Challenges Facing Families
Families (Parenting & Marriage)
Resources for Educators & Family Professionals



Challenges Facing Families

Stress is a part of daily life for most people. Even children are affected by stressors. While a part of life, stress does not have to interfere with daily living.
Physical Signs of Stress:
  • Tightened muscles
  • Rise in blood pressure
  • Sleeplessness
  • Clammy hands
  • Perspiration
  • Fatigue
  • Headaches
  • Teeth-grinding, jaw-clenching
  • Change in appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Frequent urination
  • Pounding heart
Emotional Signs of Stress:
  • Nervousness
  • Anxiety
  • Agitation
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Feelings of worthlessness
  • Inability to slow down
  • Lack of interest in food, sex, or life
  • Inability to concentrate
  • Restlessness
  • Nightmares
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Inability to make decisions
Check out these resources for more information on stress and related topics:

Depression: What You Should Know
Handling Challenging Times
The Case Against Suicide (hard copy only)
Understanding Grief and Loss After Death
Fifty Stress-Busting Ideas for Your Well-Being Discovery Health - Stress
American Institute of Stress 

Divorce can be one of the most difficult challenges facing today's families. The resources below can provide information to help you and your family. 

Building Strong Single-Parent Families 

Co-Parenting After Divorce
Families Facing Divorce (hard copy only) 
Non-Residential Parenting After Divorce 
Single Parenting Packet (hard copy only) 
The Importance of Fathers
Couple Relationships: Communication & Conflict Resolution
National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse 

Traumatic Events - 9/11, abuse and neglect, fire, flood, school shooting, death and violence are events that adults contend with in their lives. We sometimes forget that, as much as we try to shield them, children face these same issues and are often ill-equipped to handle traumatic events. The links below can provide you with helpful information about coping with with trauma in your life. They can also provide ideas for helping the child in your life cope with these issues. The information contained within this site is not intended to take the place of counseling, nor aid in a crisis or emergency.



Families (Parenting & Marriage)

Are You a Family?
The word "family" used to mean a husband, a wife, and their children. Today, "family" means many things. Parents may be married or single, divorced or widowed. Families might be small, large, adopted, blended, separated by distances or close together, opposite sex or same sex. 

Coping With Guilt
Many parents must cope with feelings of guilt. They may feel guilty for divorcing, separating children from parents, disciplining children, or working too much. Guilt can sometimes get in the way of setting firm limits for children. Parents may be inconsistent or permissive.   Some parents try to "make up" for the losses their children experience. They may even feel the need to apologize. Yet, apologies send the message that someone did something wrong.  Instead, look at your decisions and your situation realistically. Working toward being happy, and strong at home and work, is the best thing you can do for your children. Children with consistent, loving parents will develop in healthy ways. 

Meeting The Challenges
There is no one-way to raise children. Still, researchers suggest that single parents need to pay attention to the following for their children.


  • When security is shaken, children may be more frightened of new and unusual events.
  • After one parent disappears from their home (and sometimes their lives), children may worry the other parent will disappear.
  • Show understanding and patience.
  • With time you will build your children's sense of trust.


  • You may feel the need to protect your children from feeling hurt again. Because of this fear, you may be overly protective.
  • Still, children need to test their wings to become independent.
  • Ask yourself these questions: Am I being overly protective? Or, am I trying to watch out for their health and safety? Am I meeting my children's needs? Or am I meeting my own needs by having my children close to me for companionship?


  • Let children know you love and accept them no matter what.
  • No one is perfect.
  • Children need to know you will always love them, even when they make mistakes.


  • Tell children you love them.
  • Show your love through hugs, kisses, and words, such as, "I love you. I'm so glad you're my child."


  • Spend time doing 'every day' things with your children.
  • Reading, taking a walk, talking about your day, and setting the table for dinner are times to spend together.
  • It's also important to share special events.
  • Take family trips, attend baseball games, or go out for ice cream as special treats for your children.
  • Spending time together builds relationships and lets children know they are loved.

Sources: Parenting on Your Own by Robert Hughes Jr., Cooperative Extension, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Family Focus: Supportive Connections for Single Parent Families, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Credit: Mary W. Temke, Ph.D., Extension Specialist, Human Development developed this fact sheet, with assistance from Wendy Walsh, a graduate student in the University of New Hampshire's Department of Family Studies. Approved for use in Montana by Stephen F. Duncan, Ph.D., Family & Human Development Specialist, MSU Extension Service.

