merton (1951) further explained.
To the degree that regularity disappears in a (person's circle of significant others), the individual is in a normless situation, no matter how firm and consistent normative regulation may be elsewhere in the society ... Few facts are so important in analyzing a society as those concerning the stability of normative patterns in the basic units of person-to-person interaction. thus, divorce, extremely high mobility, and other forms of small group dissolution provide clues to the total state of the social system. In day-to-day social life, what really matters most immediately to the individual is what he can count up-on from his network of personal relationships.

Regularity - Logical Expectations - Consistency of Rewards

If we were to chart the general course of American Family Life from about 1920 to the present, we would find that access to material goods has increased steadily despite family financial ability to pay for them. Things have become ends in themselves since we have replaced personal involvement and emotional attachment with things. And social thinkers would have us believe that this is bad because there are limits to our ability to provide things.

Both parents working ultimately results in neither parent parenting. The more we work, the more we purchase, the more we have to maintain, the less time we have for personally handling the cognitive, emotional, and social development of those other things in our lives - children. Children born to such families are probably more likely to get parenting from television (socialization, at any rate). Since the main function of media is to sell us stuff (raise our interest in obtaining things), it only takes a couple of generations of these urchins before we just want stuff. What's the end result of all this?
Read the paper or watch the news.

  • Man shoots Taco-Bell employee for getting order wrong!
  • Madman opens fire on unsuspecting commuters - Kills 5 Wounds 14.
  • Children die in apartment fire while mother parties at local night spot.
  • Shaken Baby syndrome on the rise.
  • HIV positive Loverboy may have infected as many as 20 women.
These are just the headlines, and these folks are the bellwethers for an underlying lack of respect for our fellows.

On a day-to-day level, we experience shallow, self-serving treatment from others in almost every aspect of life - in the check out line, on the phone, in traffic, at the secondary level, and even from our primary group members.

Certainly people are caught up in what we used to call the rat race - trying to get ahead (of something), keeping up with the Joneses, looking out for number one. And we hardly ever ask ourselves why we are doing all this.

Voluntary Simplicity is an old solution, beginning at least with the early American philosophers, most notably John S. Mill.  With a few new wrinkles - the modern problems of overwork and anomie - and new solutions, such as the presence of support groups and information services on the internet - Simplification has never been more relevant.

I'll talk more about this topic in class - you should go to some of the websites below and see what you can find.

In addition to the PBS Show Affluenza, other media based "specials" are appearing in print media and their online counterpart websites:

SIMPLE LIVING: One Couple's Search for a Better Life
Voluntary Simplicity
Voluntary Simplicity Resources has online places to visit - here are a few of theirs taken directly from their resources page:
The whole idea is to get more out of life, enjoy your family more, have more pride in your accomplishments, and be a little greener.

Family Crises of various kinds which comes down to the management of normally stressful events in our lives, as well as very disturbing kinds of dysfunctions.

    First of all, there is a saying: "If it ain't broke - Don't fix it!"
    Most Families live long and relatively happy lives without suffering
    series of extremely disturbing events.

    However, there is another saying: "Bad things happen to Good people all the time!"
    Sadness and disappointment are as much a part of life as happiness and getting our way about things.

Imagine how stress you are going to be when you finish college and head out to the professional job market with your brand new B.A. in your hand. People are expecting things from you. The Pressure is on, baby! Maybe you are also planning to solidify that romance you've been having into a marriage, so there's the wedding and all that! And you find that your mother is being difficult over your dad's insistence on wearing bermuda shorts to the reception!  That's one kind of pressure build-up - nothing bad, just things.

Now imagine that your father is diagnosed with a serious medical condition, your brother is in jail on a drug charge, your little sister is planning on running away from home, and you find out your fiancé is seeing someone else.

Family stress comes in many forms. There are normal stressors, such as getting married, adjusting to living in a new group, having babies, unemployment, and so on, which are experienced by most families from time to time. There are also abnormal stressors, such as famine, war, natural disasters, massive economic collapse, murder, assault, incest, and so on, which tend to occur in selected families, sometimes happening at random, sometimes happening to families with special weaknesses.

In any case, the individual can be prepared for these events by agents from all parts of our society, the most informative agent of which can be one's own family. The effects of family crises of various kinds comes down to the recognition and management of stressful events in our lives.

Keep in mind the old saying - If it ain't broke - Don't fix it! - meaning here that most families live long and relatively happy lives without suffering a series of extremely disturbing events, even though their level of functioning may be somewhat less than perfect.

Some Definitions:

  • Stress = tension resulting from depleted family resources - an imbalance that must be corrected.
  • Stressors = those life events or changes that are so serious or drastic that they require changes in the family system, for example, the death of a spouse, financial crisis, unemployment.
  • Distress = extreme psychological pressure resulting from facing repugnant and/or unenjoyable challenges.
  • Eustress = extreme psychological pressure resulting from facing enjoyable and/or beneficial challenges.
The prudent family member will feel stress, look for the stressor(s), determine whether or not Distress or Eustress is happening, and make appropriate adjustments in the family system.

