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FIRST THINGS FIRST

Is your family at risk? The simple answer is yes. There are many events and circumstances that could lead to bad outcomes for you and yours such as illnesses, a severe economic downturn, accidents, becoming the victims of criminal activity, and you can add to the list. These are bad outcomes you cannot always prevent but can usually control. Medical checkups, saving for a rainy day, smoke alarms in your house, and keeping your car locked are examples of steps you probably take to control these bad outcomes.

Your family also is at risk because of bad outcomes you cannot control. A member of your family could fall to a fatal illness you could not have anticipated or prevented. You or one of yours could become a victim of a violent crime that normal prudence could not avoid. There are bad outcomes over which you have no control. Therein lies the source of old sayings such as that's life and stuff happens.

There is another type of bad outcome you can at least influence and can usually control. You see your three-year-old running toward a busy street. You see the bad outcome coming and are able to stop her. Your seventh grader is not doing as well as usual in math. You talk with his teacher, help him some yourself, and make sure he is actually doing his homework. His math scores improve. You realize you have been more irritable than usual, have been snapping at everyone for little to no reason, and are feeling frustrated a lot. You talk about your feelings with your spouse and change how a couple of things are scheduled. This helps.

Here is a key to understanding. The risk is the bad outcome: what you predict will happen if you do not do something. The risk is not your child's running toward the street. The risk is her getting hit by a car if you do not get her to stop. Your seventh grader's risk is not his having problems with math today. Rather the risk is he will be unable to succeed in math and in areas requiring math in the future. The risk is not today; it is down-the-road somewhere. The idea is to anticipate tomorrow's problems today. To the extent you can do this, those problems are less likely to happen.

As you think about your family and possible bad outcomes, you can see your family is at risk in many ways. For your help in controlling or at least reducing the risk, there is an army of experts on almost everything, scores of books and articles on topics from nutrition to automobile safety, and no end to those who want to tell you what to do and how to live. However, this book is an exception to the general rule. It neither attempts to tell you what to do nor presumes to tell you how to live. Rather, it introduces you to several people and their at risk families. Your task is to identify today's problems, understand how they put the families at risk, determine what the down-the-road risk is, and develop your ability to predict what kinds of bad outcomes they are headed toward. Through this learning process, you also will develop insight into what the families would have to do now to prevent or at least control those bad outcomes. The goal of this book is simply to enable you to develop insight, understanding, and skills as an observer of at risk families.

About This Book:

The book looks at Families At Risk in a special way. For you to understand the perspective, it helps to think about the types of risk dealt with in this book and about the causes and outcomes of those kinds of risk.

First, the focus is not on one-time events or things that happen outside the family to cause problems. Instead, you are invited to become familiar with people who are putting their families at risk today. How are they doing this? Their behavior and attitudes are problematic. Maybe they are aware of this but often are not. More typically, they know something is wrong but do not understand the risk, do not understand where today's behavior and attitudes are taking them and their families.

You meet other people who are just not getting along with each other. It is often possible to point to the behavior and attitudes of someone and blame the family's problems on him or her. If he would just straighten up, you would all be fine. Nonetheless, the real problem is that people in your family are just not getting along with each other. Relationships are not satisfying, communication is ineffective, problem solving is not solving problems, and decision making does not lead to things getting better. When all is said and done, people are not getting along and it is getting worse.

Here is the point. When people in your family are having problems with their behavior, attitudes, emotions, and personal values, two things happen. First, if they do not come up with ways to lessen their problems, those problems tend to get worse. It is the getting worse that is the bad outcome. There is where the risk is to be found.

Second, if people are not getting along with each other, over time that too will get worse. If there are relationship problems, they will likely get worse if nothing is done. Communication, problem solving, and decision making usually follow the same pattern.

The goal of this book is to help you learn how to tell if your family or other families are at risk. Are there individual problems and troubles getting along with each other that are likely to get worse if left to their own progress? If so, the family is at risk, at risk of bad outcomes for family members and for the family as a whole.

As you meet the people and families in the following pages, think about their problems and concerns. In GETTING STARTED@ you see many types of problematic behavior and attitudes. Some of them are controllable by the person having the problem and others are beyond his or her personal control. After each vignette, there is a list of specific behavior and other symptoms to enable you to focus on the issues. The goal is for you to learn what types of difficulties people have that put their families at risk and to learn what to look for in your family and in the families of people you know.

In FAMILY FUNCTIONING, your learning expands. You learn to look past individuals to how people get along with each other. It is important to apply your earlier learning to each person in the vignettes. Is anyone in the family experiencing stress, depression, learning problems, mental illness, or other personal difficulties? Additionally, what are the issues within their relationships, how they communicate, their approaches to problem solving, and the way they make decisions?

As you get to know TJ's family, you become more skilled at identifying and understanding the problems each person has. You also can identify the issues in how they get along with each other. Beyond that, you experience things getting worse over time and learn to predict bad outcomes years ahead of when they actually become real.

You also become familiar with several tools and shortcuts making it quicker and easier for you to assess the extent to which your family or any family is at risk. You learn about sampling behavior and attitudes and about rapidly evaluating how family members get along with each other. You learn to focus on the marital and parent/child relationships and on the behavior and attitudes of each person. Your awareness and skills come together so you are ready to apply them to a more complex family narrative.

In DYNAMIC UNDERSTANDING, you are introduced to a real-life family at risk through an extended, inter-generational narrative. You are guided through critical events in their lives and have an opportunity to use your skills and insights. The challenge is for you to spot individual and family problems, point out issues in how people get along with each other, and predict tomorrow's bad outcomes from what you observe today.

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Please send comments or questions to Gary A. Crow, Ph.D. GAC@GaryCrow.net

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