Keeping the Peace: Family Communication
Holidays bring family and friends together. But how do you avoid arguments with that uncle or cousin you never see? In this episode, Communication Professor Dawn O. Braithwaite has advice on effective family communication. And she shares what she’s learned through her research on stepfamilies.
Dawn O. Braithwaite ›› https://comm.unl.edu/dawn-o-braithwaite
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[00:00:00.230](upbeat rock music)
[00:00:03.530]If you grew up in the '70s,
[00:00:05.220]you may remember The Brady Bunch.
[00:00:07.360]It was a sitcom about a step family,
[00:00:09.770]Carol Brady and her three daughters,
[00:00:11.950]Mike Brady and his three sons.
[00:00:15.776](audience laughs and claps)
[00:00:18.350]There are other examples
[00:00:19.450]of step family stories in pop culture,
[00:00:21.810]the wicked step-mother version, for example.
[00:00:25.470]But like many pop culture relationships,
[00:00:28.030]the truth is somewhere in between.
[00:00:30.640]They're either totally problematic,
[00:00:32.760]or they're totally angelic, you know?
[00:00:34.670]That's Dawn Braithwaite,
[00:00:36.360]Willa Cather professor of communication studies
[00:00:39.000]and chair of the Department of Communication Studies
[00:00:41.560]at the University of Nebraska Lincoln.
[00:00:44.080]She knows the real story behind step families
[00:00:47.240]because she grew up in one,
[00:00:49.120]and that experience shaped her future.
[00:00:52.050]I study things that I've experienced,
[00:00:54.160]so I was a step-child.
[00:00:56.090]The main line of my research since I've been here at UNL
[00:00:58.840]has been the communication of step families.
[00:01:01.440]Dawn Braithwaite's experience and insight
[00:01:03.820]on this edition of Faculty 101.
[00:01:05.962](soft electronic music)
[00:01:07.481]Okay, you should switch partners now.
[00:01:08.719]To be able to inspire young people.
[00:01:11.620]A is your final.
[00:01:12.680]It's really rewarding.
[00:01:13.730]I love the students.
[00:01:15.720]Welcome to Faculty 101,
[00:01:17.940]life hacks and success stories from Nebraska faculty.
[00:01:24.470]First up, orientation.
[00:01:26.330]Who is Dawn O. Braithwaite?
[00:01:30.400]When I arrive for our interview,
[00:01:31.770]Dr. Braithwaite's office is filled with packing boxes
[00:01:34.900]as the department readies for a move to a new building.
[00:01:38.224]We're all packed, and we can't find anything.
[00:01:40.747]She wants me to be clear about two things.
[00:01:43.500]It's Department of Communication,
[00:01:45.350]no S at the end of the word communication,
[00:01:47.570]and it's Dawn O. Braithwaite.
[00:01:50.470]The O stands for Ohlendorf, her maiden name.
[00:01:53.170]Too long to hyphenate, but--
[00:01:55.310]I always wanted my family to be part of,
[00:01:57.970]and my father especially,
[00:01:59.150]to be part of who I was going forward.
[00:02:02.885]I drive everybody crazy because I insist on my O,
[00:02:05.690]but it's important to me.
[00:02:11.760]When she was 12, her mother died,
[00:02:13.760]and her dad remarried.
[00:02:15.200]Only about 5% of step families form
[00:02:17.930]after the death of a parent.
[00:02:19.800]For a lot of step kids, if they're not getting along
[00:02:21.820]at their dad's house, they move over to their mom's house,
[00:02:24.350]but when you're in this situation we were in,
[00:02:26.260]you're stuck, right?
[00:02:27.360]And they're stuck with you,
[00:02:28.909]so you have to make it work somehow.
[00:02:31.050]I think that made it extra challenging,
[00:02:35.330]and my father remarried quite quickly.
[00:02:38.720]He basically brought a stranger into the home.
[00:02:41.310]Now, that's one of the reasons
[00:02:42.480]I like to study step parents too,
[00:02:44.540]because looking back from a way adult perspective,
[00:02:47.160]it couldn't have been easy.
[00:02:48.870]It must've been hard to take over two kids
[00:02:51.320]whose mother had died, and move into the neighborhood.
[00:02:54.860]These are just difficult dynamics for everybody.
[00:02:57.170]They hardly ever go smoothly.
[00:03:02.010]An experience in junior high led Dr. Braithwaite
[00:03:05.000]toward her chosen career.
[00:03:06.700]In 1966, I'd grown up in the '60s,
[00:03:09.327]and there's protests going on.
[00:03:10.900]There's all the stuff going on.
[00:03:14.440]I become a step family, life is pretty chaotic,
[00:03:16.730]and I walk into my junior high classroom,
[00:03:19.180]and there's a poster on the wall.
[00:03:20.770]I can still picture it.
