Family Resources

What Is A Family?

A family is, by definition, a group people related by blood, adoption, by marriage, or as people who live together. Families differ in many ways. Families may differ in every possible way: including economic, cultural, social, and many other facets. What binds every family is that the people who call others their family mean that the people in the family are bound to each other in some way. As long as the family is filled with love and support for each other, the family often thrives. There is no right or wrong way to have a family. Who makes up the family is as different as each family: there’s no one right or wrong way to have a family, so long as each member does what’s best for each other and themselves.

Who Makes Up A Family?

While there are very many people who can comprise a family, each person should define a family by their own standards. Some people have several families in their lifetimes and others have only one or two. Either way, family is what you make of it. It can be composed as blood relatives, friends, pets, and cohabitants; all that matters is that you support and uplift your loved ones as they do for you.

These are some people who are now considered family:

Immediate family is often thought to be “traditional family ” and consists of a mother, father, (or two mothers or two fathers) and their children and is generally portrayed as such in the media. However, today, some children are raised in single parent homes, by homosexual parents, by grandparents, by other family members, or in foster care. Plenty of families even have no children – by choice or not. The old idea that parents and children make a family is a basic definition; however, in order to accurately acknowledge other family structures, a broader definition is necessary. In addition to a more universal family definition, there are also plenty of people who consider a group of friends to be family, and adults who consider pets as defining members of the family unit.

Friends as Family: Many people now believe that friends may be as closer (or closer) than their extended, or immediate, family. People who’ve lost close family members (such divorce, or death) may end up creating a family of friends who’ve experienced similar issues in order to replace or enhance a lacking family structure. In a friends as family unit people can be just as close – or closer – than a traditional family, because friends are chosen. These friends may be more important or special than the family a person was born into. Not every person who calls friends “family” does so because they lack a traditional family unit. Plenty of people develop extended networks of friends AND family members.

Pets as family: Pets can also become members of a family unit and do so with ever-increasing numbers. As pets require responsibility, this can create feelings of a “younger” sibling – especially in children. People who don’t or can’t have children may find that pets are a replacement and as dearly loved as children. Pets are typically cared for as additional family members, which further solidifies their bond to their owner. Pets who are family are most often mourned like the death of a family member and can create huge voids in their human family – just as much as a loss of a human loved one.

What Are The Types of Family Structures?

These days, family structure is vastly different than the “typical” family from The Brady Bunch era. It’s worth mentioning that there are no types of family structures that are any better or worse than others; as long as everyone in the family feels loved, supported, and cared for. The following types of families exist today and some families fall into multiple categories. Such as, a single parent family who lives in a larger, extended family. While these types of families are distinct in definition, in practice the lines are less clear.

Nuclear Family: The nuclear family is the traditional type of family structure consisting of two parents and children. A nuclear family has been long thought to be the best kind of family, though attitudes are changing; it is far better for a child to grow in a single parent household than to have them deal with struggling marriages. Children in nuclear families can receive strength and stability from the two-parent structure and generally have more opportunities due to the financial ease of two adults. According to U.S. Census data, almost 70 percent of children live in a nuclear family unit.

Childless Family: While most people consider children as making up a family, there are a growing number of people who do not have children (by choice or not). People sometimes forget that childless families are still families, which can cause unnecessary pain to the family. A childless family consist of two adults who live and work together. Many childless families have extended contact with their nephews and nieces or a pet that they consider family.

Single Parent Family: A single parent family involves of one parent raising one or more children on his own. Sometimes, a single parent family is a mother and her children, although there are plenty of single fathers as well. The single parent family is the biggest change society has seen in terms of the changes in family structures. One in four children is born to a single mother. Single parent families are generally close and find ways to work together to solve problems, such as dividing up household chores. When only one parent is at home, it may be a struggle to find childcare as there is only one parent working. This can limit income and opportunities, although many single parent families have support from relatives and friends.

Extended Family: An extended family consists of two or more adults who are related by blood or marriage and live in the same home. This family can include many relatives living together and working toward common goals like raising the children and keeping up with the household chores. Many extended families include cousins, aunts or uncles and grandparents living together. There are many reasons why a person may live in an extended family, including financial strain or as a means to take care of relatives who cannot care for themselves. Extended families are becoming increasingly common in the US and the rest of the world.