Reuben Hill (1949) published a paper, as the result of his work in the field of "family dismemberment" during and after World War II. As a social scientist working for the Army, Hill was charged with assessing the impact of war casualties on American families.

His ABC->X Theory of Family Stress, though modified, is still used in family development to describe the process by which families survive and endure over the lifespan.(see figures below).

The model above illustrates a family that recovers from stressor events and returns to their previous level of functioning, however, the process does not always result in this outcome:

Sometimes families find that overcoming and surviving a crisis actually makes them stronger and more resilient due to the realization of talents and abilities unseen before.

Logically, some families find that recovery is beyond their grasp (below). Either they stagnate at a lower level of functioning, or find themselves dealing with new crises before repairs can be made on the initial disturbance:

Theorists after Hill, such as McCubbin, refer to this phenomenon as crisis "pile-up", in which additional crisis situations further reduce the family's ability to cope and function.

The interaction between (a) stressors, (b) family resources, and (c) perception of events as stressors is what defines a crisis for any individual family. In other words, assuming a family is aware of its resources, such as the number of family members bringing in paychecks, the emotional strength of family heads-of-household, the demonstrated wisdom of elder relations, the variety of family resources will disallow all but the most devastating events to be perceived as crises. If stressors are adequately dealt with by family resources, the perception of the stressor will be that it is a minor thing.

Non-theoretical types might miss the strong Symbolic-Interaction lanaguage present in the Perception part of his model.

Equally missed might be the Structural-Functional spirit of reorganization and re-equilibration of the family system after crisis.

Events are critical only if they are perceived to:

  • 1. create a hardship
  • 2. deplete family resources
  • 3. run contrary to family member goals.
Once a crisis is perceived to be upon a family, members are said to become disorganized for a period of time, the length of which is determined by the level of functioning of the family and the perceived magnitude of the crisis. The angle of recovery, whether steep or nearly flat, determines the duration of the crisis, returning the family to some level of functioning again. Families with a variety of resources upon which to draw strength will suffer fewer crises, their period of disorganization will be shorter, the angle of recovery will be steep, and they are more likely to return to a level of functioning at or higher than the pre-crisis level. Families with few resources, are more likely to suffer more frequent crises, longer periods of disorganization, flatter angles of recovery, and are less likely to return to their former functionality.

Further, over time, such bankrupt families will suffer what some researchers refer to as pile-up, where crises occur while the family is reorganizing from previous crises. Social workers understand this phenomenon. They often see families with no requisite coping skills, or barely developed ones, or pathological reaction patterns that they use when things go wrong. But even in normal families, ignorance of the pitfalls of life in the late 20th century can be devastating, and often families have fewer resources to get them through rough spots than they think they do.

Surviving family crises isn't all bleak news - there are some possible positives.
In fact, researchers and theorists have made some generalizations about the positive outcome of crises. Adversity may increase family functioning and solidarity.

Conflict, for example is known to either break relationships apart (if unresolved) or pull the relationship tighter together (if resolved in a fair and open manner). Flexibility in shifting roles that often result from the reorganization of a family after crisis can strengthen individual family members and the family as a group. Members can discover strengths and talents they didn't know they had.

The family is always better off with plenty of cross-trained members able to do each other's work. The best adjustments to crisis come after some difficult work. Quick adjustments to crisis do not allow closure of the problem or final adjustments.

There are various "types" of family stress, including the most obvious -- alcohol and drug abuse, family violence of the mental, physical and sexual varieties, divorce and widowhood, -- but these are abnormal to most families. We'll get to these later on. The most common and, in some ways the most destructive to families overall, are the normal types of stress that all or most families must endure over the lifespan.

In a well functioning society, normative stress should not be as critical as it is to so many.
However, beginning with the transition to the spouse role, comes the associated stress of altering one's individuality for the welfare of the couple.

Family development theorists count at least six specific transitions, each one with their own special adjustments. In addition to the transition to marriage, there are:

  1. the transition to parenting infants, where new skills and changes to the recently developed dyadic structure of the relationship mustbe added to include newborns.
  2. the transition to parenting school aged children & adolescents; where, among other things, the young family's first brush with a major institution (education) is experienced.
  3. the transition to launching and midlife.
  4. the transition to empty nest and retirement.
  5. the transition to late life.
More than a few young people have noted the ease with which they faced the altar, only to be immediately faced with difficulty getting through the first year of marriage. Nearly every new parent seems to whine on about the isolation that comes with early parenthood. One mother or father representing the interests of their child against a monolithic school system seems like pretty bad odds, and on and on. Living life in the mainstream and remaining true to traditional lifestyles is no mean feat.

These are the six traditional transitions that most people make on their way to late life and death, however, as has been pointed out many times, the list is not inclusive of every member of society, nor is it exhaustive of all the transitions and life-changes that might occur.