[00:03:22.140]It was for Bell Telephone, and it said,
[00:03:23.857]"Communication is the beginning of understanding."
[00:03:27.216]I probably stared at that thing for,
[00:03:29.050]I don't know how long it was up there,
[00:03:30.630]and that really hit me.
[00:03:31.780]I'd never thought about it.
[00:03:33.050]In school, we were taught reading, and writing,
[00:03:34.990]and arithmetic, and science,
[00:03:36.450]but never anything about communication.
[00:03:39.150]That got me thinking.
[00:03:40.735]I think, from that day forward,
[00:03:42.590]I gravitated toward wanting to learn more.
[00:03:48.933](soft electronic music)
[00:03:50.200]Next, lab work, a deeper dive
[00:03:52.710]into Dr. Braithwaite's research.
[00:03:57.950]Step family dynamics can be difficult and chaotic,
[00:04:00.980]but there are ways families can navigate turbulent times.
[00:04:04.850]In a recent study, Dr. Braithwaite interviewed
[00:04:07.200]adult step children who reported
[00:04:09.250]having positive relationships with step parents.
[00:04:12.170]She identified factors that contribute to stronger bonds,
[00:04:15.250]including successful conflict resolution
[00:04:17.900]and adapting rituals and traditions to the new family.
[00:04:21.310]One is called pro-social actions,
[00:04:23.710]which just means being nice, being friendly,
[00:04:26.310]doing things for people that are meaningful to them.
[00:04:29.220]One step kid talked to us about how she wanted
[00:04:31.970]to paint her room red, and her mom said that was ridiculous,
[00:04:35.610]and her step-dad said, "I'll paint your room red,
[00:04:37.467]"and if you don't like it, next year,
[00:04:38.597]"I'll paint it something else."
[00:04:40.360]That pro-social action meant a lot to her.
[00:04:43.520]It meant that he listened to her and valued her perspective.
[00:04:46.860]Another one was quality time.
[00:04:48.580]Sometimes, those things happen together.
[00:04:50.680]There was a young woman we interviewed
[00:04:52.300]who talked about watching, in her case,
[00:04:55.130]Iowa football with her step-dad.
[00:04:57.320]Has running room on their sideline.
[00:05:00.320]It was just the way that they bonded
[00:05:02.390]and started to think about each other
[00:05:03.980]as father and daughter.
[00:05:05.180](soft electronic music)
[00:05:07.470]Another area of Dr. Braithwaite's research
[00:05:09.550]involves fictive or voluntary kin,
[00:05:12.470]and what does that mean?
[00:05:13.950]Well, here's a real life example
[00:05:15.580]drawing on the experience of friends of mine.
[00:05:19.276]On this evening, ham sizzles in a pan on the stove.
[00:05:23.710]It's gonna be good, good breakfast for dinner.
[00:05:26.420]That's Curtis Olsen.
[00:05:27.760]Curtis and Annie Mumgard are parents to Carlos.
[00:05:30.910]I'm 12 years old.
[00:05:33.070]I'm Sophia, and I'm 17.
[00:05:35.150]Tonight, the Olsen-Mumgard family gathers
[00:05:37.480]for dinner with Kurt Bright.
[00:05:39.350]Hey, everybody, we're here.
[00:05:42.120]And Kathy Glen.
[00:05:43.690]I brought two pans of cheesy potatoes this time,
[00:05:46.560]unlike Easter, when we ran out.
[00:05:49.880]This group is a family built over time and many meals.
[00:05:54.330]We carve pumpkins together.
[00:05:56.594]And Easter eggs.
[00:05:57.427]Yep, and Easter egg parties.
[00:05:58.830]We dye Easter eggs every year.
[00:06:00.810]We carve Easter eggs and dye pumpkins every year.
[00:06:04.670]Haven't we gone on a family vacation
[00:06:06.307]with each other for 15 years?
[00:06:09.770]We've been to a lot of your kids' concerts,
[00:06:12.810]and ball games, and soccer games,
[00:06:16.260]and graduations, and whatnot, which is cool.
[00:06:21.833]My own daughter lives 1,000 miles away,
[00:06:23.840]so I don't get to do that stuff with her.
[00:06:26.270]They have traditional families
[00:06:27.700]they love and spend time with,
[00:06:29.320]but this is another kind of family.
[00:06:31.170]To me, family is support,
[00:06:32.470]family is people you like being with,
[00:06:34.710]and I would say the difference is that,
[00:06:37.230]when you're with family, you can sometimes really get into,
[00:06:43.290]you have so much history, you can start talking
[00:06:47.810]about the negative really easier
[00:06:50.040]because you knew each other just forever.
[00:06:54.780]With us, we don't usually get into--
[00:06:57.160]There's very little negative history with us
[00:07:00.170]because we didn't grow up
[00:07:01.330]with each other sharing one bathroom.