Adoption & Foster Families
Montana DPHHS Child & Family Services
Dave Thomas Foundation For Adoption

The Bright Beginnings Parenting Series
The Bright Beginnings Parenting Series is made available through the Bitterroot Cares for Kids Network based on curriculum from North Dakota State University Extension.  It is geared to help parents raise healthy children and families through an online 10-Part Video Series available on You Tube.  There are accompanying workbooks available to download by clicking on the "More" tab at

Here are the links to the Series:

Strengthening Your Marriage (hard copy only) 
Building Family Strengths (hard copy only) 
Activities for Building Family Strengths (hard copy only) 
Couple Relationships: Communication and Conflict Resolution
Adolescence: Supporting the Journey from Childhood to Adulthood
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder: A Parent's Guide to ADHD
Building a Positive Relationship With Your Child (hard copy only)
Children & Bullying: A Guide for Parents
Disciplina: Guia de los padres para los infantes los ninos pequenos (hard copy only)
Disciplina: Guia de los padres para los ninos en edad le la escuela (hard copy only)
Disciplina: Guia de los padres para los ninos prescolares 
Discipline: A Parent's Guide for Infants and Toddlers 
Discipline: A Parent's Guide for Preschoolers 
Discipline: A Parent's Guide for School-Aged Children
Enjoying Each Child as an Individual (hard copy only)
Family Mealtime
The Importance of Fathers
The Importance of Play in Early Childhood Development 
Weaving Together Family and Work




Do you feel isolated and alone? Do you want more adult friendships? Although children are certainly important, they can't substitute for relationships with other adults. Everyone, including single parents, need and benefit from having a circle of close friends. Having them:

  • Makes it easier to handle problems
  • Provides a buffer against stress
  • Leads to a more positive parenting experience
  • Is a source of strength

Children also benefit when parents' emotional needs are met. Parents tend to be more patient and loving with their children. Studies show one of the most important factors for effective single parenting is having a strong support network of friends. It takes energy and time to build relationships-but it is worth it!

  • Think About Who You Can Turn to for Help
  • Write down who provides the following types of support for you.
  • Who provides emotional support - someone to talk to, share problems?
  • Who helps to handle stress?
  • Who reminds you that you are cared for and valued?
  • Who do you talk to about specific needs such as where to get bargains for children's clothes, what doctor to choose, how to handle discipline, 
    where to apply for food stamps?
  • Who answers questions or gives suggestions about personal, legal, or medical concerns?
  • Who can help you find other services or information?
  • Who can help with concrete support such as money, food, and clothing?
  • Who can help with emergency assistance, transportation, or childcare?
  • Do You Have Enough People Supporting You?

The following exercise will help you think about the size of your group of friends. 
Write your name in the middle of a piece of paper and draw a circle around it. Next, write the names of people who provide emotional, financial, or other types of help to you. The names of people who provide the most support should be written closer to your name on the paper. Include friends, family members, professionals, neighbors, and anyone else who provides support. You now know how many people make up your support network. You also know how strong your support network is by seeing how close your name is to the other names on the paper. Next draw lines between the names of the people on your paper who spend time together. This will help you see how connected your network is.

Most people have between 10 and 25 people in their group. How does yours compare? If your circle is too small, think about people you would like to get to know better. Think of places where you might meet interesting people.

If your network is too large, it becomes difficult to stay connected. You may have too many demands on your time and energy. How might you reduce the size? How are people in your network connected to you and each other? A close-knit group may expect you to do things their way. A tightly connected network may provide more support, but it may also have too much control over you. Can you add some new members? Can you introduce some members to each other? How can you change your support network to fit your needs? Giving and receiving support is tied to positive family health and well being. As important as it is to be supported, it's just as important to support others. Is there anyone you could support?

Ways to be a friend might be offering to watch a neighbor's children for a few hours, bringing dessert over to someone who might need an added lift, or calling someone on the phone to let them know you are thinking about them. 

What Do You Do When You Feel Lonely?
Lonely feelings are natural. Still, being single doesn't mean you'll always feel lonely. There are many ways to cope with feelings of loneliness and help you adjust to your new role. Look at the following list. What do you do when you feel lonely? Circle or write down each item you use.