In fact, what makes crises more likely to families today, compared to the traditional American family ideal of the 1950s is the sheer volume of alternatives to tradition. When a person or couple begins to deviate from the strict tradition that society expects, the opportunity for crises to accrue increases. The promise of structural-functional theory is that if one behaves (or as President Clinton phrased it, a family that works hard and plays by the rules), good things will happen - successful lives will be lived.

Be warned - society cannot, and will not, support too many deviations from the traditional and normal. Looking at the list of six transitions from the perspective of the 1990s, it appears many people are moving along nontraditional paths.

There is the issue of sex and pregnancy, which was the step couples took after courtship and marriage and the transition to marriage. These behaviors are often inserted into relationships somewhere between first date and commitment - long before marriage is even considered. Today there are many folks entering into relationships that are not traditional, are in violation of society's rules and therefore are not protected by them.

Here's an analogy. Suppose you thought you might want to become a skydiver, but you weren't sure. Good parachutes and high quality preparation & instruction in skydiving costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time. Instead of investing all that time and effort - if you weren't sure about becoming a skydiver - you could just rent a parachute from "Critical Bill's Jump Shop", read a pamphlet entitled "Your 1st Jump!", and jump off a water tower. If you splatted on the sidewalk, who could your loved ones blame for the incident? The point is our society makes no provisions for such deviance from the normal route to successful skydiving. Perhaps it should - maybe there should be laws to protect those who don't look before they leap.

Now, consider the consequences of having one's children before establishing the economic/financial aspects of adulthood, which probably would entail:

  • a long investigation into the nature and meaning of sexual relationships.
  • the completing an education or two
  • a period of mate selection, followed by a fairly lengthy courtship
  • an engagement period used to plan a wedding
  • a marriage
  • the establishment of a promising career to secure the family income
  • a year or two of marital adjustment
  • then pregnancy and then children, each child coming three or four years apart.
Without belaboring the point too much (or blaming any victims here), attempting to make transitions out of the order defined by the culture necessarily means taking risks, not to mention placing innocent lives in jeopardy. Table 5-1 below indicates, among other things, that the characteristics that most convicts now residing in our nation's penitentiaries have in common are: no education, no fathers present in the home during childhood, poverty, little or no guidance from wise adults while growing up, and so on.

If we were to look at rates of poverty in the U.S. we would see the fastest growing group, and most likely social grouping to fall into poverty, are single mothers living with dependent children. Most of the experts agree that, apart from a changing economy, the main factor affecting child poverty is the direction of change of family structure (divorce and births to unmarried mothers) since 1960. "Child poverty would be one third lower if family structure had not changed so dramatically since 1960. Fifty-one percent of the increase in child poverty observed during the 1980s is attributable to changes in family structure during that period." (Galston, 1993).

Children living with both parents today are much less likely to be living in poverty, primarily because they are also much more likely to be living in two earner (or more) families.
This is a relatively new, late 20th century phenomenon .

While these numbers are not causal in the statistical sense, they certainly seem to covary with time. The poverty figures are suspicious, primarily due to the political tendency to underestimate numbers of poor - the Census Bureau itself recommends multiplying the percentages by 1.25 to 1.35 for purposes of fiscal planning. Further, the number of children living in poverty did decline during the late 1960s, as a direct result of President Johnson's War on Poverty.

However, these numbers have steadily risen since 1970 to levels at or near 1960 (roughly 25% in 1996) If one were to hypothesize about the table, one would have to conclude that as the number of children living apart from their biological father increases (because of divorce and out-of-wedlock births):

  • the number of children living in poverty increases.
  • the number of children receiving public assistance increases.
  • the numberof males incarcerated in prisons increases.
Add to this situation the general decline, due to inflation, of salaries and wages, and the prospects of poor children in the U.S. becomes even more uncertain.

Generalizations about Family Behavior in Crises:

  • - Adversity may increase family solidarity
  • - Flexibility in shifting roles can strengthen individual family members and the family as a group.
  • - Quick adjustments to crisis do not allow closure of the problem, or final adjustments (growth)
Strategies for Coping with Any Stress!
  • 1. Active exploration of the problem.
  • 2. Open and free expression of both positive and negative feelings.
  • 3. Active seeking for help and advice. 4. Breaking down the problem into manageable parts.
  • 5. Maintaining awareness of exhaustion and replenishment.
  • 6. Preserving basic trust.
Solutions to Stress
I'm still working on this class - come back on Saturday or Sunday for the rest.

The entire history of Family and Consumer Science (or as we used to say Home Economics) is Management.
People find it very difficult to manage, especially people who find courses such as this one hokey or boring.
So here's some sexy approaches to Management.

  • Good Planning and Plan Implementation - earlier chapters.
  • Preparedness - thinking ahead, grapes, restrooms, fun stuff.
  • Relaxation - Yoga, Kissing, informal conversation, hot water, warm towels, lotions, music, peaceful walks,
  • Resting up - sleep, naps, sitting quietly.
  • Diet and Food Preparation -