Family Organization

Family Organization • Who is in the family? What are their roles (mother, father, spouse, sister, great-aunt, etc.) and approximate ages? • How clear are the roles and responsibilities of family members? Do some members play roles inappropriate to their age, development, and position in the family? • What are the subsystems of the family? Who is in which subsystems? How permeable are boundaries between subsystems? What changes the permeability, if anything? • What is the nature of the family’s relationships and boundaries with larger systems — schools, workplaces, religious institutions, state agencies such as child welfare, the courts and legal system, medical systems, etc? You need only describe those with which the family has had contact. What events in the life of the family have changed the permeability of their boundaries and level of involvement with larger systems, if any? • Who has the most power in this family and in what contexts/activities? (Remember that different family members may have more or less power than others in different contexts and for different tasks/activities). • What is the nature of the hierarchy among members? How is this hierarchy maintained? • Who is closest to whom, and in what contexts/activities? Who is more distant to whom, in what contexts/activities? How has degree of closeness between particular members changed over time, and why? How do members feel about the degree of their closeness to other members or persons outside the family. (Note: You may include non-family members whom are involved with family members in this part of the description.) • Describe at least one triangle in this family. • How well differentiated are the adult members from their families of origin? Family Culture • What are the family members’ ethnic backgrounds, races, social classes, genders, sexual orientations, and geographic region (in US) and countries of origin? • If members of the family are first generation in this country (immigrated to this country), what impact has the immigration had on them and on the family as a whole? • How do these aspects of identity shape interactions in the family? For instance, if there are differences between members on these aspects of identity (skin color, social class, sexual orientation), how are these handled? What impact do these differences have for the degree of closeness/distance and power relationships among family members? • How do these aspects of identity affect the types of experiences the family has had in the world, including experiences of privilege and experiences of oppression? • Describe at least one family ritual and its meaning to the family. • How does the family’s culture affect the nature of their relationship and boundaries with their community, and with persons of cultures different from their own? Family Development • Where is this family as a whole on its relevant version of the “family life cycle”? In other words, what are the goals this family holds for itself and where are they along the pathway to achieving these? Also, where are they along the life cycle in terms of events that may not be goals per se but are common or inevitable aspects of life (ex: death of a family member)? • How satisfied are members with their place on this lifecycle? • Where are individual members in terms of their respective developmental timelines and goals/paths? • How satisfied are the members with their place on their respective developmental timelines? • What have been the greatest challenges for this fami ly in terms of their development along a life cycle? What have been the blocks or impediments to achieving family and individual goals? How have members handled/adapted to these blocks? Family Affect and Communication • How clear is the communication among family members? • What is the general quality of family communication (lighthearted, aggressive, empathic) and how does this vary across subsystems and family tasks? • What style(s) of problem discussion and problem solving do members use, particularly the adult members? • How effective is the family in solving problems? • How emotionally expressive are family members? • Are there particular emotions that seem to characterize the family “climate” much of the time (happy, excitable, depressed, annoyed, cynical)? How do different members relate to this overall family emotional climate? What events or interactions change the emotional climate, how, and in what ways? How does the family regulate its emotional climate? Family Problems • Describe one problem the family has struggled with. The problem could be in any of the aspects of family life you have already described (in terms of organization, development, culture, communication, affect), or could be something else. • Provide a detailed “video description” of the problem (the sequence of events and interactions that surround the problem). • What has the family done so far to try to solve the problem? What has worked and what hasn’t? Likewise, a subsystem is a group of people (at least two) who come together to play a certain function in the family. The most common subsystems are the parent, spousal/partner, and sibling subsystems. Each of these plays a certain function in maintaining and growing the family. Just as the human body as a system has subsystems, each of which plays a certain function (e.g., cardiac, pulmonary, digestive, reproductive), families have subsystems that serve particular functions. A subsystem is not just any close relationship – for instance, a grandparent or parent who is close to a child. This is an “alliance,” or a “coalition” if the closeness is designed to join forces against someone else (as mentioned earlier). Boundaries surround systems and subsystems. The range in permeability is from diffuse (highly permeable) to rigid (not very permeable). Conceptually, a boundary determines the flow of persons and information in and out of the subsystem. Boundaries do not exist within subsystems. Therefore, it is incorrect to describe two siblings (who together form the sibling subsystem) as having a rigid or diffuse boundary BETWEEN them when they are not close or very close. Level of closeness of the persons within boundaried subsytems and system as a whole is described in terms of degree of closeness – from distant (and sometimes disengaged) to extremely close (and sometimes enmeshed). In terms of language use: it is proper to say “between” family members when discussing two members, and “among” when discussing three or more members. It is proper to say “that” rather than “who” or “whom” when referring to a family or a couple: For instance, “This is a description of a family that comes together when…” or “The couple portrays itself to others as one that gets along quite well, despite many arguments in private.” Likewise, write family members or couple partners in the following sorts of sentences: “The family members argued strenuously about vacations” rather than “the family argued strenuously…” or the “couple partners agreed on….” rather than “the couple agreed on two things….”