  1. Listen to music
  2. Write
  3. Work or study
  4. Exercise
  5. Walk
  6. Work on a hobby
  7. Read
  8. Play a musical instrument
  9. Cry
  10. Sleep
  11. Sit and think
  12. Do nothing
  13. Overeat
  14. Take tranquilizers
  15. Watch television
  16. Get drunk or high
  17. Call a friend
  18. Talk to a health care provider or therapist
  19. Visit someone
  20. Volunteer to help others
  21. Go out and meet new people
  22. Call or visit an old friend
  23. Join a club or organization
  24. Spend money
  25. Go shopping
  26. Go for a drive 

First, look at the number of circles you drew around items 1-8. This shows how often you ease loneliness with useful activities you do alone. It's often hard to feel comfortable spending time alone. As a sense of security develops, single parents find that time alone can be a pleasure.

Now, look at your responses to items 9-16. This shows how often you deal with loneliness by doing very little that is positive. Be careful, this behavior can become destructive after awhile. If you're trying to forget or escape, you'll have a harder time getting over your loss. You may feel useless, depressed, or have physical problems. Turning away from the world and people can increase loneliness. There will be times when you will need to cry or sleep, but don't let this become routine.

Next, see how often you've circled items 17-23. This shows how often you deal with loneliness by becoming socially active. Keep in mind that looking for friends may not work. We tend to make friends when we get involved in projects or ideas we care about. This is how we meet people with common interests and values. Also, don't be afraid to ask for help when you need it. Offer your help to others as well.

Last, look at your responses to items 24-26. This tells you how often you deal with loneliness by distracting yourself. Shopping or taking a drive won't get rid of loneliness for long. Still, once in awhile, these activities can prompt us to take action and feel better. 

Making New Friends 
Sometimes it's hard to know where to meet new people when you have limited money, time and energy. Here are some ideas for making new friends.

  • Join community activities and meet your neighbors.
  • Plan dinner exchanges with friends. For low cost entertainment, have a meal at your house, and then rotate to homes of others in the group.
  • Participate in PTA, or volunteer to be a group leader or chaperone at one of your children's activities or clubs.
  • Form babysitting cooperatives. If you're short of money, trade babysitting time with other parents, or exchange a service instead of money. It's important to spend time with adults once in awhile, without your children.
  • Join a church or synagogue of your choice. You'll meet people with a similar philosophy or values and find activities for adults and children.
  • Join a singles group, such as Parents Without Partners.
  • Take classes or attend seminars and lectures.
  • Work on a joint project with another adult or child.
  • Start a new hobby or recreation. 

Grandparents as Support 
Are there older adults involved with your family's life? Children benefit from encouragement and support from a variety of people who care for them. Grandparents provide another supportive adult in both children's and single parents' lives. A grandparent figure doesn't have to be a blood relative. Your family can "adopt" an older adult as a grandparent - maybe a neighbor, or a friend's relative. This involvement will enrich the life of the older adult and your life. Grandparents can provide:

  • Another adult who makes your child feel special
  • Time and affection
  • Someone to read with
  • Great stories of the past
  • A sense of how things used to be and how they are
  • A tie to another generation

Sources: Parenting on Your Own by Robert Hughes Jr., Cooperative Extension, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Family Focus: Supportive Connections for Single Parent Families, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension

Credit: Mary W. Temke, Ph.D., Extension Specialist, Human Development developed this fact sheet, with assistance from Wendy Walsh, a graduate student in the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Family Studies. Approved for use in Montana by Stephen F. Duncan, Ph.D., Family & Human Development Specialist, MSU Extension Service.

For more information check out the following MontGuide: Be Your Own Best Friend: A Plan for Improving Self-Esteem (hard copy only)




Having goals helps define what is important to you. It helps you decide how to spend your time. Goals are something meaningful for a person to work to achieve. Goals usually answer the question: Who wants what and when? You may have personal goals, such as making time to do fun family activities, working together to save money for a family vacation, or volunteering together.

Determine Your Goals
All families have a set of values or beliefs that are important. Thinking about your values help to develop your goals. One family may value "family time" or to eat dinner together or one family may value cooperation. Family members find ways to help each other. Having goals gives you something to work toward. Think about the following questions and then list one or two goals for each.

  • What do I want for myself?
  • What do I want for my children?
  • What do I want from my children?
  • What do we want as a family?

