What is your role in the family? – Sports analogy

Have you ever heard of the term “Common roles in an addicted family household”? According to Sharon Wegscheider-Cruse, the founding Chairperson of the National Association of Children of Alcoholics, there are 6 common roles in an addicted (or dysfunctional) family. You can read about it in detail on American Addiction Centers website, but I will summarize the concept below.

  1. The Addicted – They have an addiction or other mental health issues.
  2. The Enabler – They deny family problems by ignoring or minimizing the issue. They often do not realize that denial is making the situation worse.
  3. The Hero (often the oldest child) – They are perfectionists and overachievers. They try to “fix” their family issues by doing so.
  4. The Scapegoat (often the second oldest child) – They get unfairly blamed by all family members. They may be acting out for a good reason but get targeted because of that. The family may be using the scapegoat’s problems to distract themselves from facing the real issue (e.g., alcoholism).
  5. The Mascot (often the youngest child) – They are “clowns” of the family. They try to distract family members from stress by using humor.
  6. The Lost child (often the middle or the youngest child) – They are forgotten by everyone in the family as they are very quiet and do not speak up. Their needs are not met, but nobody even realizes that as each family member is busy with their own issues.

It may be helpful for you to analyze the role(s) you took on as a child or the one(s) you are still taking on right now. Oftentimes, people take on more than one role at times, depending on what is going on within the family.

The above model is, however, rather negative. Therefore, I came up with a slightly different model, which is more positive. I believe the family is like a team, and it is natural and most effective for family members to have particular roles in order to function well. If you look at the family as a sports team, each member’s role is like a certain position. Here’s the list of the positive roles I came up with.

  1. The Captain – Any team needs a good leader. Ideally, it is best for parents or one of the parents to take on this role. However, depending on the family situation, the oldest child or an extended family member may have to be the substitute captain. The captains need to speak up when the team is not doing well, point out the teams’ weaknesses, and praise the team members’ good performances. The captains do not have to be the teams’ strongest players, but they have to be the ones who can calmly analyze the situation and direct the team (family) in the right direction.
  2. The defense – The defensive players are good at protecting the team (family) from harm. All the team members can count on them when the team gets attacked by the opponents (outsider). No matter what is happening on the field, they may not get affected much because they have a strong sense of self. The defensive players are good at keeping their cool and may not back down easily. Some people may look at their traits as weakness or stubbornness, but it can be a positive thing to maintain consistency within the team, which may provide team members a sense of relief.
  3. The point-getter – They are the main offensive players who are good at getting points (family income). They can be the ones who have the loudest voice or have the courage to deal with the issues of the outside world. They can also be outgoing and might be inspiring to others. Many sports teams’ best offensive players are the team captains as well. What they have to be careful about is, however, not to attack their own team members.
  4. The helper – They are also the offensive players who are good at assisting the point-getters. They may have good negotiation skills or helping set up the best condition for the team. If you like watching team sports, I’m sure you know that all the good teams have excellent players who are good at assisting. They may not be the “star” players themselves, but they love helping others, and their role is essential, especially for the team to win.

If you are a single parent or belong to a single-parent household, it may be quite challenging as each family member has to take on multiple roles at once. Again, if you think of this as sports, you can understand that it is very tough to play different positions simultaneously and to be successful. Therefore, it is OK to focus on one role that you are good at and try your best for other roles. No one has superpowers as we are all human, after all.

What do you think? You can look at the family roles as negative or positive. I believe it is up to each family to make the best of its function.