Building Family Strengths in Times of Drought

“And what the heck can anybody do? There is nothing anybody can do for drought except wait for rain, that’s it!" Female farmer 2004

The quote at the beginning indicates that rain is the only thing that will help with the drought, and she is right in many respects. However research conducted over the past 30 years with more than 22,000 couples around the world indicates that strong families have certain characteristics that help each other cope with hard times.

Family members must care about each other and let one another know it regularly. They must be willing to express feelings of love and not withhold it. Midwesterners, for example, typically have more difficulty expressing affection and inner emotions than do other Americans. Why is that? It may have something to do with the way children were taught or personality type. If things are going well for you in personal relationships, you probably are doing OK. But if intuition tells you things aren’t going well, you may check to see how you might improve the way you show appreciation and affection to family members. One way to do this is to simply ask your mate or family members what they think!

Commitment means being dedicated to one another’s well-being. Committed families are willing to invest time and energy in family activities and don’t allow work or other issues to consume their lives. In other words, couple and family relationships are a priority and other things aren’t allowed to drain their emotional or physical energy to interfere with family interaction. Commitment to the couple relationship is a great part of this. During drought conditions, the partner relationship must be nurtured even through farmers/ranchers often feel they must work constantly to try to bring in an income or save a crop. Partners must help each other through difficult times; try to understand one another’s concerns, fears and reasoning. However, strong couples will help to balance each other and will let each other know when things are getting out of kilter.

Successful couple and family relationships not only are about solving problems and resolving conflict, but strong families are good at task-oriented communication. They identify difficulties; stay focused on them, and find solutions that work reasonably well for all family members. Strong families also realize that the couple relationship between husband and wife is the main bond that holds the family together, and take time to nurture and prioritize this relationship. There still will be some conflict in strong families; in fact strong families are not afraid to air their feelings about a sensitive or problem issue because they live in a safe environment and trust each other. Even in times of drought, they will have some optimism and be grateful for the inch of rain, friends who came to visit, the daughter who called home or for time to talk with each other.

Strong families all over the world express that enjoyable times together is something they strive to attain, even when life gets busy and time demands are great. Time together is something that rejuvenates them, builds self-esteem, helps them cope with some of life’s difficulties and provides an opportunity for having fun together. Some individuals haven’t grown up in a happy family and, therefore, have more difficulty in knowing how to describe good times or what they can expect. Often being with friends, playing with pets, or spending time outdoors are ways families enjoy each other. These times often are inexpensive and without details planning and occur naturally because the family just wants to get together. Strong families don’t wait for major occasions to celebrate life. They celebrate little things, such as a child bringing home a higher grade, a mother taking time for herself, a father making healthier food choices and feeling better, planting a flower garden or giving food to a community shelter.

Research has found that families grounded in a spiritual faith or belief fare better and happier. Spiritual well-being doesn’t necessarily include organized religion, but often does. Many talk about faith in God, or a sense of optimism in life, or believing in something larger than themselves. Some describe this component as their ethical values, commitment to causes, beliefs about certain issues, and acceptance or tolerance of others’ differences. Spiritual well-being also can be seen as the caring center that promotes love, sharing, tenderness and compassion. It helps rise above the daily hassles of life and protects the family from being unduly harsh or hard on family members or others. Some consider this their “road map” for their life course and cannot imagine living without their faith.

Certainly, strong families aren’t exempt from stress, crisis and hardship. What sets them apart from other families who struggle or are seriously troubled, is that they look at their problems as challenges and examine problems from different perspectives. They know how to prevent trouble before it happens by being creative in their communication, being caring and accepting, and working together to meet challenges. They look at problems from the perspective of reframing where they purposefully decide to look at various options and to tackle the problem, not each other. They don’t blame each other for things that go wrong or take their frustration out on those closest to them. Rather, strong families are willing to express love verbally and physically even during times of stress and crisis. They are willing to admit their problems and seek help from a support network of extended family and friends, in addition to a formal network of educators, service providers and other trained to work with families. This means that during drought conditions, a situation beyond their control, they will do what they can to learn how to conserve water, use the best irrigation practices, work with their neighbors, tap into their spiritual faith and learn on moral support from others. If one family member is especially needing help, others in the family (or close friends) pull together to offer assistance and advice. This may be evidenced through “tough love.” For example, the person may be referred to counseling, treatment for depression, medical assistance, or encouraged to volunteer or exercise. Although tough love may not willingly be accepted, it may save a family member from depression, mental illness, suicidal tendencies or making poor choices that hurt themselves and others. Strong families are not afraid of the consequences of pitching in to help each other and don’t keep secrets from one another. They are there for each other through good times and difficult times, through rainy seasons and drought.