Family Role Structure
Roles are the behaviours associated with one who holds a particular position, position identifies a person’s status or
place in a social system - normatively defined and expected.
For each position, a number of roles exist each with respective sets of behaviours.
Some roles might be shared with others in the group.
o Role behaviour – based on prescriptions, expectations for the sets of behaviour within a societal context.
o Many roles learned within the family context. Individual enactment of a role is based on learning from role
models, societal norms but also his own personality and interests.
o Assess the strength of a role by looking at its sanctions – child neglect, abuse versus failure to attend child’s
o Role sharing – participation of two or more individuals in the same roles even though they hold different
positions (ex. child socialization includes mother, father, school)
o Role taking - in order for family members to enact roles, they must imagine themselves in the role of a
counterpart or role partner – assign a role to the other and better understand how they should behave in
their own role.
o Complementary rules – responsible for degree of harmony and stability in family life – one does not look at
a role in isolation (Mother - child, wife – husband, teacher – student)
o Families live their lives enmeshed in a network of rights and obligations - Roles are critical to family
Formal family roles
o Marital roles
o Gender roles
o Grandparent roles
o Family role changes
Informal family roles
o Informal roles fill the integrative requirements of the family group – more likely based on personality traits
of family members
o Encourager, harmonizer, initiator
o Compromiser, blamer
o Leader, follower
o Family scapegoat
o Family caretaker
Factors affecting roles
o Social class, family form, cultural/ethnic, family development stage, role models, crisis/life events &
Young adult, young couple families with young children/adolescents family in midlife/laterlife remarriage,
divorce, single parenting
Concept of family life cycle first developed by Duvall in 1962: divided family life cycle into eight stages with
developmental tasks at each stage - Based on: major change in family size, the developmental stage of the oldest
child, work status of the breadwinner.
Looking at Carter and McGoldrick (1980, 1989) - focus is on major points at which family members enter or exit the
family, changing the family equilibrium - Emphasis is placed on relationships that are altered so that the family can
move from one life cycle stage to another.
Each developmental stage is separated from the other by the amount of family transition that is required by a
particular life event - These transitions are considered “normal” - Carry implications for individual members who
must critically assess their own well-being and alter their role function and expectations to meet the changing
developmental tasks of the family over the life course. (Rankin, 1989)
Unexpected events do not occur in every family : illness, disability, miscarriage – can result in a crisis in the family -
These events can alter the developmental course for all family members, altering normative movement of the
Normative Transition to Parenthood
Family is permanent
Extended periods of change and disequilibrium
Periods of stability and balance
Transition over time and unfolding
Family needs to anticipate and respond to changing demands of children
Normal family processes in couples becoming parents
o Shifts in sense of self – shifts in relationship with families of origin
o Shifts in relation to child – changes in stress and social support
o Change in the couple – divorce perspective
Transition - passage, extended periods of change and disequilibrium between periods of stability, balance and calm,
traveler will experience some internal conflict , discomfort, loss when old patterns no longer fit and adaptive
patterns to meet new challenges have not yet been created.
Transitions do not occur in a day – linked processes that unfold over time before or after an event.
Transitions bring about reorganization of self and inner world, social roles and close relationships.
For a family, the addition of new identity as parent and reduction in identity as partner can bring about changes in
nature and quality of family work, shifts in quality of relationship.
Challenges of Parenting
Growth spurts – periods of disorganization and regression
Parents must balance daily functioning to meet children’s needs
Parents must appropriately respond to child’s cues – flexibility, emotional management, problem-solving
o Parental role strain
Role stress – when a family creates very difficult, conflicting or impossible demands for occupants of
positions within that social structure.
Role stress results in role strain – subjective feelings of frustration and tension – also felt by role
Role strain – associated with role of parent - # of roles person occupies, intensity of role
involvement, amount of time role demands, flexibility or rigidity associated with role, associated
with other demands, physiological needs.
o Parenting stress
o Parenting role conflict
Role conflict - when the occupant of a position feels he or she is faced with incompatible
Interrole conflict – when the norms or behavioral patterns of one role are incongruent with another
role the individual plays - student, mother, daughter, wife.
Intersender role conflict – two or more people hold conflicting expectations concerning the
enactment of a role.
Person role conflict – conflict between the person’s internalized values and the external values
communicated to this person by others.
o Parenting daily hassles
o Transition to parenthood – strain, stress, daily hassles
o Parental separation anxiety (ex. Sending child to camp and calling every day in worry), child care, sibling
Roles are the behaviours associated with one who holds a particular position, position identifies a person"s status or place in a social system - normatively defined and expected. For each position, a number of roles exist each with respective sets of behaviours. Some roles might be shared with others in the group. Role behaviour: role behaviour based on prescriptions, expectations for the sets of behaviour within a societal context, many roles learned within the family context. Formal family roles: marital roles, gender roles, grandparent roles, family role changes. Informal roles fill the integrative requirements of the family group more likely based on personality traits of family members: encourager, harmonizer, initiator, compromiser, blamer, leader, follower, family scapegoat, family caretaker. Factors affecting roles: social class, family form, cultural/ethnic, family development stage, role models, crisis/life events & health/illness. Young adult, young couple families with young children/adolescents family in midlife/laterlife remarriage, divorce, single parenting.