[00:07:03.660]It's an example of what Dr. Braithwaite calls
[00:07:05.920]fictive or voluntary kin.
[00:07:08.190]They are close relationships with friends that supplement
[00:07:10.980]and sometimes replace the traditional family.
[00:07:13.970]Dr. Braithwaite has studied what makes these relationships
[00:07:17.200]both beneficial and challenging.
[00:07:19.840]I think voluntary families are really important
[00:07:21.800]as people geographically
[00:07:23.500]don't always live around their families,
[00:07:25.990]or they don't have a relationship,
[00:07:28.240]or they can't have a relationship,
[00:07:30.290]so to me, it's okay to form family-like relations.
[00:07:33.340]They really are family-like.
[00:07:34.580]For many people, that is family.
[00:07:37.080]One of the challenges is legitimizing that family.
[00:07:40.100]In other words, it's not accepted by society.
[00:07:42.730]You don't have rights to visit
[00:07:44.270]that person in the hospital, so you really have to think
[00:07:47.210]really carefully, and create, through communication,
[00:07:50.670]what these family relationships mean to you,
[00:07:52.760]what their limits are.
[00:07:54.670]I think it's a really powerful family form
[00:07:56.760]in the modern world.
[00:07:58.929]Could I have one of the first--
[00:08:00.090]It's powerful and sometimes messy,
[00:08:02.320]like a traditional family,
[00:08:03.960]but for the Olsen-Mumgard-Bright-Glen clan, it's just life.
[00:08:08.280]Memories, rituals, inside jokes, and all.
[00:08:12.100]He's my godfather.
[00:08:15.795]That is true.
[00:08:16.797]That is accurate.
[00:08:17.638]That's right, that's right.
[00:08:19.221]And fluff father.
[00:08:20.237]I guess that kinda makes us almost family.
[00:08:23.410]I am responsible for his eternal soul.
[00:08:26.530]He's so hosed.
[00:08:28.842]We did not choose well, oh no.
[00:08:36.816]Ready for office hours?
[00:08:37.923]How did Dr. Braithwaite get here?
[00:08:40.107](soft electronic music)
[00:08:41.830]Originally from Chicago,
[00:08:43.050]Dr. Braithwaite cemented her interest
[00:08:45.040]in communication early on,
[00:08:46.810]with high school activities like the debate team,
[00:08:49.380]theater, and music.
[00:08:50.830]In California, she attended community college,
[00:08:53.430]got a bachelor's degree from Cal State Fullerton,
[00:08:56.010]and a master's from Cal State Long Beach
[00:08:58.340]before earning her PhD from the University of Minnesota.
[00:09:02.180]All along the way, there were mentors.
[00:09:04.960]Teachers made a really big difference in my life.
[00:09:07.260]Going to school was a struggle.
[00:09:08.670]I was paying for it, and it was hard.
[00:09:12.290]To me, it was caring, teaching all the way through,
[00:09:14.840]through my PhD, and it really set me on the road
[00:09:17.590]to want to do that for other people.
[00:09:19.510]In the classroom at Nebraska,
[00:09:21.210]Dr. Braithwaite combined teaching
[00:09:23.240]with her love of research.
[00:09:25.020]Teaching and research are a part of the same thing.
[00:09:28.440]I'm a much better teacher because I'm out there,
[00:09:30.640]generating knowledge, and I can share that with people.
[00:09:33.360]As chair of the Department of Communication Studies,
[00:09:36.210]she's able to spread the word
[00:09:37.920]about the work of her colleagues.
[00:09:39.670]I work with an absolutely fabulous department
[00:09:41.950]and group of people.
[00:09:42.810]They're fabulous researchers, wonderful teachers,
[00:09:45.470]caring humans, but it's been fun
[00:09:47.540]to open the doors of the department a little bit wider,
[00:09:50.290]and help people on campus know more about us.
[00:09:59.560]Now, it's time for a pop quiz,
[00:10:01.690]random questions, life hacks, and wisdom for all of us.
[00:10:06.940]What advice do you have for cultivating
[00:10:09.520]family harmony around the table?
[00:10:12.140]I think it's really important
[00:10:13.770]for people to sometimes come to agreement beforehand.
[00:10:17.940]It's okay to talk about what we're gonna talk about
[00:10:20.207]and what we're not gonna talk about,
[00:10:21.810]and come to some agreements.
[00:10:25.050]I study a theory called communication privacy management,
[00:10:28.350]and it's okay to understand things
[00:10:31.063]that we shouldn't talk about.
[00:10:32.610]All communication is not necessarily good communication.
[00:10:36.550]If you can't do that,
[00:10:37.580]I think it's just, you can be skillful
[00:10:40.680]about deflecting, just not taking the bait on communication,
[00:10:44.570]because now, we're so divided politically.
