The role of family power structure
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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016
Family Power structure plays a critical role in family health functioning. Power has been defined as the ability to control, influence or change another person’s behavior (Friedman, 1998). Power is related to resources. Control over resources (eg. money) infers power. In most families, parents control these resources. There are three types of family power namely chaotic power, symmetrical power and complementary power (Hanson, 2001).
The power structure in my family is complementary power. It is defined as requiring dominion-submission dynamic within the family structure. In this family-power type, healthy families are characterized by parents having a clear family advantage that their children recognize and accept. Although my father brings home the bacon every month, power is mainly shared between my parents. The decision-making in my family is highly dependent on my parents. Although my sister and I are involved in the decision-making, my parents are mainly responsible for making all sorts of decisions in the family from purchasing household furniture to deciding on a holiday destination to the meals we have together.
Family power structure is not fixed. As I turned 18 this year, my parents recognize me as an adult and would listen to more to what I have to say and how I feel. My parents are not as power-dominant as they were 10 years ago.
All families develop networks of co-existing subsystems formed on the basis of gender, interest, generation or function that must be performed for the family’s survival. Each member of a family may belong to several subsystems. Each subsystem can be thought of as a natural coalition between participating members. Subsystems in a family relate to one another according to rules and patterns.
There are three types of subsystems in my family namely spousal, parental and sibling subsystems.
For example, the spousal subsystem educates children about male-female intimacy and commitment by providing a model of marital interaction. Ways of accommodating one another’s needs, making decisions together and managing conflict etc.
Another example, my parents define the boundary of a parental subsystem by telling me as the oldest child to not interfere when they are reprimanding my younger sister. Parental subsystem also includes child guidance, nurturing, limit-setting and discipline.
Boundaries are invisible barriers that keep subsystems separate and distinct from other subsystems. They are maintained by rules that differentiate the particular subsystem’s tasks from those of other subsystems. Boundaries may either be rigid, diffuse or clear. Disengaged families have rigid boundaries which leads to low levels of effective communication and support among family members. Enmeshed families have diffuse boundaries which make it difficult for individuals to achieve individualization from family. Clear boundaries are more of a balance as they do not fall on either extreme ends of rigid or diffuse. Clear boundaries are firm yet flexible, permitting maximum adaptation to change.
The boundary in my family is clear. For example, my parents temporarily redefine the boundaries of the parental subsystem when she tells me to be in-charge of the house when they are away from home. Many years ago, my parents would ask my aunt to come over to care for my sister and I while they are away. This shows that the parental subsystem is flexible enough to include other people temporarily.
Triangulation is used to describe a situation in which one family member will not communicate with another family member unless a third family member is present, forcing the third family member to then be part of the triangle.
In this triangulation, the third person will either be used as a messenger to carry the communication to the main party or as a substitute for the direct communication. Usually this communication is an expressed dissatisfaction with the main party.
For instance, my family used to be very united until a year ago when my sister who was one of the top PSLE students in her primary school dropped out from secondary school at secondary two suddenly. She stopped attending lessons and was extremely rebellious towards my parents and me. My parents having high expectations from my sister were absolutely furious and upset when she decided to quit school. Numerous attempts to persuade her to attend school failed again and again until a point when my parents gave up convincing her. However, they still talk about my sister to me all the time, mentioning how stubborn/ignorant she is and that she would regret her decision later in life.
2. Communication patterns
McLeod and Chaffee (1972) came out with a scheme to analyze family communication patterns (FCP) to examine the role of family communication. In this model, the family communication environment is characterized by the extent to which the family emphasizes on socio-orientation and concept-orientation. Socio-orientation stresses the importance of harmony in the family and avoidance of conflicts. Concept-orientation encourages children to think about and discuss political and social issues. In a highly socio-oriented family, children should not argue with parents and should not express opinions different from other family members’ so as to maintain social harmony. On the other hand, in a highly concept-oriented family, parents believe that children should look at both sides of issues and talk freely about these issues.
