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irish ideas

Let's celebrate family resiliency

Niall McElwee

It’s difficult to believe that the summer is almost over — not that we particularly had one in Ireland again this year. Last year whilst I was away in Canada for most of the summer whenever I called home, my relatives and friends took great delight in informing me of the wondrous temperatures that had hit our shores. Apparently it was never less than 30 degrees and the sun rose at 4.00am and did not go down until about 2.45am. Ah, the grass is always greener...

I am teaching two new courses this fall and have been reflecting this summer a great deal about the importance of ‘family’ as much of the literature refers to the importance of valuing and working with families. My sociologist colleagues refer now to ‘families’ and ‘family constellations’ so diverse has the ‘family’ become. With the changing perspective that the family is a system and that each member of the family is influenced by every other member, has come a change in the role, focus and activities of child and youth care workers. Perhaps a ‘family’ is those any of us consider to be family. No more and no less.

A family I am working with is in serious turmoil these past months and several siblings were experiencing both personal and work difficulties. The patriarch of the family has a partner who, since joining the family, has seen it lurch from crisis to crisis. It seems to me that many people, not as resilient and spiritual as ‘Alice’, would quite simply have walked away. It’s no fun dealing with other peoples’ problems.

‘Alice’ is what I would call a ‘spiritual’ person. She looks for the good in everyone and the positive in any situation. Everything to her is an opportunity for learning and she is on a life journey. When I first met ‘Alice’ I must confess I was sceptical about her emphasis on the ‘emotional’. She has many of the self-help and pop psychology books so favoured in the States which are increasing in popularity here in Ireland and her conversation is peppered by phrases such as ‘help yourself’, ‘know your inner child’, etc., which often perplex Irish audiences as these were such foreign concepts.

One morning when I was completely exasperated with the refusal of one family member to listen to advice we were trying to give, I said to ‘Alice’, "How come you stay around with all this mess?" And her answer made me both stop in my tracks and reflect on the concept we hear so much about in child and youth care – resiliency. She looked at me and said "You know what? It’s a privilege to be around to see how everyone tries to pull together in such bad times". As always, ‘Alice’ saw the positive in the situation and when I thought about it I could see her point. Despite the fact that there was no much uncertainty and turmoil, each family member was attempting to cheer up the other with phone calls, home visits, texts and e-mails. The sum of the collective was greater than the individual and all saw that they belonged to something bigger than just themselves.

Well, if we could adopt and retain this attitude with the families with whom we work, advocate for and write about — the field is secure.