[00:10:47.407]I just encourage people, sometimes,
[00:10:49.510]to talk about it, come to some agreements
[00:10:51.700]about what's on and off limits for their holidays.
[00:10:57.100]I think, sometimes, people choose not to go.
[00:11:00.010]Sometimes, people have to put themselves
[00:11:01.790]in healthier situations.
[00:11:03.500]What would you say is the best way of communicating?
[00:11:06.210]Should we rely less on our technology?
[00:11:09.130]Every channel of communication has its ups and downs.
[00:11:12.140]For example, for parents, you've got kids
[00:11:14.120]who want to establish some autonomy,
[00:11:15.890]texting is great, right?
[00:11:17.300]You can get to them without being too intrusive.
[00:11:19.950]You can find out where people are.
[00:11:23.253]I don't think that any technology is inherently good or bad.
[00:11:25.900]It just has to be used responsibly.
[00:11:28.840]What advice do you have for students?
[00:11:30.610]I'm very devoted to the concept of choice.
[00:11:33.990]When I was asked to give a graduation speech years ago
[00:11:36.290]at my first university, my speech was
[00:11:39.240]on celebrating the choice, that we're always making choices,
[00:11:42.330]and as faculty, I think that's one
[00:11:44.100]of the main things we teach students.
[00:11:46.580]You may decide to go somewhere else on Friday,
[00:11:49.080]and I might even support that choice,
[00:11:50.680]but there's consequences to choices.
[00:11:52.980]I think that, in life, we always have to accept
[00:11:54.910]the good consequences and the bad ones.
[00:11:56.850]The other one, I think's very related,
[00:11:58.980]is this idea of being mindful,
[00:12:01.170]trying to learn, always paying attention
[00:12:03.290]to what you're doing, and why, and learning from it.
[00:12:07.610]The future choices you're making, hopefully,
[00:12:09.270]are informed by the past, and you're not
[00:12:10.840]just barreling forward and making
[00:12:12.680]the same errors over, and over, and over again.
[00:12:15.370]What advice do you have for step parents?
[00:12:17.700]I have step parents find out about my research,
[00:12:19.950]and call me, or email me,
[00:12:21.260]and they're usually feeling pretty desperate.
[00:12:24.969]I'm very close to my step-mother today,
[00:12:26.510]and one of the things I can say is, hang in there.
[00:12:29.570]There's a good chance it's gonna work out,
[00:12:31.550]but you have to really work at it.
[00:12:35.200]That work is communicative work, to form a family.
[00:12:42.800]Finally, graduation day.
[00:12:44.850]Final thoughts, and what we can learn
[00:12:47.430]from the Chicago Cubs.
[00:12:49.320]Oh, this is my Chicago Cubs bat.
[00:12:53.590]I don't know if you can see,
[00:12:54.423]but it's got my signature here.
[00:12:56.780]The bat is a gift from a group
[00:12:58.510]of former graduate students who knew
[00:13:00.560]their professor is a huge Cubs fan.
[00:13:03.430]That was just one of the nicest things
[00:13:05.040]anybody's ever done for me.
[00:13:06.260]It was so out of the blue, and unexpected, and appreciative.
[00:13:09.930]It really means a lot to me.
[00:13:11.540]When the Cubs won the World Series--
[00:13:15.540]I went crazy.
[00:13:16.600]I mean, all Cubs fans were waiting
[00:13:20.010]for this all of our lives, so I cried,
[00:13:24.620]and we were just jumping all over the place,
[00:13:26.410]and taking pictures, and it was just
[00:13:28.450]an unbelievably happy day.
[00:13:30.610]Dr. Braithwaite says we can all learn
[00:13:32.940]from the grit and glory tale
[00:13:34.840]of Chicago's no-longer-cursed baseball team.
[00:13:38.240]You have to persevere.
[00:13:39.480]You have to stick in there and do what you love.
[00:13:42.070]I think Chicago Cubs fans have a good theory of life.
[00:13:46.660]That's it for this episode of Faculty 101.
[00:13:49.060]Thanks to Dawn O. Braithwaite
[00:13:50.770]for sharing her family's story
[00:13:52.300]and her communication advice.
[00:13:54.030]In the show notes, you'll find a link
[00:13:55.410]to more about her research,
[00:13:57.020]and a picture of that beloved Chicago Cubs bat.
[00:14:00.660]This is the last episode of Faculty 101 for this year,
[00:14:03.800]but we'll be back in February for season two.
[00:14:08.130]Faculty 101 is produced
[00:14:09.750]by the University of Nebraska Lincoln.
[00:14:14.710]When I first came here,
[00:14:15.543]the Huskers had just won the national championship,
[00:14:17.350]and I thought, "It's the first place
[00:14:18.487]"I've ever lived with a winner, so they'll get there."
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