Gone are the days when nuclear families (mom, dad + one or more kids) are considered the norm in the United States. These days, different family types are not only common but also much more accepted than they were in the past. It's not uncommon to be raised by a single mother or be part of a mixed family. It seems more uncommon to live in a household where both parents are happily married, unfortunately, although many of those families do still exist.
What's even more interesting is that each different family type (there are six main ones that people agree on) has a unique family dynamic. Learning about your family type and thinking about how it affects your family dynamic can help bring you clarity if you're currently struggling with family problems or going through a big shift in your family structure. Looking at family type and dynamics can also give you a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses that your family is likely working with. Some people may also choose to begin parenting classes or online therapy to deepen their understanding of family dynamics.
Here Are 6 Different Family Types and Their Unique Family Dynamics:
1. Nuclear Family
Nuclear families, also known as elementary or traditional families, consist of two parents (usually married or common law) and their children. Nuclear families may have one or more children who are biological or adopted, but the main idea is that the parents are raising their kids together in the family home.
Even though nuclear families seem to be on the decline, 2016 U.S. Census data shows that 69% of children still live in nuclear families. Even though it doesn't always work out that way, to most people this is the ideal family environment to raise children in.
Strengths of Nuclear Families:
Weaknesses Of Nuclear Families:
Nuclear families can be strong and successful, with both parents being great examples for their kids. These kids often have many advantages over other families with less, which can help them get ahead in life. However, like any family, nuclear families have their struggles to face. For example, if parents shut out grandparents and other extended family, chances are their support system will not be strong and getting through hard times can be challenging.
2. Single Parent
Single parent families consist of one parent with one or more kids. In these cases, the parent either never married, is widowed, or divorced. A paper by Ellwood, D.T., and Jencks, C. (2004) talks about how single-parent families have been on the rise since the 1960s when divorce rates started going up (and so did births happening out of wedlock). They suggest that these changes could be due to many different factors, from leaving behind outdated gender roles to feeling comfortable being independent and achieving a goal of raising a child, regardless of the presence of a spouse or not.
A mother, father, or parent raising kids alone is not that uncommon anymore, and like any other family type, single parent homes have their pros and cons.
Strengths of Single-Parent Families:
Weaknesses of Single-Parent Families:
Being a single parent raising kids can be hard. It can also be hard being a kid when your parents are split up or if you grew up only knowing one parent. In this situation, families need to make the best of what they have and rely on each other for love and support.
3. Extended Family
While most people in the U.S. would identify nuclear families as being the "traditional" family type, in different cultures extended families are much more common and have been around for hundreds of years. Extended families are families with two or more adults who are related through blood or marriage, usually along with children. This often includes aunts, uncles, cousins, or other relatives living under the same roof.
Typically, extended families live together for social support and to achieve common goals. For example, parents may live with their children and their children's grandparents. This gives the family the ability to provide care for their elderly, and in turn, the grandparents may be able to help with childcare while the parents are at work.
Strengths of Extended Families:
Weaknesses of Extended Families:
In North America, extended families living together isn't that common, but it does happen occasionally. What's nice about extended families is how close they can be and how they give each other a lot of support. That doesn't mean that so many family members living together are always easy, though. There can be differences in opinion in extended families, and some people might live this way because they obligated, not because they want to.
4. Childless Family
Childless families are families with two partners who cannot have or don't want kids. In the world of family types and dynamics, these families are often forgotten or left out (even though you can still have a family without children). In the past, growing up, getting married, and having children was the norm, but in today's world, more people are choosing to postpone having children or deciding not to have any.
These unique families include working couples who may have pets or enjoy taking on other people's kids (like nieces and nephews) for the day occasionally rather than having their own. They could also be adventurous couples who don't feel like kids would be a good fit for their lifestyle. These relationships can be between wife and husband, husband and husband, wife and wife, or partner and partner.
Strengths of Childless Families:
Weaknesses of Childless Families:
The decision of whether to have kids is a difficult and highly personal one. Having kids isn't for everyone, and some families do great without them. Still, it's important to remember that some childless families are not childless because they want to be. Be kind before you assume about someone's family unit, as a number of people (including women) may be in a childless family due to infertility, or have sensitivity regarding the topic of children in general.
A stepfamily is when two separate families merge into one. This can go several different ways, like two divorced parents with one or more children blending families, or one divorced parent with kids marrying someone who has never been married and has no kids.
Like single-parent families, step-families have become more common over the years. Like all these different family types, stepfamilies also have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses that they need to deal with.
Strengths of Stepfamilies:
Weaknesses of Stepfamilies:
Going from a nuclear or single parent family to a stepfamily can be a tough transition. It can be hard letting new people into your family dynamic, especially welcoming in a whole other family. Over time though, some children will come to accept their stepparents and step-siblings as part of the family and form strong bonds. This often also requires co-parenting of adoptive kids, and can increase the number of people each partner has to look after or care for in the family unit. Step-grand-parents might also be involved in this dynamic, as there are many variations and a wide spread of how far a stepfamily can go.
6. Grandparent Family
The final family type is the grandparent family. A grandparent family is when one or more grandparent is raising their grandchild or grandchildren. While uncommon, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy, grandparent-headed families are on the rise. They shared that, "Census data indicate that in the United States approximately 2.4 million grandparents are raising 4.5 million children."
This situation happens when the parents aren't around to take care of their kids or are incapable of properly taking care of their kids. For example, the parents might be incarcerated, too young to provide, may have a substance abuse disorder, or possibly due to parents death. Thankfully, in these situations, the grandparents step up and act as parents to their grandchildren. This family unit can happen regardless of being wealthy, poor, or middle-class.
Strengths of Grandparent Families:
Weaknesses of Grandparent Families:
It can be hard for grandparents to raise their grandchildren. In most cases, they probably thought they were done raising kids and might not have the health and energy to do so. Still, when needed, many grandparents step up and do what's needed.
No matter what family type you identify with, each one has its strengths and weaknesses or pros and cons. This is usually most clear to people who have experienced one or more changes in family type during their lifetime, so they can relate to how different each family dynamic can be. Whether you are in a same-sex family, an interracial family, a binuclear family, a multigenerational family unit, or have parents who are polyamorous, have a large family, or have a small one, each family is unique in its own way.
Therapy (family or individual) can help those struggling with changes in family type/dynamics. Online counseling services like BetterHelp can provide an outlet for people who are going through a difficult time with their family.
Other things that can help you adjust to a new family dynamic are an open mind and some time. It's normal to be resistant to change at first, but it's okay to come around eventually. If you're just interested in your family dynamic and working to get along better with your family, learning how family types and dynamics work is a great start. Whether you want to know more about the psychology behind family dynamics, about polygamous families, or just find a place to discuss what category you think your family fits into, online therapy is a great place to start.