What is your role in your family

The importance of family roles

Last update: 19 July, 2020

A family is both an organized system that accompanies most people from birth and the core of every society. This is a collective in which there are norms, values ​​and certain behavioral patterns. As well as hierarchies and family roles, which assign a place and associated tasks to each member that makes up a family. And all of this is also reflected in society.

The way in which members of a family relate to one another also determines how they interact with the rest of society. Every family has ideas about what is good and what is not. And also about how each family member should behave. This is what we call family roles: The function that each member fulfills within this core.

The definition and implementation of each family role is very important, both for the mental health of its components, as well as maintaining healthy relationships. This seems obvious to us; But that's not so much it in today's world. The result is a society in which hierarchies, respect for authorities and the boundaries of oneself are increasingly blurred.

The most important family roles

Within these family roles, the role of the (spouse) partner is the most fundamental and decisive. And it's that role that becomes more and more confusing as time goes on. It defines life as a couple and includes the areas in which the children do not intervene, such as sexuality, the emotional encounter between the two and decisions that affect the family.

Then of course there is the maternal and the paternal role. These two roles depend very much on the cultural environment and in many parts of the world coincide with that of the partner. However, there are a few elements that are common to parents in virtually every culture:

  • The maternal role is basically affective and their goal is to protect and support the child.
  • The paternal role, however, is mediated in this mother-child dyad, expands their limits and shows which limits must not be exceeded.

The other two family roles are sibling and child roles. The first is that which is occupied between siblings and has the function of facilitating a cooperative relationship between brothers and sisters. The second role corresponds to the bond that children form with their parents and has to do particularly with respect for hierarchies and the internalization of a sense of authority.

Problems with the role of the partner

What we have described so far is the theoretical scheme of family roles. In practice, however, these roles are not always accepted and respected in the way theory would have intended. For example, if the couple breaks with their responsibilities and allows the children to step into their parental roles, this can have serious consequences.

In general Those children who witness ongoing conflict between their parents experience great guilt and fear. Depending on the intensity of the conflict and the age of the children, these consequences can be more or less serious. In either case, however, one or both parents lose some of their authority.

It is also not good for the children if they repeatedly watch their parents express their sexuality or if they continuously witness sexual relationships. This can be very confusing for them. In individual cases, the consequences again depend on the age and the information that the children already have on this topic. So they can react frightened, excited or amazed. In extreme cases, such experiences influence children's development.

The maternal and paternal roles

In addition to the roles of the partners, there are those of mother and father. All of these roles are very closely related. The ideal maternal role is to nourish the child and its heart: the mother is the one who cares, who offers tenderness to the children and caresses them emotionally as well as physically.

Still, some women turn their children into objects of their love solely and exclusively. They loathe and devalue the father and create a possessive and overprotective relationship with their children. Likewise, there are absent mothers who refuse to be true mothers to their children. In both of these cases one can speak of emotional neglect.

The paternal function or role traditionally defines limits and decides when these can be changed. The father is the third party that regulates this symbiosis of mother and child. He "saves" the child, so to speak, from the restriction of the exclusively maternal universe. A father who is absent or hardly fulfills his role makes it difficult for his children to define what they are allowed and what is forbidden to them, also in relation to this what is legal and what is illegal. Children who grow up with parents like this often have trouble realizing their limits.

In conclusion, it should be said that the classic family roles described here can still be found in the majority of families, but that they are being filled with increasing flexibility. This departure from the traditional role model is to be welcomed as long as the needs of the individual family members continue to be met.

You might be interested in ...