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Strengthening Family Relationships Through Defining and Recognizing Roles

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defining family roles

Family roles play a very important part in healthy family functioning. Understanding the role each of us plays makes it easier for our families to handle the ups and downs of everyday family life.

Think of family roles like a motor in your car. All the pieces have to work together for the motor to run. When they do, it is smooth driving. But, when just one part, big or small, isn't doing it's job, the entire motor struggles to run and even shuts down.

Family roles work the same way. Each member of our family is a part in the motor. As each family member does his part, the family is better able to function, handle stresses, and enjoy life together.

Whether we are talking about the roles we play such as mother, father, or child, or the functional roles we play such as peacemaker, comedian, or leader, each of us is necessary for our families to be successful.

Strengthening Family Relationships

Here are four suggestions to consider when it comes to the roles in your family.

Establish Clear Roles—Each family member needs to know and accept their roles. For example, parents should have an understanding of their role as mother and father. They are to provide, nurture, protect, and preside for their family. Asking your son to provide, or expecting your daughter to nurture her siblings (so you don't have to), creates an imbalance and unfair exceptions and pressures. When our family roles are clearly established, our families function more successfully because each person knows what they are expected to do.


Be Fair—In healthy families, every person is responsible for fulfilling certain roles. The roles should be spread so that no one is overburdened. One person should not be expected to do it all. Or to do more than their share. Roles should also be appropriate. Our son should not be responsible for the family finances, or be expected to be the peacemaker between my husband and me. As a family, it is important to talk about our family roles and make sure each person is comfortable with what they are expected to do.

Be Flexible—There will be times when our roles need to be modified or changed. Success in family life comes from our ability to change and adapt when necessary. When mom is sick, other family members need to be flexible and fill in the gaps. When our son—who normally plays the functional role of taking out the trash—is extra busy at school, that role might fall on me for a day or two. If my husband loses his job, I need to be flexible and step up and help when needed.

Support One Another—It is important for us to appreciate the roles we all play and offer support to one another. A simple thank you goes a very long way. In our home I am not only the mother, but the cook. Each night our son gives me a hug and thanks me for dinner. His simple appreciation makes the role I play much easier. Be one another's biggest cheerleaders for each and every contribution made.

Take a few minutes as a family and ask the following questions.It will help get the dialogue started and help each family member better understand the roles they play in your family.

  • What role do you play in our family?
  • Are you happy with the role you play?
  • How can our family support you in your roles?
  • Is there anything about the role you play that you don't like?

Help your family become a well-oiled machine. Support one another in their familial roles and watch your family relationships become stronger.

What role do you play in your family?

Heather Johnson

Heather Ann Johnson, M.S., teaches the principles behind successful families to students at Brigham Young University.
You can find her online at, and on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest.
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