They Find Grounds for Hope
A poet once wrote:
Two men look out through the same bars:
One sees the mud, and one the stars.
Successful families deal well with problems because they see the stars. When hit by a disastrous problem, they manage to work out a view of it that dispels hopelessness. Prof. Hamilton McCubbin, head of Family Social Science at the University of Minnesota and one of this country’s leading investigators of how families cope with stress, puts it this way: “The families that cope can redefine the situation in manageable terms, and thereby see it as something they can deal with. They’ll take a position like, ‘We can handle that— we’re the kind of family that can do it,’ or ‘It has its good aspects — it’s bringing us closer together.” ‘
Is this mere Pollyannaism and self-delusion? Family researchers think not. The evidence shows that when families define a crisis as survivable, they gain the strength to solve problems or at least adjust to them. But those who say, “What is there to live for?” tend to remain paralysed.
Even when a problem is permanent, it is possible/ essential/ to redefine the matter in positive terms. Joan Patterson, of the University of Minnesota’s Stress and Coping Project, is currently studying families that have children with cystic fibrosis. Therapy requires intensive care of the child, including long sessions of chest-thumping to free up excess mucus. Families that feel embittered seem unable to handle this and preserve a satisfactory home life; parents drift apart, and other children feel deprived.
In contrast, Patterson says, families that manage to keep to a tight schedule of treatment and maintain a satisfactory home life usually do so because they have adopted an outlook such as, “It’s made us a stronger family” or “It’s taught our children how to be responsible.”