For many people, achieving a healthy balance between their public and private commitments is one of the major challenges of life. In fact, having a harmonious relationship between the two spheres might almost be considered a definition of health.
Challenges that often confront families include partner and in-law relationships, child care arrangements, career pressures, financial management, and adapting educational and other personal goals to family needs. Some families learn to cope with other constraints as well, such as frequent relocation (as in military families) or caregiving for the chronically ill.
In the past these issues were typically addressed on a personal basis. However, the powerful social pressures of the 21st century are forcing a redefinition of every aspect of modern life. The very nature of families, workplaces, and communities is shifting, and doing so at an ever-accelerating rate. A decision about whether to stay home for the day with a sick baby involves many considerations, from the risk of exposure for other children at the baby's child care center to disrupting the work flow of the parent's department or business. Separating the personal from the societal is no longer a simple or intuitive process.
In turn, many employers have tried to help employees balance their workfamily demands through "family friendly" policies and practices such as flextime, telecommuting, job sharing, and onsite child care. These efforts can go a long way toward recruiting and retaining top employees, but results have been mixed.
The realities of health care coverage—or lack of it, for the unemployed and underemployed—modify the level of care that health professionals are able to provide for patients and clients. Families of surgical patients are often expected to give the post-operative care that once was provided by skilled nurses. Many health care professionals have stepped into the breach with a more holistic approach that assesses home environment along with a patient's other medical strengths and vulnerabilities, and attempts to support the caregivers along with the patient. They are exploring such solutions as targeted health education Web sites and using new technologies to monitor and stay in touch with patients from a distance.
This issue of The Engaged Scholar Magazine looks at what MSU researchers, clinicians, and educators are finding out about what works— for families, for businesses, for health care and other family service providers, and for communities.
Linda Chapel Jackson