Throughout the years, family roles have changed drastically. What was once deemed the norm, in terms of family roles, is no longer what’s considered typical today.
A family role is the position one has within the family household. One’s role encompasses how much power the individual holds within the family system and their responsibilities, as well as their impact on other family members. Family roles range on a scale from unhealthy to healthy and impact the entire family system.
In a healthy family system, right at the top of the ladder, are the parents, a husband and wife, a father and a mother, who are both loving and treat each other with respect and dignity and always look up to each other as well as look out for each other.
In relation to other members of the family, the parents hold the most power, are nurturing, set boundaries and are also flexible, and foster emotional and physical development by creating a safe home environment.
Within a healthy family, the role of a child is to be a child, meaning that they hold less power than their parents. In a healthy family system, a child’s physical and emotional development are nurtured by a parents. Children may have certain expectations asked of them depending on their unique family system. This may include active participation in family events, sharing their opinion, being truthful, and completing age appropriate chores.
In unhealthy family systems, a child may:
•Take on the role of a parent on a regular basis
•Act as a stand-in spouse
•Be forced to seek their own food, water, shelter, and warmth
When a child experiences abuse or neglect, they are no longer allowed to be a child. They are forced to put their physical and emotional developmental needs on hold in order to survive. When they do reach adulthood, they may unconsciously regress into a child role because these needs were not fulfilled appropriately.
Essential Roles for Effective Family Functioning
Regardless of who is in the family or how many individuals are in the family, a healthy family displays the following characteristics.
•Meets everyone’s basic needs: food, water, shelter, warmth
•Between the two parents, both feel physically and emotionally safe with each other
•In families with one or more children, the family is structured with the parents at the top making healthy decisions that impact the family
•Nurtures the child or children’s social, emotional, physical, and educational development
•Is empathetic, loving, and supportive of each other
Family roles can change if the family experiences a structural shift due to:
•A traumatic shared or individual experience
•A chronic illness
•An illness or injury
Dysfunctional Family Roles
Dysfunctional family roles can surface when the needs of the family or an individual within the family aren’t met. These roles may come up for many reasons including a pervasive dysfunctional family pattern, a traumatic experience, an illness, a death, a chronic condition, or a divorce.