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Family Strengths: Clear Roles and Responsibilities

Latter-Day Saints Perspective

The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches that fathers are to preside over, provide for, and protect the family; the mother's primary responsibility is to nurture the children. Parents are obligated to help one another in these responsibilities as equal partners and rear their children in love and righteousness.

You can strengthen your family by making sure family members have a clear idea about their day-to-day responsibilities in and to the family. At the same time, be flexible. It's okay for someone who usually cooks to take over fixing the car because of a need or even boredom!

The parents are in charge, and the children need to know that. But the best parenting approach is not a dictatorship-it's what experts call "authoritative parenting," where parents seek input from the children. Authoritative parenting is characterized by love, warmth, teaching, clear and consistent expectations, and avoidance of severe or harsh discipline. Numerous studies show that this kind of parenting has the most positive benefits for children. To improve in this area, consider taking a parenting class from a church, school, or university that focuses on authoritative parenting.

Your family will function best when decision making is shared among family members. Children can participate in a variety of decisions. For example, a toddler can be involved in grocery shopping. Explain that you need a helper when you buy groceries. Decide which simple food items the helper can choose, such as cereal or fruit snacks. When you get to the right aisle, give the child a few moments to make a decision. You can teach an older child to use product-label information to make a decision. Provide plenty of encouragement for their efforts.

Making real decisions is good practice and can help children grow up to be responsible adults. Children need opportunities to make decisions, to participate in family decisions and to observe the parents' decision-making process and results.

Children are more apt to carry out their responsibilities if they have a voice in deciding those responsibilities and can see how those particular tasks help the family. Teenagers are more willing to go along on a family vacation if they help decide where to go and what to do. Youngsters are more likely to accept limitations regarding purchases if they have an awareness of the family's financial situation. Letting children take part in decision making says to them: "You are important and what you have to say counts."

Here are some ideas for fostering the family strength of "clear roles and responsibilities" at home:

"Hear Ye, Hear Ye." Long recommended by religious leaders and family experts alike, family councils provide a choice opportunity for clarifying family responsibilities and expectations. Family councils can be used to set goals, distribute household work, resolve family problems, and celebrate one another's successes. When councils are conducted properly, they allow each person to voice opinions and feelings and be involved in solving problems and making decisions.

Schedule a regular time for family councils, say each Sunday. Along with serious discussions, talk about fun things and plan family activities. Set and follow an agenda. Rotate conducting responsibilities between parents and older children. Prior to the council, encourage family members to suggest agenda items. Good ground rules might include allowing everyone to express an opinion without fear of criticism and not allowing interruptions. Limit the council to an hour, and end on a cheerful note-with a joke or refreshments.

"Panic Pick-Up." To help family members share the responsibility for keeping the home tidy, announce a "Panic Pickup." Assign family members to their work stations or tasks. Set a timer for ten minutes and shout "go!" The goal is to get as much done as quickly and as efficiently as possible before the buzzer goes off.

Job Jar. Use a job jar to distribute household chores fairly among family members. Make a list of chores and mark a "W" next to weekly chores and a "D" next to daily chores. Cut construction paper into "chore strips." Write one chore per slip--daily chores on red strips and weekly chores on blue strips. Put the chores in a jar. Decide how long each chore duty should be: one week, two weeks, etc. Decide how many strips of each color each family member should draw for each chore period. Make sure that tasks reflect the varying ages and abilities of family members.

"This Is A Test." Family members are more likely to comply with rules about household spending if they understand why the rules are necessary. First, quiz family members on how much it costs to purchase a variety of household goods, such as groceries for the week, rent or mortgage payments, and the like. Items for the quiz should come from your monthly family budget. After the quiz, review the correct answers to the questions and ask family members where they would like to focus their cost-cutting efforts.

The Most Bang for the Buck. Teach children how to get the best value for their money. Choose an amount of money to deal with and ask all members to think about how to spend the money. To decide, family members can read newspaper ads or mail-order catalogs or go window shopping. Have family members keep a list of items and prices. Then discuss what they wanted to buy with their money, how they set priorities, how to make sensible decisions about spending, and how to comparison shop and get the best value.

Family "Fun Raising." One role that can be rotated among family members is the responsibility for "fun raising." This person brings the family together to make definite plans for spending time together. Make a list of "free fun" activities (such as going for a hike or playing games) and "$ fun" activities (such as a ball game or movies). Choose the activities that appeal most to everyone and list them on the "fun raising" chart, with four columns: What we want to do, how much will it cost, special needs or preparation, and when we will do it.

Written by Stephen F. Duncan, Professor, and Kristi McLane, Research Assistant, School of Family Life, Brigham Young University.


  1. Duncan, S. F. (1999). Building family strengths (MT 9405). Bozeman, MT: Montana State University Extension Service.
  2. Duncan, S. F. (1994). The activity book: Activities for building family strengths (EB 128). Bozeman, MT: Montana State University Extension Service.
  3. Duncan, S. F. (2000). Practices for building marriage and family strengths. In D. C. Dollahite (Ed.), Strengthening our families: An in-depth look at the proclamation on the family (pp. 295-303). Salt Lake City: Deseret Book.

The Family: A Proclamation to the World teaches that fathers are to preside over, provide for, and protect the family. A mother's primary responsibility is to nurture the children. Husband and wife are to support one another in the fulfillment of these divine responsibilities "as equal partners" (¶ 8). The Lord expects parents to use their parental power to bring up their children in love and righteousness, using means that are in harmony with gospel principles (see D&C 121:41-44).

Church leaders have emphasized the concept of equal partnership in marriage. President Gordon B. Hinckley stated, "Marriage, in its truest sense, is a partnership of equals, with neither exercising dominion over the other, but, rather, with each encouraging and assisting the other in whatever responsibilities and aspirations he or she might have".2 In addition, Elder Boyd K. Packer taught, "It was not meant that the woman alone accommodate herself to the priesthood duties of her husband or her sons. She is, of course, to sustain and support and encourage them. Holders of the priesthood, in turn, must accommodate themselves to the needs and responsibilities of the wife and mother. Her physical and emotional and intellectual and cultural well-being and her spiritual development must stand first among [their] priesthood duties. There is no task, however menial, connected with the care of babies, the nurturing of children, or with the maintenance of the home that is not [a husband's] equal obligation".5

However, some obligations are not meant to be shared by spouses alone. Family work, not "mother's" or "father's" work has also received emphasis. President Gordon B. Hinckley emphasized, "Children need to work with their parents, to wash dishes with them, to mop floors with them, to mow lawns, to prune trees and shrubbery, to paint and fix up, to clean up, and to do a hundred other things in which they will learn that labor is the price of cleanliness, progress, and prosperity".3


  1. The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles. (1995, November). The family: A proclamation to the world. Ensign, 102.
  2. Hinckley, G. B. (1992, August). I believe. Ensign, 2-7.
  3. Hinckley, G. B. (1996, September). Four simple things to help our families and our nations. Ensign, 2-8.
  4. Packer, B. K. (1989, July). A tribute to women. Ensign, 72-75.