Family roles in families with disabilities

Family roles help everyone know what is expected from them, and where they fit in to a family. When a family member has a disability or special needs, families often have to adjust their family roles. Parents often become caregivers, older children take on greater responsibility, and younger children can feel lost or neglected. These new roles are often necessary and adaptive. At the same time, the changes can lead to stress, frustration, and conflict. Clearly defining - and when necessary, redefining - roles and responsibilities can help families create order and structure in what can seem like chaos. 

When rearranging family roles, it is very important for family members to communicate clearly. This is the time to talk about what is to be expected from each family member, and how it feels to take on those expectations. Giving each family member the responsibility for meeting one specific care need can be a healthy way to divide responsibilities. Some common care needs are creating a daily routine, diet and exercise, entertainment, education, transportation, and finances. 

It is also important to think about who will be responsible for what within the newly arranged roles. Even daily routines may need to change: fixing and eating dinner, cleaning and related household chores, transporting kids to school and events, and grocery shopping are just some of the responsibilities that may be changing hands. Think about how recreational activities and time together may change. You may have less time for the things you used to enjoy doing as a family like taking vacations, going on hikes, or even relaxing and watching a movie.

As new roles and rules are developed, it can be helpful to keep in mind that they often are not permanent. Any family with growing children, regardless of disability, will shift roles and responsibilities regularly as the children grow and as the parents' lives changes. Negotiating and adjusting family roles is best thought of as a continual work in progress, not something that is done once and then checked off the list. Working together as a family is the best way to plan for what will work best for everyone.

Written by Jeff Liebert, MA. Jeff has specific experience working with families of disabled and special needs children. For more information on Jeff and the services he offers, click here.

Jeff Liebert, Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern #83284
Employed by Caldwell-Clark
Supervised by Ben Caldwell, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist #42723