Role Definition

Who runs your family? Often there are many pre-conceived notions of what roles everyone plays. There are also many cultural definitions on who “should” play each role, including for men, women, children, and grandparents as well. In today’s society, these roles get blurred more than ever, and often we find ourselves fighting for leadership within the family or support from others, without being able to define who, what, and how these behaviors should be shown. Instead, we fight over them, creating a dysfunctional interaction that becomes the deciding factor in how our families operate.

So, who gets what role? Which arrangement is best? Well, to answer that question generally depends on the family. It depends on personality types and expectations from all of those involved. Should a father “rule his roost”, or should the mother “run the house”, as in traditional cultural expectations. What happens when both parents work, and the children become “latch-key” kids? Answers to these types of issues can best be discussed with your therapist, but some rules do tend to cross all family systems.

  • Let kids be kids. This is not to say that children should not have responsibilities to the other members of the household, but having a child be parentified and accepting responsibilities beyond their age or ability level can lead to resentment and acting out behavior. Often, these can be viewed as pleas to re-arrange the family structure, especially as children proceed from young childhood to pre-teen and teenage years. These roles can be fluid as the child ages and amasses more responsibilities, but must also address the overall hierarchy within the family.
  • Parents on top. Regardless if Mom or Dad occupies the leadership role, a lot of dysfunction originates when others perform this duty. Major decisions for family plans, discipline and reward for children and the organizing factor of family meetings must rely on this subgroup to lead others. For some parents, this may not be a comfortable position, and may need to seek guidance from outside the family system on effective ways of being a leader, and managing family dynamics.
  • Divorces: Nothing can wreak more havoc on family dynamics than separation of a couple, which is a reality many (according to recent statistics, most) families must face. How decisions are made on where to move, financial contributions, and parenting styles are still a factor post split-up, and acrimonious feelings and hatred only compound the problem, especially if children are placed in the middle as a go-between. Just because you’ve split up as a couple does not mean parenting duties do not still hold true.
  • Support Systems: Just like on a sports team, it is not the stars on the team that determine champions – it is the role of the supporting cast in filling in a role that can still hold value while not dominating the performance. Examples of these roles in families can include any aspect of a support system: extended family members, friends, step-parents, community members, clergy and therapists are all examples of individuals who can mean a great deal to successful family relationships while not overstepping their roles and allow the family to capitalize on their abilities and their roles in healthy and productive ways.

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