In the midst of changing cultural definitions of “family,” it is perhaps more important than ever to know what works in families and what doesn’t. BYU FHSS School of Family Life professor David Dollahite and his colleagues have been hard at work for years researching those “best practices,” particularly as they relate to the practice of religion. Their research has been gaining a lot of attention lately, at Virginia Cutler lecture given on campus in October to a standing-room-only crowd, and more recently, at the World Congress of Families in Salt Lake City, Utah. The latter is a global gathering of parents, youth, lawmakers, scholars, religious leaders, and advocates united to affirm, celebrate, and encourage the natural family.
About his experience presenting at the World Congress, Dr. Dollahite said: “Across the earth, the two things that matter most to most people are their family and their faith. It was nice to be able to provide some information form our research project on how families of faith draw from their religious beliefs, practices, and communities to strengthen their marriage and family relationships.”
In both presentations, he described the American Families of Faith project. They surveyed 200 families:
- All 200 families were parents in heterosexual marriages.
- Married average of 20 years.
- Parents were mostly middle-aged but ranged from late 20s to 60s.
- Wide range of social-economic statuses.
- Youth averaged 15.5 years.
- Religiously diverse: 150 Christian families, 30 Jewish families; 20 Muslim families
- Ethnically diverse: Over half of the families are from various ethnic, national, and cultural minorities including: African American, Asian American, East Asian, Hispanic, Middle Eastern, Native American, Pacific Islander
- Geographically diverse: Families are from 17 states in all 8 major regions in the nation including: Mid Atlantic (DE, MD, PA), Midwest (OH, WI), Mountain West (ID, UT), New England (MA, CT), Northwest (OR, WA), Pacific (CA), Southern Crossroads region (KS, OK), South (FL, GA, LA)
They found that:
- Belief that God is a transcendent moral authority helps married couples strengthen their relational bonds.
- Religious belief and practice help married couples make significant changes in their marital processes.
- Couples’ perceptions of the roll that God plays in their marriage influence their relationship.
- For religious couples their marriage means many things and their faith causes them to believe that their marriage means more than it would otherwise.
- Religious belief, practice, and community helps couples avoid, resolve, and reconcile after marital conflict.
- Religious commitment helps couples increase marital fidelity by sanctifying marital relationships.
About religious parents and youth, they found:
- Religious youth describe how they explore their religious identity in various ways leading to varying degrees of commitment to their faith.
- Religious youth describe how their religious commitments are anchored in God, their parents, youth leaders, and peers.
- Religious youth choose to make a variety of personal sacrifices for their faith but most clearly see how this blesses their lives.
- Families rated religious conversations as the most meaningful and the second most frequent (after grace at meals) religious activity when compared with 19 other religious activities (i.e., church attendance; prayer with the children).
- When parent-adolescent religious conversations are youth-centered, the emotional experience is more positive for parents and adolescents than when they are parent-centered.
Dr. Dollahite commented that the future directions of the project will include creating ways to help inspire and empower the rising generation to create high-quality families of faith.
More information about the American Families of Faith project can be found at AmericanFamiliesofFaith.byu.edu.
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