Academic journal article Family Relations

Families That Do Well: Lay Conceptualizations of Well-Functioning, Healthy, Strong, and Good Families

Academic journal article Family Relations

Families That Do Well: Lay Conceptualizations of Well-Functioning, Healthy, Strong, and Good Families

Article excerpt

Much has been written in academic and popular literature about families that "do well," likely due in part to a widely accepted belief that family is a foundational societal institution (Covey, 1997; DeFrain & Asay, 2007). Family scholars have long been interested in the topic, resulting in theories and models that detail attributes of families that do well; that is, families that are variously referred to as well-functioning, healthy, strong, and balanced (e.g., Asay & DeFrain, 2012; Olson & Gorall, 2003; Ryan, Epstein, Keitner, Miller, & Bishop, 2005). Extensive descriptive and prescriptive information about families that do well is also available on the Internet (e.g., Allan, n.d.; Bowman, n.d.; Nelson, 2012) and in self-help books on parenting and family-related topics (e.g., Covey, 1997; Garcia-Prats, Garcia-Prats, & Cassidy, 2005). Despite abundant academic and popular literature about families that do well, relatively little research has explored lay conceptualizations. Thus, we conducted a critical ethnographic study on laypeople's understandings of terms commonly used by scholars and professionals in academic and popular literature to refer to families that are doing well: well-functioning families, healthy families, strong families, and good families.

Our focus on this topic responds to critiques of top-down approaches to knowledge generation, dissemination, and application that dominate within family science and therapy disciplines-approaches that privilege academic and professional expertise, and minimize the value of family members' knowledge and experiences (Doherty, 2000; Morgaine, 1992; Singh, 2009). Current knowledge about families that do well primarily has been the purview of scholars and professionals. In this top-down, expert-driven approach, knowledge generated by scholars about families that do well is taught to students in professional programs such as family science and human development and applied by professionals in practice and policy settings (Doherty, 2000). This knowledge has explicit and implicit influences on professionals' judgments, messages, and advice, which can influence and structure how families think about themselves, the resources they access, and the actions they take in an effort to do well (Bernardes, 1999; Doherty, 2000; Morgaine, İ992; Pitre, Kushner, & Hegadoren, 2011; Singh, 2009).

Failure by scholars and professionals to acknowledge laypeople as a legitimate source of knowledge and to recognize that lay conceptualizations might differ from scholars and professionals' conceptualizations could jeopardize the effectiveness of services, programs, and policies intended to strengthen families' capacity to meet needs, achieve goals, and enhance individual member well-being. Some laypeople will likely dismiss expert-driven information, messages, and advice that does not align with and reflect their perspectives. Others might experience such information, messages, and advice as judgmental, stigmatizing, and alienating (Bernardes, 1999; Pitre et al., 2011; Singh, 1999), potentially contributing to self-defeating feelings of guilt, inadequacy, and disempowerment, and subsequently leading to the avoidance of services and programs that support families in their efforts to do well (Pitre et al., 2011).

Our attention to how laypeople make sense of terms that refer to families that do well acknowledges that laypeople-family members-have legitimate knowledge and experiences that scholars and professionals can learn from (Doherty, 2000). Focusing on lay understandings provides an opportunity for scholars and professionals to critically examine dominant ideals about families that do well and the ways in which taken-for-granted assumptions that privilege academic and professional knowledge over laypeople's knowledge influence assessments and judgments about families; the messages and advice given to families; and the services, programs, and policies meant to support families (Morgaine, 1992; Taylor, 2004). …

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