20 Family Stresses and Top 10 Ratings from Married Women, Married Men and Single Mothers

Delores Curran in her book Stress and the Healthy Family started out with a longer list of family stresses that affect how well the family functions and works together. This was narrowed down to the top 10 lists as the families in the study were surveyed.

She defined dis-stress as a condition that exists when family life gets out of control. Ms. Curran lists the following symptoms of a constantly stressful family:

  • A constant sense of urgency and hurried; no time to release and relax
  • Tension that underlies and causes sharp words, sibling fighting, misunderstandings
  • A mania to escape -to one’s room, car, garage, away
  • Feelings of frustration over not getting things done
  • A feeling that time is passing too quickly; children are growing up too fast
  • A nagging desire for a simpler life; constant talk about times that were or will be simpler
  • Little “me” or couple time
  • A pervasive sense of guilt for not being and doing everything to and for all the people in one’s life

TOP 20 Family Stresses

The following list of stresses were not highly ranked, so they were dropped from the final survey. They include some everyday stresses, major crisis situations or pervasive individual issues. They were not as common, however, will still benefit by the helpful strategies given in the book.

The retirement



House guests

Nuclear and environmental fears

Older parents church and school activities

family vacations


Relationship with former spouse


Unsatisfactory housing

Two-paycheck family

Organized sports/activities

Change and work patterns


Religious differences


Pre-dinner hour


Now we will list the rankings for Married Women, Married Men and Single Mothers.

  2.  Insufficient couple of timeLack of shared responsibility in the familyGuilt for not accomplishing more
 3.Communicating with childrenInsufficient couple of timeInsufficient “me” time
 4.Children’s behavior/ discipline/ sibling fightingChildren’s behavior/ discipline/ sibling fightingSelf-image/self-esteem/ feelings of unattractiveness
 5.Spousal relationship                     (communication, friendship, sex)Housekeeping standardsChildren’s behavior/ discipline/ sibling fighting
 6.Over a scheduled family calendarInsufficient “me” timeUnhappiness with work situation
   7.Insufficient “me” timeGuilt for not accomplishing moreHousekeeping standards
 8.Unhappiness with work situationInsufficient family play timeCommunicating with children
 9.Insufficient family play timeSpousal relationship                     (communication, friendship, sex)Insufficient family play time
 10.TelevisionSelf-image/self-esteem/ feelings of unattractivenessLack of shared responsibility in the family

Source: Curran, D. (n.d.). Stress and the Healthy Family.

Next: How perspective is vital in managing Stress and Crisis.

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.