Ways To Navigate Family Roles and Expectations



Solutions to understand family roles and expectations include:

  • Discussing expectations

  • Working with family roles

  • Suggesting changes


Discussing Expectations


Which person or people do you think will help the older adult with:

  • Medications, medical appointments and other health needs?

  • Paying bills, tracking finances and financial decisions?

  • Grocery shopping and other errands around town?

  • Laundry, cleaning and other tasks around the home?

  • Meals, bathing, dressing and other daily needs?


Are these expectations based on:

  • What the older adult has said?

  • Who's doing what now?

  • Previous family discussions?

  • Family members' skills and experience?

  • How much time family members seem to have?

  • Where family members live?

  • Who's the oldest or youngest sibling?

  • Family members' genders?

  • How close family members are, including any in-laws or step-siblings?


Ask the older adult and other family members who they expect to help with different tasks.


If family members have different expectations, talk about it. Could some tasks be shared?

Could other tasks be handled by neighbors, friends, community programs or paid help?

Encourage family members to be honest about what they can do. Everyone will benefit if no one burns out.


If something changes, ask family members to review these plans.


Working With Family Roles


Think about the roles that different members of your family play. Does your family have a:

  • Boss who likes to organize and direct others?

  • Cheerleader who likes to support and encourage others?

  • Follower who likes to agree with and please others?

  • Networker who likes to know what's going on with others?

  • Peacemaker who likes to avoid conflict and reduce tension?

  • Thinker who likes to analyze situations and solve problems?

  • Truth-teller who likes to challenge traditions and question others?


Work with your family members' roles, when possible. People take on roles that match their personality and skills.


For example, the family "boss" could organize car rides for an older adult who's stopped driving. The "networker" could find a good time and place for a family meeting.

Let family members know that you appreciate their "role strengths."


Each role has weaknesses, too. If family roles are causing problems, ask whether a different approach might turn weaknesses into strengths.


For example, if an older adult sees the family "thinker" as the person with the best advice, others might not feel listened to.


The "thinker" could respond by asking others for their opinions during family discussions. Or, if the older adult isn't listening to important information, the "thinker" could bring it up.


Keep in mind that no one is just a role. Don't assume that a family member can only take on the tasks that match their role.


Suggesting Changes


Use new situations to suggest small changes to difficult family patterns.


Think about what tends to cause conflict in your family. Expect any change to be slow and small, especially if it's been a pattern for a long time.


Consider small changes that help family members work together, like:

  • Regular family discussions

  • Shared calendars or to do lists

  • Group chats or a private online family group

  • Roles or "job" descriptions saying who helps the older adult with what

  • Ground rules for family discussions

  • Shared notes on family decisions

  • A "neutral" person guiding big family discussions

  • Setting aside time for relaxing family activities


Keep in mind that you can change your own behavior. You can only encourage others to change.


Changes are more likely to "stick" if family members:

  • Understand why you're suggesting the change

  • See the change as helpful to them and others

  • Can make the change easily

  • Have support and encouragement, if the change is difficult

  • See others are also making the change

  • Can suggest improvements