Family Matters: The Roles We Play

Roles assigned and effectively monitored is an instrument of learning in families regarding how things are done, how we are expected to think and look at things, who we are and where we belong.


A role is defined by Dr. Clarissa F. Delariarte, in her study called “Perceived Family Functioning Among Adolescents” (2007, St. Paul University, Quezon City), as the efficacy with which tasks are allocated and accomplished.

Survey results: The participants saw their families as lacking in ability to assign and effectively monitor obligations and responsibilities.

Did this response just come from our children? Any parent lamenting on how irresponsible children today are would be shocked by this response. Have we not repeatedly told them to clean their rooms at the least? Had they not repeatedly ignored our instructions and how it took us to “motivate” (bribe, cajole, threaten) them just to accomplish a simple task—after all the room was theirs to begin with? How dare them!

Then again, my practice exposed me to yet another variant of family where its younger members are NOT allowed to participate in their family’s everyday life. These are families whose adults declared, “Hindi daranas ng paghihirap ang mga anak ko na katulad ng dinanas ko!” “My children will not suffer (the same life) as I did.” True enough, the children did not suffer the same life they did as children, but their adult life was worse! They grew up impoverished in talent, skill, thinking, common sense and EQ. What do roles have to do with these family experiences?

Assigned (allocated) roles provide our family members some involvement in our family functioning.
We were a brood of seven—four boys and three girls consecutively. I remember being teamed in pairs and scheduled every other day to clean up after dinner. One in charge of cleaning up the table, while the other, in charge of washing the dishes. This task was mandatory on top of maintaining a clean and orderly room and study. Perhaps it was because we were many that the family was organized so as to have some sense of order.

What did I learn from family involvement? One was organizational skills. We needed to finish the task in an orderly fashion and then pass inspection so we could play or watch TV. Second, I learned to develop some sense of urgency. Things have to be done in an orderly fashion and it needed to be done immediately! I don’t remember uttering this dreadful line that our children are so used to respond with- “Wait lang.” And then take their time doing whatever.

A clearly assigned role helps develop among family members a sense of being part of a specific and unique family helping each individual experience some sense of identity.
What happens when a family member neglects to accomplish his/ her assigned task? We didn’t have a “taga-salo” in my family so one bore the consequence for non-participation.

I remember experiencing abdominal pains and not able to do my task in cleaning up after dinner. My partner (a cousin, I think) resented this as he had to take on my task on top of his. I was ostracized for “faking” illness not only by my partner but my other siblings (“hindi ka naming kasama kasi wala kang paki-sama”) as well and then a scolding from my mother (for not doing my part) later on. My abdominal pains turned out to be due to a condition of hepatitis A.

To be part of a group means to be with the group in presence and in spirit. This is what is meant to belong and to belong forms a part of our identity. “Kung kasama, kailangang maki-sama at maki-uri.”

Effectively monitored, roles bring about a sense of order and regularity in everyday family living.
Order and regularity means predictability. If I do this, this will happen. Very elementary, very simple, yes, but developmental psychology acknowledges predictability as one of the so many variables in the development of healthy functioning. We grow with a clear set of ethics that says, if I don’t wash my dishes, I am liable to eat using a dirty plate the next time I eat; If I don’t clean my room, I must be prepared to sleep with the cockroaches.

Predictability not only brings about orderliness, but peace as well, since predictability raises flags indicating when we are about to, or have offended people. Or, when we are about to or have satisfied the expectations of other people.

A clearly communicated role is a way to impart values to our family members.
To impart value is to communicate the “how” of the “what.”
Example: In Filipino culture, to be irreverent is an indicator of poor upbringing (hindi naturuan). “Huwag kang pabalang kung sumagot!” Nowadays, children may not say a word while their attention is called to correct either behavior or a task, but they however, may “give the looks.” (As opposed to talking back). “Ang hindi pabalang sa pagsagot” is the what. Family participation teaches us the how. It is taught by example and is mentored.

Roles assigned and effectively monitored is an instrument of learning in families regarding how things are done, how we are expected to think and look at things, who we are and where we belong. Apart from such benefits, roles also help develop our “diskarte” in our approach to situations and relationships.

Have we equipped our children in facing their lives by way of role assignment and mentoring in our homes, with their studies, and in their extra curricular activities? Make a list then, list the outcomes as well.

• Roderick Marfil, RGC, is a registered guidance counselor and family therapist. You may reach him through the Ilaw Center of Miriam College in Quezon City on Thursdays (by appointment only). For queries, you may reach him through 520-5400 loc. 1134.

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