Using these two dimensions, McLeod and Chaffee (1972) introduced a four-fold typology of family communication patterns as seen in Figure 1.
High on both dimensions of socio-orientation and concept-orientation, the communication pattern in my family is consensual. Consensual families emphasize both relational harmony and free communication exchange. Every member in my family is able to express our ideas freely as long as internal harmony in the family is maintained. Since young, my parents have encouraged both my sister and I to voice out displeasures in the family openly but stresses the importance of logical reasoning behind it.
Like most traditional Asian families, my family tends not to express affectionate behaviors in the form of hugging or kissing towards or saying mushy words to one another. Instead, my parents would constantly ask me questions regarding about my school life, the friends that I go out with, among many others that revolve around my daily life. I suppose these are ways of displaying affectionate behaviors in my family.
There are few conflicts in my family. Nevertheless, whenever one arises, we tend to face each other openly and voice out our concerns. My father would always play the middle-man whenever I had an argument with my sister and he would always ensure both parties are treated fairly and just.
3. Family environment
Based on Olson, Russell and Sprenkle’s (1979) Circumplex Model, the Circumplex Model assumes that the difference between functional and dysfunctional families is determined by two interrelated dimensions: cohesion and adaptability.
Cohesion is defined as the degree of attachment and emotional bonding among family members. There are four various degrees to the cohesion dimension namely disengaged, separated, connected, and enmeshed. Families that are disengaged lack family bond and loyalty, and are characterized by high independence. On the other hand, families identified as enmeshed are characterized by high levels of closeness, loyalty, and/or dependency.
Adaptability is the ability of the family to change power structure, roles, and relationships in order to adapt to various situational stressors. It too has four degrees namely rigid, structured, flexible, and chaotic. Families with low levels of adaptability are considered inflexible or rigid. Rigid family types are characterized by authoritarian leadership, infrequent role modification, strict negotiation, and lack of change. Families with high levels of adaptability are considered chaotic as it is changing too frequently. Chaotic family types result from a lack of leadership, dramatic role shifts, erratic negotiation, and are characterized by frequent change.
Based on the Circumplex Model, my family environment is balanced. It has moderate level of both adaptability and cohesion. Power structure is not fixed and there are times when there is a temporary shift in power to adapt to various situations. For example, I am responsible for taking care of my sister when my parents are out. Another example is when an deciding on a holiday getaway, power is shared among each family members to be involved in decision making.
4. Family Rules
Family rules help family members to get along better, and make family life more peaceful. Effective rules are positive statements about how family members want to look after and treat one another. I have become so accustomed with my own family rules that sometimes I do not even realize that some of my daily activities are actually in fact, family rules.
“Dos and don’ts rules regarding family members’ safety, manners and daily routines were set up in my family since I was young. Of course these rules are constantly changing as my sister and I grew older with more responsibility in our hands. Rules such as “be home by 10pm” and “do not lock the doors at home” are a thing of the past when I was much younger. Today, the rules are much more flexible. For instance, if I were to return home late or spend the night at a friend’s house, all I have to do is to call home to inform my parents.
There are also fewer family rules as my sister and I are expected to be able to care for ourselves. Moreover, rules set when we were young are already deep-rooted in our daily life.
5. Family values and attitudes
Family values are political and social beliefs that hold the nuclear family (parents and children) to be the essential ethical and moral unit of society.
From a very young age, my parents have taught me the importance of saving up money and spending them wisely. Every week, I was to slot in leftover coins in a piggy bank. Years passed by and today I still have the habit of keeping all my loose change in a piggy bank and when it became full, I would then deposit the money into the bank. My parents are prudent in spending money; they only buy what is deemed necessary and seldom splurge on luxury goods.
However, there are times when my parents think that it is worthwhile to spend more money such as holding birthday celebrations or Chinese new year celebrations at home.
My family is a little religious. My parents are Buddhists and they made an effort to pay their respects to the deities at temples annually. However, my sister and I do not have a religion but our parents do not force us to join a religion too. There are no altars at home and my parents do not carry religious charms either like a pendent or a talisman with them.
