Thursday, 13 June 2013

Families under Pressure

Children North East has been supporting families for over 30 years because we believe it is almost always best that children grow up in their own family unless it is unsafe to do so.

Family life can be the source of the most rewarding and also the most frustrating and difficult parts of our lives, sometimes both at the same time! When you think about what makes a family it is not surprising that all families are complicated.

You grow up and become a person. You meet someone and become a partner. You are in a relationship, most people want that. Then the two of you have a baby and you become parents. You have gone from having one to three roles – person, partner and parent. And also the number of relationships in the family has tripled, not just one relationship between you and your partner but also now between you and the baby and between your partner and the baby – three relationships. Add another child and the number of relationships in the family doubles to six – the first three plus you and your partner's relationships with the new child and the relationship between the two children. Add a third child and the number of relationships in the family jumps to ten. That is a lot to handle even when everything is going well.

Every relationship goes both ways. Parents respond to what children need but equally children respond to and shape what parents do. That’s why we coo to babies but talk to children when they start to use words. The most remarkable thing about families is that they are constantly adapting to the needs of each individual. Babies and young children rely utterly on the parent but they also worry when parents are upset, ill or under stress. And of course adults respond to each other too.

Blended families incorporating children from previous relationships add to the complexity, bringing with them continuing relationships with previous partners. And families rarely exist in isolation; there are grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. You continue to have roles in relation to them – child and sibling to add to your other three roles.

There are stressful times in every family for example when someone is ill or experiencing change such as starting school or changing job. There can be stresses on the whole family too like moving house or a drop in income. Some tensions like school exams are short-lived; others like adolescence are to be expected; then there are unusual or long-lasting pressures such as chronic illness or disability. Each person in the family will respond to stress in different ways which has a knock-on effect on everyone else in the family.

Sometimes families under stress need a helping hand which is where Children North East comes in. We are never 'friends', we don’t take the place of partners or extended family; and we don’t step in and take over; instead we help adults with their parent role. Most people find it easier to accept help from another parent – one of our specially trained volunteers.

But when parents are really under pressure something has to give. Stress can become depression or other mental ill health; tension and constant worry can become aggression or even violence; the odd glass of wine can gradually become solace in drink or drugs.

Families really are under financial pressure right now, we are finding families are frequently in need of food; our projects now keep supplies and refer parents to the Food Banks that have sprung up everywhere. More young people are telling us about suicidal thoughts, are self-harming and attempting to kill themselves.

Stress is clearly mounting up for families and vulnerable young people and there is little hope of significant improvement in the near future.

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