Prioritize Your Goals
Include the entire family when deciding the family's major goals. Goals maybe short-range (eat dinner together twice this week), intermediate (in three months, I will be in better physical health), or long-term (in a year, we will go on a family vacation). It's easier to reach your goals if you focus only on one or two goals at a time. Working toward too many goals at the same time makes it hard to reach any of your goals. Ask yourself the following questions and write down your responses to help you think about which of the goals you listed above are important and why.

  • How many of your goals are material goods or things that can be purchased?
  • Why are these goals important to you and to your family?
  • Are these goals realistic?
  • How do the goals affect your behavior?
  • How do these goals affect other people in your family?
  • How much time do you currently spend working toward each of your goals?

Look at your list of goals and think about these questions. Assign a letter to each goal to show how important that goals is to you. Assign an "A" if it is very important, a "B" if it is somewhat important, a "C" if it is less important, etc.

Reaching Your Goals 
You may now have many goals in mind, but how can you reach them? The following steps should help you reach your goals. Try these steps with one of your goals.

  • Define the goal.
  • List all the possible ways to reach the goal.
  • Develop a plan to reach the goal.
  • Carry out and evaluate the plan.
  • Ask yourself and your family how the plan is working.
  • Be flexible and make changes to your plan if needed.

Review the goal. Did the plan work well? For example:

Define goal: To have time to exercise three times a week. 
Possible ways to reach goal: Get up early, take a long lunch, or make time right before dinner. 
Plan: Get up one hour early on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. 
Evaluate: Am I too tired to get up early? Do I need to make time during the day?
Review: The plan worked because I could change it and still meet my goal to exercise.

Make the Most of Your Time 
Reaching goals is learning how to make the most of your time. The good news is there are things to do to "save" time. Check three ideas from the following list that you will try.

  • Plan daily "To Do" lists & post the list in the kitchen or someplace where you will see it.
  • Allow small blocks of time for working toward goals and planning.
  • Prioritize goals using the "A-B-C" system described above. 
  • Remember not to fill your time on "C" activities that are not as important.
  • Get up early one or two days a week - use the time to think and plan.
  • Plan ahead for meals. Make extra meals on weekends and freeze them for the week ahead.
  • Write down a list of main dishes for the week as a reminder.
  • Schedule appointments together.
  • Have a special place to post reminders and special notes.
  • Schedule time to relax.
  • Use your "waiting time" to relax, read, or plan.
  • Make a list of emergency phone numbers and post it.
  • Plan time for family meetings to discuss goals, family decisions, and fun activities.

Barriers and Ways to Change
It is easy reading about what to do. Yet, actually making the most of your time is another story! Knowing what some of the barriers are to making the most of your time should help you develop useful ways to maximize your time.

Barrier: Putting off until later what needs to be done now. 
Change: Divide a project into small deadlines and reward yourself for meeting each deadline. 

Barrier: Expecting perfection. 
Change: Work toward doing your best rather than perfection.

Barrier: Fear of saying no.
Change: Practice different ways of saying no. 

Barrier: Clutter.
Change: Organize. Have a folder for receipts, for school forms, for emergencies, etc.

Barrier: Thinking about the past.
Change: Focus on things you can change and work toward the future. 

Make the time to think about your dreams and what you want to accomplish.

Sources: Parenting on Your Own by Robert Hughes Jr., Cooperative Extension, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Family Focus: Supportive Connections for Single Parent Families, University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension

Credit: Mary W. Temke, Ph.D., Extension Specialist, Human Development developed this fact sheet, with assistance from Wendy Walsh, a graduate student in the University of New Hampshire’s Department of Family Studies. Approved for use in Montana by Stephen F. Duncan, Ph.D., Family & Human Development Specialist, MSU Extension Service.

For more information check out the following MontGuide: It's Your Choice: Decision Making & Goal Setting


Resources for Educators & Family Professionals

If you're an educator or professional who works with families, you've come to the right place. This is your source for information to help you educate, support, and counsel families.

National Extension Relationship and Marriage Education Network
MSU Early Childhood Project
Montana Childcare Resources & Referrals
National Council on Family Relations
National Association for the Education of Young Children
The American Association of Family & Consumer Sciences
Step Family Association of America
National Fatherhood Initiative
National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
National Resource Center for Health & Safety in Childcare
Administration for Children & Families
Child Welfare League of America
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging
US Administration on Aging