Recurrent Disruptions of Rituals and Routines in Families with Paternal Alcohol Abuse*

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Changes in rituals and routines between drinking and sobriety were examined in families in treatment due to paternal alcohol abuse. Information was gathered through a semistructured family interview. Recurrent disruptions of rituals and routines were found between different phases in the drinking cycle. Disruptions were found typically with regard to the fathers' participation in rituals and routines, the parental roles and responsibility, the affective quality of the rituals, and the general family, climate. Four categories of families were distinguished based on amount and type of disruptions in family rituals and routines (i.e., protecting, emotional disruptive, exposing, and chaotic families). Implications for intervention are described.

Key words: children of alcoholics, family disruption, family rituals and routines, paternal alcohol abuse, unpredictability.

Previous studies have indicated that parental alcohol abuse disrupts family rituals and routines (Bennett, Wolin, & Reiss, 1988; Fiese, 1993; Hawkins, 1997). However, these studies have mainly examined the long-term consequences of parental drinking by comparing family rituals and routines in the period before and after the drinking became problematic. The more frequent everyday disruptions of rituals and routines between drinking and nondrinking conditions occurring daily or weekly have been given less attention, yet are likely to afreet family life profoundly.

Previous research suggests that instability and unpredictability in family interaction contribute to maladjustment in children of alcohol abusers (Ross & Hill, 2001). Recurrent disruptions of rituals and routines are potential generators of instability in the family life. The present study explores recurrent disruptions of rituals and routines in families with paternal alcohol abuse by considering changes in rituals and routines when the fathers are sober and when the fathers are drinking.

The Importance of Family Rituals and Routines

Family systems theory represents the general theoretical framework of the present study, implying a focus on family interaction, recognizing the mutual influence of family members, and acknowledging the need for a flexible family structure and organization (Whitchurch & Constantine, 1993). Systems theorizing identifies regulated activities such as rituals and daily routines as cornerstones of structure and stability for healthy families (Dickstein, 2002). According to family system theory, families have a tendency to maintain established patterns of behavior in the face of change or adversity. The level of disruption of rituals and routines related to parental drinking may therefore be an important indicator of how the alcohol abuse affects the family functioning.

Family routines and rituals are repetitive behaviors involving two or more family members (Fiese et al., 2002). Family rituals include traditions developed to celebrate culturally defined occasions as well as more idiosyncratic family traditions and anniversaries. Family rituals also include daily interaction patterns, such as meals and bedtime rituals (Fiese, 1992; Wolin & Bennett, 1984). The difference between routines and rituals is usually defined with reference to the symbolic meaning and affective quality attached to rituals in contrast to the more pragmatic, instrumental elements of routines (Fiese et al., 2002). However, the boundary between daily routines and rituals is not fixed, as rituals include a routine component and routines may develop into rituals.

Daily routines and rituals are assumed to be of great importance, in particular to families with young children, because they provide stability, structure, and predictability to everyday life (Fiese, Hooker, Kotary, & Schwagler, 1993). Through engaging in routines and rituals, children learn the rules, roles, and values of their family and the culture to which they belong. …