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A Healthy Family?

Linda Garro

UCLA Sloan Center on Everyday Lives of Families
Working Paper No. 72


Focusing on one family from a larger study of dual-earner middle-class family life carried out in Los Angeles, this working paper explores the construction of a “family health portrait” (or, more fittingly, a “working family health and well-being portrait”). The title derives from an assertion put forward by both parents during the course of an interview, namely that their family was “a healthy family.” Here, I explore the notion of a “healthy family” in the Zapata family context relying on several forms of data available in the study – comments by the parents in interview settings, videotaped observations of everyday family life carried out across several days, and comments made by the parents to members of the research team during the course of video-taping. I explore the analytic challenge in thinking through what it means to be “a healthy family,” relying on differences (including omissions and discrepancies) and convergences between what the parents tell the researchers (for example, in interviews) and the way “health” is enacted through everyday interactions and activities. This case study highlights the potential importance of family routines, and disruptions to routines, in studying health and well-being. The relationship between the interviews, other comments and the videorecordings is by no means a simple one. While there are some clear discrepancies between what the parents say they do in some parts of the health and well-being interview and what they are observed to do during the four days of video recording that preceded the health interview, these divergencies are but a small part of how parents talk about and enact health and well-being. And there are points of convergence between how a “healthy family” is talked about in the interview and health as enacted in the video recordings, a perspective that sheds somewhat different light on what and how the family eats. There is, in this view, a deep connection between family life as lived and the values about what it means to be a healthy family that Marcela and Andres articulate in the interview. For the Zapatas, health extends to the social body; it is more than an individual-based view of health expanded to encompass the family group. Health is lived as relational and emotional, as well as physical, experience.

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