Shelter in a Time of Storm: Parenting in Poor Rural African American Communities

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Shelter in a Time of Storm: Parenting in Poor Rural African American Communities*

This study focuses on strengths and challenges of poor rural African American parents. Ninety-two participants responded to semistructured interview questions about parenting, religiosity, and stress. Parents who are more religious reported using fewer coercive parenting strategies and experiencing fewer stressful life events. These findings are discussed in terms of practical implications for professionals who support rural African American families.

Key Words: African American, coping, parenting, religion, rural, stress.

Rural families face many challenges that often test their parenting abilities. The farm crisis of the past two decades has left many rural communities with a significant economic and leadership void (Conger, Elder, Lorenz, Simons, & Whitbeck, 1994), and welfare reform policies have left many rural poor struggling to find work, transportation, and childcare. Given a history of economic, social, and racial challenges, rural African American communities are likely to be particularly targeted by these forces (Lick, 1986), although they also may have historical strengths such as their churches and religious faith.

Despite strengths, residents of poor rural communities often find themselves in need of intervention and educational support. Successful support requires a strong research foundation, but this is quite limited for rural African American families. This study examines religiosity as a resource used by poor African American parents living in rural Midwestern communities to help them strengthen their parenting when facing challenging life events. Three questions guided the inquiry: How is religiosity related to stress and to parenting? Are there associations between stressful life events and parenting? How are religiosity, stressful life events, and parenting interrelated?

The Relationship of Religion to Stress and to Parenting

The common lens applied to African American families has resulted in "a problem-oriented focus" (McAdoo, 1998) characterized by an emphasis on negative outcomes with little attention to strengths or resources. In contrast, a number of scholars document the resiliency and resources present in African American families, especially in challenging circumstances. For example, some scholars have examined the primacy of kin and nonkin networks as a resource within African American communities (e.g., Taylor, Hardison, & Chatters, 1996). Jarrett (1998) argued that researchers must use adaptational as well as demographic perspectives for examining poor African American families. Such perspectives can shed light on the buffering strategies and resources that poor parents use to help their children succeed (Jarrett, 1997).

Many studies with African Americans confirm the importance of religious institutions, activities, and faith as individual and community strengths. Churches are central institutions in the African American community, second only to the family (Taylor & Chatters, 1988). This may be particularly pronounced in rural African American communities, where residents exhibit higher levels of religious involvement than their urban counterparts (Taylor, 1988). Overall, 70% of African American adults are church members (Billingsley, 1992). Using the National Survey of Black Americans (NSBA) data (Jackson, 1991; Jackson, Chatters, & Taylor, 1993), Taylor (1988) found that most adults (92%) reported attending services beyond weddings and funerals, and only 10.5% reported no religious affiliation. Most non-- attendees reported praying and being religious, so their lack of conventional involvement may indicate dissatisfaction with organized religion instead of lack of religiosity.

The importance of religiosity and faith should come as no surprise, for many studies demonstrate an association between religiosity or spirituality and life stressors. …