How are Families and Friends Affected?
Roles play an extremely important part in healthy family functioning. Most researchers agree that the establishment of clear roles within a family is directly connected to a family’s ability to deal with day-to-day life, unforeseen crises, and the normal changes that occur in families over time. Family roles are patterns of behaviour by which individuals fulfil family functions and needs.
Individual members of families occupy certain roles such as child, sibling, grandchild. Along with roles come certain social and family expectations for how those roles should be fulfilled. For example, parents are expected to teach, discipline, and provide for their children. And children are expected to co-operate and respect their parents. As family members age, they take on additional roles, such as becoming a spouse, parent, or grandparent. A person’s role is always expanding or changing, depending upon his or her age and family stage.
Individuals within a family have both instrumental and affective roles to fulfil. Each serves an important function in maintaining healthy family functioning. Instrumental roles are concerned with the provision of physical resources (e.g., food, clothing, and shelter), decision-making and family management. Affective roles exist to provide emotional support and encouragement to family members. Both sets of roles must be present for healthy family functioning. In addition, families must also consider issues of roles allocation and accountability.
Families have to make many decisions, often on a daily basis, about who will be responsible for completing a certain task or fulfilling a particular responsibility. For example, families must decide who will take out the trash, who will take the children to school, who will cook dinner, who will watch the children after they return from school, who will work and provide financial support for the family, etc. In healthy families, roles are assigned in such a way that family members are not overburdened. Sharing roles, such as child-care, is an important family task.
Role accountability refers to a family member’s sense of responsibility for completing the tasks of an assigned role. In healthy families, there are procedures in place, which ensure that necessary family functions are fulfilled. For example, parents in healthy families understand that they are responsible for disciplining their children. When discipline is needed, they do not hesitate. These parents know that a failure to fulfil this role properly will result in child behaviour problems which will disrupt the family’s ability to function. The assigning and carrying out of family roles can be a difficult task, requiring tremendous effort on the part of individual family members.
Flexibility in roles is essential in a healthy family. Family roles naturally change over time. They also may change during times of crisis, such as when a family member becomes seriously ill or unexpectedly dies. The difference between healthy and unhealthy families in these situations is the healthy family’s ability to adjust and adapt, which often requires a temporary or permanent shift in roles. In the case of illness or death, it is sometimes necessary for other family members to take on additional roles (e.g., becoming a financial provider). Flexibility in roles is essential in a healthy family.
Families that function well have members who take their roles seriously and do their best to fulfil their duties. Members who fail to take their roles seriously, or who refuse to carry out their roles, can create significant problems for the entire family. An example of failing to fulfil a role is when a parent does not provide adequate physical and emotional support for his/her children. There are many problems that can result from this failure, including behaviour problems, depression, and low self-esteem. Willingness to take responsibility for one’s roles contributes to a healthy family.
Establishing clear, flexible roles is a key to successful family functioning. Research indicates that families who do so will not only be able to deal with everyday family life, but also will be better equipped to handle unexpected family crises. In families where clear, flexible roles exist, individual members will be much more likely to take their responsibilities seriously.
There is no such thing as the perfect family. All families do some things well and some things poorly; have some degree of healthiness and some degree of unhealthiest. Following are some characteristics of family roles which tend to move from healthy to unhealthy as rigid roles develop.
|1||Nurturing Love Parental love is relatively constant. Children get affection, attention and nurturing touch. Children are told they are wanted and loved||Conditional Love Parental love is given as a reward but withdrawn as punishment. Parents feel their children “owe” them. Children have to “earn” parental love.|
|2||Respect Children are seen and valued for who they are. Children’s choices are accepted.||Disrespect Children are treated as parental property. Parents use children to satisfy parental needs.|
|3||Open Communication Expressing honest thoughts is valued more than speaking a certain way. Questioning and dissent are allowed. Problems are acknowledged and addressed.||Stifled Speech Communication is hampered by rules like “Don’t ask why” and “Don’t say no”. Questioning and dissent are discouraged. Problems are ignored or denied.|
|4||Emotional Freedom It’s okay to feel sadness, fear, anger and joy. Feelings are accepted as natural.||Emotional Intolerance Strong emotions are discouraged or blocked. Feelings are considered dangerous.|
|5||Encouragement Children’s potentials are encouraged. Children are praised when they succeed and given compassion when they fail.||Ridicule Children feel on trial. Children are criticized more than praised.|
|6||Consistent Parenting Parents set appropriate, consistent limits. Parents see their role as guides. Parents allow children reasonable control over their own bodies and activities.||Dogmatic or Chaotic ParentingDiscipline is often harsh and inflexible. Parents see their role as bosses. Parents accord children little privacy.|
|7||Encouragement of an inner Life Children learn compassion for themselves. Parents communicate their values but allow children to develop their own values. Learning, humour, growth and play are present.||Denial of an Inner Life Children lack compassion for themselves. Being right is more important than learning or being curious. Family atmosphere feels stilted or chaotic.|
|8||Social Connections Connections with others are fostered. Parents pass on a broader vision of responsibility to others and to society.||Social Dysfunction Few genuine connections exist with outsiders. Children are told “Everyone’s out to get you”.|