Like most parents in Singapore, my parents take education very seriously. My father stresses that education is the key to survival in Singapore and this is especially more true since Singapore has been ranked the most competitive country in the world in 2010 by Time. Although my parents view education as important, they also know that each individual has their own limitations towards studying. My parents want my sister and me to have a positive mindset towards studying but yet at the same time not to overwork ourselves. The ideal model is to strike a balance between work and recreation.
My parents are rather reasonable and they know that success and failure are part and parcel of life. My parents view success as achieving one’s goals. For instance, one of my goals in secondary school was to get into Singapore Polytechnic (SP) and I did well enough during my O levels to enroll in SP. My parents were very happy and proud of me. On the other hand, I did not get into the course of my choice so I felt disappointed because it felt like I had succeeded and failed at the same time. My parents told me that one couldn’t always get what we have aimed for and as long as I have tried my best, that’s all that counts.
6. What I have learnt from my parent’s relationship
What I learnt about marriage from my parent’s relationship is to treat your partner as a friend. Marriage is a lifelong process full of ups and downs. My parents are both committed to overcome obstacles and being the best spouse and friend to each other. My parents are always joking around. My mother loves my father’s sense of humor and they always laugh at the silliest things. This taught me that being playful is a crucial part of marriage and nothing should be taken too seriously in a family.
My parents also speak kindly of each other. My mother always told me that my father was a good father and a hardworking man. In addition, they also give each other nicknames as some term of endearment.
I learnt the significance of having interests/hobbies different from your spouse’s too. My father and mother have different interests. My father enjoys watching detective crime television programs while my mother loves watching Korean Dramas serials. My mother would never last an episode of detective crime programs but that seems okay because they respect each other’s alone time as well. This also taught me that it is fine to have a degree of independence in a marriage too.
7. Attitude towards authority
I have a positive attitude towards institutional authority (parents, teachers, police, and the law). I tend to respect the rules and abide by it. I held many student leader positions in schools too. Positions such as class monitor in primary school, student counselor and National Police Cadet Corp (NPCC) non-commissioned officer (NCO) in secondary school and class chairperson in my polytechnic life. This is mainly due to my strict upbringing from early childhood. My father was a very strict man. I still remember the times when my father would cane me whenever I got into trouble in primary school. Furthermore, I would have to write a reflection about my wrongful actions. I used to be very afraid of my father when I was very young. However looking back in time, I realized that my father just wanted me to grow up to be a good person and I am grateful for what my father had done to make me the person I am today.
8. Attitude towards sibling
My relationship with my sister has definitely seen better days. We used to be very close and play with each other a lot. However in recent months, my sister’s attitude has grown worst. She became very temperament and gets annoyed very easily. We had a lot of quarrels with each other and soon grew distant. Nowadays, we seldom speak to one another.
9. Level of differentiation from family
Level of differentiation refers to the degree of one’s ability to distinguish his own thoughts and emotions from that of his own family. Individuals with low level of differentiation are more probably to become reliant on others’ approval and acceptance. They either conform themselves to others in order to please them, or attempt to force others to conform to themselves. Thus, they are more vulnerable to stress and they struggle more to adapt to life changes.
Individuals with high levels of differentiation recognize that they need others, but they rely less on other’s acceptance and approval. They do not only adopt the attitude of those around them but take into account their principles thoughtfully. These enable them decide significant family and social issues, and resist the feelings of the moment. Thus, despite conflict, criticism, and rejection they can stay calm and clear-headed to differentiate thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotion. Well differentiated individuals choose thoughtfully and act in the best interests of the group.
I think my level of differentiation from my family is balanced. I have my own thinking and my own point of view. I am not afraid to have a different mindset from my family members. My parents also encouraged my sister and I to become more independent, to be ourselves and not conform for the sake of pleasing others.
10. Family strengths
10.1 Caring and Appreciation
I think I am very fortunate to have a family who is caring and appreciative. Even if a family member makes mistakes, other members would to encourage and support one another. My parents notice and share positive qualities of each other. For example, they pay attention to another person’s polite behavior or something nice he or she did or said. They notice the characteristics, skills, achievements and special qualities that make the other person unique.
