Family routines and rituals when a parent has cancer

Fam Syst Health. 2009 Sep;27(3):213-27. doi: 10.1037/a0017005.


A growing literature has drawn attention to the psychosocial impact of cancer on families with young children. However, to help families develop adaptive responses to chronic illness, recent scholarship has begun to advocate a shift in orientation from a deficit to a strengths perspective. In this article, the authors examine the reorganization of family life after cancer diagnosis by reporting findings from a qualitative study of families with young children (ages 2-9) dealing with a parent's cancer. The authors focus specifically on parents' self-reports of how their families developed and experienced new routines and rituals while one parent underwent cancer treatment. Despite significant upheaval in family life, the families in this study found ways to stabilize routines and maintain a sense of normalcy. Although cancer compels disruptions to existing routines and rituals, families demonstrated creative resilience in their capacity to incorporate cancer care into the formation of new family traditions, habits, and practices. By considering how families manage cancer as a joint endeavor, the authors hope to illuminate the ways in which cancer can bring families together as well as pull them apart.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child of Impaired Parents / psychology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Family Relations*
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / psychology*