Basic Family Tasks

Although there is evidence of new norms in family configurations, these changes do not negate the belief that a family is expected to function as a basic social unit and provide fundamental necessities for its members, especially those who are not capable of meeting their own basic needs. Who the members are in this group and who should assume responsibility for specific tasks is not as important in today's definition of family. It is more important to adhere to a meaningful definition of 'family', similar to what was proposed in the beginning of this chapter. Thus it may be stated that, now and in the past, every culture prescribes basic tasks that are essential for every family to perform. When these tasks are not adequately performed, societies intervene. Duvall and Miller (1985) have outlined eight tasks expected by the American family. These tasks may be adapted to changing family norms and groups. Noteworthy among them are these four: the provision of food, clothing, and shelter; the determination of who provides the care, support, and management of the home; the establishment of ways to communicate, interact, and express affection, aggression, and sexuality; and the maintenance of morale and motivation, reward and achievement, meeting personal and family crises, setting and attaining goals, and developing family loyalties and values. The absence of any one of these or the other four tasks could constitute a loss in itself; and certainly when individuals present issues of loss in counselling, these basic tasks of a family (or tasks unique to a particular culture) must be taken into consideration in assessment. An example of this was an ethnic family of three generations who came for counselling following the murder of an adolescent girl by a boyfriend from another race and culture. Besides her death, there were other losses past and present in this family's history. Included as a loss was the belief held by the grandparents that the family had been shamed, and there was a loss of family loyalties and values. They firmly believed that one should not develop intimate relationships outside their own race. In their eyes their granddaughter had already been lost; and moreover, she had been disloyal by having disregarded deep-seated family values. The parents of the deceased girl felt that they had failed as parents in their basic roles of providing care and establishing effective communication with their daughter. Their expectations of parental roles and the demands of their particular culture had to be understood and addressed, along with the obvious issues of current grief.

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