Family-nurse co-construction of meaning: A central phenomenon of family caring

Sonja J. Meiers, Patricia S. Tomlinson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


The purpose of the study was to understand and interpret caring in the family health experience by exploring the interactional phenomenon of family-nurse co-construction of meaning in the paediatric intensive care unit (PICU). A hermeneutic phenomenological method within a framework of existentialism and symbolic interactionism was used in the investigation. The convenience sample for this study was four family-nurse dyads, that is four families of critically ill children (all with positive outcomes) and the four nurses assigned to their care who were participating in a larger study. Data were derived from semistructured interviews regarding significant interactions throughout the child's illness and subsequent significant interactions of families with other nurses and nurses with other families. Trustworthiness of the study was addressed through the criteria of credibility, dependability, transferability and confirmability. Co-construction of meaning in the family health experience was found to have two dimensions: interdependent and independent. Both families and nurses described being like family as an essential component of the interdependent experience. Independent dimensions for families were journeying through troubled waters of learning the meaning of the illness event and sensing family comfort through the nurse's care. Independent dimensions described by nurses were journeying through troubled waters of learning to care for families and living with another's fear. The family-nurse interaction, the relational connection and the evolution of meanings that families and nurses construct, was affirmed as the major vehicle in the co-coristruction experience. Family caring is influenced by the existential meaning constructing, process-oriented, interactional nature of the family health experience. Caring in the family health experience is enhanced through actions the nurse performs on behalf of, and with, the family while understanding the family's unique situation. Caring enacted by nurses in participation with families holds abundant potential for enhancing the family health experience and honor the ethic of caring as central to nursing.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)193-201
Number of pages9
JournalScandinavian Journal of Caring Sciences
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 2003
Externally publishedYes


  • Caring
  • Co-construction of meaning
  • Existential advocacy
  • Existentialism
  • Family
  • Family care
  • Family nursing
  • Family-nurse interaction
  • Paediatric intensive care unit
  • Phenomenology


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