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Who’s the Boss in Your Family – Mom, Dad or the Kids


In the business world, you have a CEO, CFO, Marketing Director, Sales managers, human resource officers and a host of assistants and lackey personnel to do the grunt work. This pecking order is essential to make sure that responsibilities are divided equally, that everyone has a specific responsibility and that duties are performed with precision. If the pecking order becomes askew, businesses can fail. Interestingly, in a family we don’t give names or have such a strict structure in place. At least not obviously. Saying that one person is the boss, or one person is in charge of the family would definitely put a damper on the interpersonal relationships. After all, within a family we strive for equality and mutual respect. The reality however, is that each person within every family DOES have a specific role. And while the boundaries or descriptions may be ‘lightly defined’ or even not spoke allowed – there likely is a boss.

This begs to ask the question, “Who is the boss in your family?” And more importantly, should there be a boss? Or does one person taking control throw off the balance of mutual respect and equality in a family?

In most families today, there is one person who handles the finances. Another who handles the yard work. One person who is most responsible for the kids. There might be another who plans meals and cooks, or a person in charge of keeping the house clean. The majority of households divide chores and duties based on need and family make-up (for instance a stay at home parent will likely deal with the kids a lot more than the working parent) and talent. Obviously, the most adept person in the house at handling money will likely handle the monthly bills and budget.

Yet there are plenty of households today – that seem to have one person who is large and in charge, who takes on the role of tribal leader, whose word seems to always be the final word whether others agree with it or not. And it’s becoming increasingly more common today for kids to be the bosses in the family, telling their parents what to do, and making decisions about the overall function of the family based on their needs and desires.

We come from a long tradition of patriarchal roles, where the men in the family were the rule and decision makers. Decades ago, it was considered politically incorrect for mothers to say, “Wait until your father gets home,” as dad was the ultimate disciplinarian. And men, in the past, have most often been the ones in charge of making all important familial decision. This tradition often included elders, and long lines of men who ruled the roost so to speak, while the women tended to what was considered ‘woman’s work.’

In a recent study from The University of Michigan, family dynamics are changing. Today, both men and women take on leadership roles in the family. Often times, the division of labor and responsibilities are clearly outlined from the beginning of the relationship to ensure equality and clear communication. Today’s men are giving up the overall factor of ‘control’ and women are becoming empowered to deal with things that were just decades ago considered male duties. This change in the tides has made a big difference in marriage as a whole, and research has found that when families operate with a balanced routine of responsibilities, households – much like businesses run more smoothly. Plus, when both husband and wife are involved in the decision making and treat one another as equals, the relationship doesn’t become one that involves the often silent hierarchy. There are fewer women today who are saying, “I have to ask my husband,” as in looking for permission – and more that are saying, “My husband and I have to discuss this.” And according to Money magazine, around 41% of all household budgets and bill paying is handled by the women.

At the end of the day, there is still probably a stronger personality in the home who has some weight in the dynamics of the family. Two strong willed, head strong people who strive to be in charge can make for a competitive marriage. The key is striking a balance that affords all members of the family, from the kids on up, the freedom to express their thoughts and feelings and to have say in the overall family dynamic. Family is about partnerships, and while in order for it to work there has to be some organization and leadership, there is nothing to say that these qualities cannot come from multiple people.

If the balance of power in a marriage leans too far to one person, chances are the other members of the family will feel undermined and insignificant – or even victimized. The best advice is to allow each member of the family ‘control’ over the areas that they manage the best. Capitalize on one another’s skills – and try to keep overall decision making a general consensus that includes everyone’s decisions and feelings in mind. Remember that while businesses and organizations need a pecking order to survive and thrive – families thrive on mutual respect and compassion.

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