Types of Family Roles
Family roles are the recurrent patterns of behavior by which individuals fulfill family functions and needs (Epstein, N. B. Bishop, D., Ryan, C., Miller, & Keitner, G. (1993) 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 cooperate 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.
Instrumental and Affective Roles
Individuals within a family have both instrumental and affective roles to fulfill. 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 accountablility.
Five Essential Roles for Effective Family Functioning
There are many roles within a family; however, researchers have identified the following five roles as being essential for a healthy family.
Provision of Resources
Providing resources, such as money, food, clothing, and shelter, for all family members is one of the most basic, yet important, roles within a family. This is primarily an instrumental role.
Nurturance and Support
Nurturing and supporting other family members is primarily an affective role and includes providing comfort, warmth, and reassurance for family members. Examples of this role are a parent comforting a child after he/she has a bad day at school, or family members supporting one another after the death of a loved one.
Life Skills Development
The life skills development role includes the physical emotional, educational, and social development of children and adults. Examples of this role are a parent helping a child make it through school, or a parent helping a young adult child decide on a career path.
Maintenance and Management of the Family System
This fourth role involves many tasks, including leadership, decision making, handling family finances, and maintaining appropriate roles with respect to extended family, friends and neighbors. Other responsibilities of this role include maintaining discipline and enforcing behavioral standards.
Sexual Gratification of Marital Partners
A satisfying sexual relationship is one of the keys to a quality marital relationship. This role involves meeting sexual needs in a manner that is satisfying to both spouses.
Role allocation is the assignment of responsibilities within a family that enables the family to function properly.
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.
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