Themes of Major Challenges
In our phone interviews with each family, we asked about the major challenges they have dealt with or expect to deal with in the next year or two - asking about each child by name. The following themes that emerged in these discussions:
Personality Factors - Many parents mentioned challenges directly related to internal characteristics of one or more of their children. They mentioned things like being too easily influenced, being defiant, being hypersensitive, or being disorganized. These were issues that the parent felt could not be changed, and these were the most difficult for them to identify a specific coping strategy.
Maturation - Several parents indicated that one of their major challenges would be dealing with their children growing up. This was most often discussed in the context of older children (14+), and included ideas like driving, dating, entering a new school, less parental oversight, etc.
Time - As with the everyday challenges, having a hectic schedule was also discussed as a major challenge for some families. Also related to time was the issue of the parents not having enough time to themselves—either because of their children or work schedules.
Co-parenting - The primary challenge of our single moms with joint custody was how to overcome their ex-husbands' negative influence on their children. In both cases they felt like their priorities were not shared, and being undermined by the laissez faire style of the other parent.
Marriage Expectations - Among our childless couples, one major challenge was adjusting to new roles within the marriage; however, this issue also impacted at least one of our households with children.
Planning for the Future - This challenge also seemed to come up more often with childless couples, who keenly felt that their decisions in the next year or two would have long-term impact on their lives.
Health - Most of our households did not see health and wellness as a major challenge; however, one of the children in our study had an incurable disease that reduced her life expectancy to 35. This was a major challenge to her parents, obviously, and one they saw only increasing as their daughter grew into woman-hood.
Work - Several of the households in our study were dealing with major challenges in their careers. One of our dads had to travel a lot, and was in a declining industry; he was actively looking for a new job, but didn’t want to jeopardize his family’s standard of living. Two of our married moms was deliberating about going back to work, and one of our single moms was trying to start her own business. Some of our married couples were dealing with career changes, or the desire to enter a different industry than they were currently in. At least one of the young husbands in the study was trying to get a better handle on balancing work-life.
Dealing with Major Challenges
During these interviews, we also asked them how they dealt with or expected to deal with these challenges. They discussed the following approaches:
The "Relationship" model - Parents often considered their relationship with their child as a resource for dealing with (or at least mitigating) major challenges. Some parents cited the openness they have with their children, while others talked about the example they set for their children. This approach seemed more relevant to families with older children (10+) who acknowledged the lack of control they had over the minutia of their children’s lives.
The "Personal Growth" model - Parents regularly identified themselves as the object of change. They indicated they needed to learn how to "pick battles" or "relax." It was clear that the parents saw facing these challenges as a matter of their own personal growth and development, instead of trying to alter their child or his/her circumstances.
The "Leadership" model - One father (who owns his own business), when asked what resources he finds helpful in dealing with his son, indicated that while parenting books were all well and good, he found more benefit in business and leadership books than parenting books per se. He specifically mentioned Good to Great, by Jim Collins, as well as resources by Bill Hybels and John MacArthur.
The "Partner-Centric" model - One mother, when asked what resources she finds useful in dealing with challenges, said, "whatever [my husband] will get into." Further discussion revealed that the quality of the resource was secondary to whether the parents would use it together.
This sentiment was reinforced by two of our single moms, who indicated her biggest challenges are a direct result of her ex-husband (who shares custody) establishing and enforcing different household rules and norms.
The "Deer in the Headlights" model - While all parents could easily articulate numerous challenges facing their families in the next year or so, for many of these challenges they could not articulate any specific coping strategy. It is unclear whether this lack is due to an admission that the challenge is beyond their control, or whether they simply have not taken the time to consider how to deal with it. This approach was most often seen when the challenge had to do with internal characteristics of their children rather than situational factors.