The Top Ten Stresses Families Manage

Delores Curran in her book Stress and the Healthy Family points out the top 10 stresses that affect everyday family life. However, just listing the stresses doesn’t begin to help us understand the complexity of the decisions between individual family members that are involved in family life. So, let’s look at the dynamics of family stress.


Most families have more conflict and stress over individual expectations about an area of family life rather than the specific issues in the family.

A common family issue is television, yet is this an actual or perceived stress?

Even without a television, stress would remain because each of the family members perceives the use of time and have different expectations. What makes one member happy, stresses another. Is free time in the family, my time, our time or their time?  

The real underlying stress is not actually the television but a conflict about who makes the decision about free time. The individual? The couple? The family? The employer? A needed household chore? (Some families look at free time as time to clean and repair the car or home.)

The expectations about time usage comes from several sources: an individual’s perception of rights, one’s childhood or the media’s image of family.


A hypothetical family might look like this:

Mom is unhappy because her dream of spending Sundays doing some shared family activities- a day at the beach, a trip to grandma’s or playing yard games; her real family is uninterested in sharing these activities.

Dad is unhappy because he expects Sunday to be “his” time after a long week at work. He finally has time to sit in his easy chair, read the paper and watch football.

The kids are unhappy because that wanted to play with the other kids in the neighborhood.


The solution to this stressful family situation is not an easy one. The answer has 3 parts.

  1. The first part of the answer is for the family members to accept the fact that there is no answer that will please all members every Sunday.
  2. The next part of the answer is for each family member to examine and share their unspoken expectations.
  3. The final part of the answer is a change in attitude. Healthy families develop an attitude that says, “I care enough about your expectations and needs, that I am willing to give up some of mine.” Communication and compromise lead to a solution that meet the needs of each family member in achieving their preferences in a fair way. This shift in attitude helps strengthen family connections and unity. Different families will solve these different expectations in different ways. However, they work on a solution together.


  1. They recognize stress is temporary and can even be positive.
  2. They work together on solutions- building family skills and connections.
  3. They develop new family rules about prioritizing time and shared responsibilities.
  4. They look at stress as a normal part of family life not a sign of failure.
  5. They feel good about effectively dealing with the stressors together.


  1. They feel guilty for allowing a stress to exist.
  2. They try to place blame rather than look for a solution to the problem.
  3. They give in to stress and give up trying to master it.
  4. They focus on the family’s problems rather than strengths.
  5. They feel weaker instead of stronger after experiencing normal stress.
  6. They grow to dislike family life due to built up stresses.

All families have reactions to stress from both lists; however, each family member can be a part of solving or lessening those normal family stresses by remembering those effective strategies listed above.

Ok, I’ve teased you long enough about the Top 10 Stresses Families Manage!


  1. Economics / Finances / Budgeting
  2. Children’s Behavior / Discipline / Sibling Fighting
  3. Insufficient Couple Time
  4. Lack of Shared Responsibility in the Family
  5. Communicating with Children
  6. Insufficient “me” Time
  7. Guilt for Not Accomplishing More
  8. Spousal Relationship (Communication, Friendship, Intimacy)
  9. Insufficient Family Play Time
  10. Overscheduled Family Calendar

It’s interesting that Ms. Curran started with a list of 45 stresses and narrowed the survey down to 25 stresses for the survey that resulted in the Top 10 Stresses. You will see that the Top 10 Stresses differ for Married Women, Married Men and Single Mothers.

Next: The List of 25 Family Stresses and the Top 10 Ratings for Married Women, Married Men and Single Mothers.

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