Step-Families (also known as a blended family): In the US, about half of all marriages end in divorce, and many of these people opt to get remarried. This blended family involves two separate families merging into one new unit and can consist of two adults and their children from previous relationships. Step families are now about as common as a nuclear family and must work together to create their own family.

Grandparent Families Today, about one in 14 children are raised by their grandparents – and their parents aren’t usually involved in the child’s life. Some grandparents become parents after their adult child dies, addiction, abandonment, or being unfit parents. Some grandparents must go back to work or find other types of income to help raise their grandchildren.

Common Family Struggles:

All families and relationships have struggles and it is completely normal to have problems within a family. Sometimes, these struggles are particularly challenging and may include (but are not limited to):

Separation of parents: Sometimes, a separation can be a couples first step in the process of improving themselves, but sometimes, it’s a step toward divorce.

For Kids: Your family’s separation is not your fault. At all. Sometimes adults try to work out differences and problems between them, and this is the best way for them to do it.

Divorce: While one in two families divorce, being a common problem does not make it any easier for each member of the family.

For Kids: You may be depressed, anxious, or withdrawn from the divorce, and this may come out as feeling ashamed, feeling extra angry, feeling tremendous loss, or a hard time in school. Some kids even say it’s the worst experience of their childhood. If your parents are divorcing, please remind yourself that while your parents may seem perfect, they’re also human and are adjusting to a major loss in their own life. Your parents will always love you, no matter what. You should talk this out with someone you trust, like a friend, parent, relative, or school counselor.

Addiction: is the state of being abnormally tolerant to and dependent upon something psychologically or physically habit-forming.

For Kids: Addiction in one or both of your parents can make you sad, frustrated, and anxious, especially if they’re not able to care for you or give you attention. Remember, though, it’s not your fault (no matter what a parent may say to you), and that you should talk it out with a trusted person.

Abused parent: If one of your parent is being abused by the other, they probably have issues with low self-esteem and may take it out on the wrong person. Sometimes, it’s the child.

For Kids: find someone you can really trust and talk to them about this. It’s not your job to protect them, but you can get them some help from others.

Abusive Parent: No parent, step-parent, relative, or family ever has any right to abuse a child. Abusing a child (up to age 18) is against the law. Period. Abuse can be sexual, emotional, financial, physical, or psychological and all are illegal.

For Kids: Having an abusive parent is not your fault; no matter what. They’re the ones who are behaving badly, not you, and not anything you could do should warrant abuse. If you’re facing an abusive parent, look out for yourself, and find an adult that you can trust. If the first adult doesn’t help, report the abuse to your school. If you are in danger, call 911 or your local police department.

Parents Who Criticize: Almost all parents nag or criticize their children some of the time and it’s usually unrelated to the topics they criticize their children for. Many children complain about parents who criticize or nag them, but sometimes, parents can have a hard time being a parent. It’s extremely hard to watch your child grow up and become more independent.

For Kids: It may help to show your parents that you love, listen to, appreciate, and are still interested in them. Respond to criticism by repeating what your parent has said in a nice way. Remind them that you’re a child and that you’re still learning. Write them a letter to tell them how you feel. If you feel the criticism is ridiculous, talk to a trusted adult about it.

Overprotective Parents: Many children feel that their parents are being overprotected, but being overprotective means that they love you, don’t want you to get hurt, and especially they don’t want you to make the same mistakes as they did when they were kids.

For Kids: Show them that you understand your fears and validate them with a promise of being safe. If you can’t talk to them without someone getting upset, write a letter dictating how you feel and explain your point of view.

Parents Who Fight: Many parents fight as a way to communicate, but that does not mean that it’s healthy or easy for any member of the family – especially kids. If they are physically fighting or hurting each other in some way, call 911 immediately.

For Kids: Try to understand each parent’s point of view without taking sides. Talk to them about how it makes you feel when everyone is calm. If they’re being insensitive to your feelings, do something to avoid watching them fight.

Remarriage: Many couples who divorce opt to remarry someone else, who may also have kids of their own. This can cause intense stress on all members of the family.

For Kids: Your step-parent is not trying to replace your other parent and this may be a difficult transition for all involved. If you feel left out, talk to your family and find a compromise to any problems you’re having. If your step-parent (or any parent) is mean, disrespectful, cruel, or abusive, tell a trusted adult.

Page last audited 7/2018