My father would write encouragement messages on his red packet during Chinese New Year. These messages are inspirational and reassured me that my family members do care about me.
10.2 Good Communication
Furthermore, there is communication between me and my parents. We talk and share our feelings, hopes, dreams, joys, sorrows, and experiences. I would tell the daily happenings in school or with my friends just to update my parents about what’s going on in my life. My parents take the time to listen and respond to what I have to say.
10.3 Openess to change
There is a set of family rules in my family. These rules are ways to deal with daily life. Some of the more obvious rules consist of who does the cooking, who washes the dishes, who does the laundry or who clean the toilet. Other less obvious forms include: Who has the authority to make what decisions? How are differences of opinion handled? How are anger, affection, or other emotions expressed at home?
10.4 Working together
Most of the time, my family make decisions, solve family problems, and do family work together. Everyone participates. Parents may be in charge of the decision-making at home but the children’s opinions and efforts are invited, encouraged, and appreciated. For example, whenever my parents decided to buy a new television set, they would always ask for opinions about which television is suitable for the family. It makes my sister and I involved in the shopping as well and let us know that what we say counts.
I learnt that if parents allow their children to make real decisions, it enables children to grow up to be responsible adults. Children need opportunities to make decisions, to be involved in family decisions, and to observe the parents’ decision-making process and outcomes.
Children are more motivated to carry out their responsibilities if they have some say as to what those responsibilities are and can see how these particular activities help the family. Teenagers are keener to go along on a family vacation if they help decide the destination and itinerary.
11. How has my family affected my personality? What are the weaknesses you want to improve and what are the strengths you want to maintain in yourself.
Based on a study on more than 100 children conducted by psychologist Diana Baumrind, she identified four important dimensions of parenting which affects the child’s personality. They are disciplinary strategies, warmth and nurturance, communication styles and expectations of maturity and control.
Based on these dimensions, Baumrind suggested that the majority of parents display one of three different parenting styles. Further research by also suggested the addition of a fourth parenting style (Maccoby & Martin, 1983).
The four parenting styles include authoritarian parenting, authoritative parenting, permissive parenting and uninvolved parenting.
My parents’ parenting style suit authoritarian the most. My parents establish house rules and guidelines and expect my sister and I to follow them. However, my sister and I were also involved in the rules setting so we were able to find them realistic. This parenting style is much democratic. When children fail to meet the expectations, authoritative parents are more nurturing and forgiving rather than punishing. Although my father punished me whenever I broke the house rules; he would always end it off with nurturing and kind words. My parents are assertive, but not intrusive and restrictive. Their disciplinary methods are supportive, rather than punitive.
I think I grew up to be a socially responsible and cooperative person. I tend to avoid conflicts with people and adopt the “make more friends than enemies mindset”. I lean more towards the extrovert scale as I enjoy the company of my friends. My friends told me that I am a good-tempered person too. They don’t see me get angry because I am not bothered by the slightest issues.
Another strength that I have is being persistent and committed. Once I set my mind on a target or a goal. I would thrive to achieve it. My parents have been teaching me the importance of goal-setting since young. I also gain a huge sense of pride and satisfaction whenever I accomplished my goals.
One weakness that I have is being perfectionist. I am very attentive to details and would not be satisfied unless I get the exact results that I wanted. Most of the time striving for perfection is tiring and time consuming. My project members would sometimes find me a pain in the neck when I was not satisfied with their research work.
Another weakness I have is laziness. I think I have been too pampered from young. I seldom do household chores because my mother is a housewife and she does all the housework. Well, almost all, my father did his part too. As such I became reliant on my parents to do my own laundry, to wash my dishes etc. I have been trying to increase my contribution to my family by doing some household chores but it’s hard to do so especially since I have done almost no housework since young but I’m not giving up easily.
In summary, family relationships are one of the longest relationships we would ever have in our life. We should never take our family members for granted but should cherish them instead.
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