There Are 6 Different Family Types And Each One Has A Unique Family Dynamic
Updated December 13, 2018
Reviewer Stephanie Chupein
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.
Here Are 6 Different Family Types and Their Unique Family Dynamics:
- 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:
- Financially stable, both parents usually work now
- Children raised in a stable parenting situation
- Emphasis on health and education
- Focus on communication
Weaknesses Of Nuclear Families:
- Exclusion of extended family can lead to isolation and stress
- Can struggle with conflict resolution
- Nuclear families can become too child-focused, resulting in self-centered children and families neglecting other important things
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.
- 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 changing morals in society to increasing arguments over gender roles.
A mother or father raising kids alone is not that uncommon anymore, and like any other family type single parent homes have their pros and cons. Although fans of traditional families believe that children need both parents, we can see that some single parent families do well while others struggle.
Strengths of Single-Parent Families:
- Family members can become very close
- Learn to share household duties
- Children and parents can become very resilient
Weaknesses of Single-Parent Families:
- Families struggle to get by on one income; some are on social assistance
- It can be difficult for parents to work full-time and still afford quality childcare
- Parenting can be inconsistent, especially if kids go back and forth between parents
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.
- 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.
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:
- Things like respect and care for the elderly are important
- More family around to help with chores, child care, in case of emergencies, etc.
- Social support
Weaknesses of Extended Families:
- Financial issues can occur if parents are supporting several other adults and children without any extra income
- Lack of privacy depending on the living environment
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.
- Childless Family
Childless families are families with two parents 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 nephew) 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.
Strengths of Childless Families:
- Typically have more disposable income
- No dependents to take care of
- Have more freedom to travel, go on adventures, pursue different careers or education
- Couples get to spend more time together
Weaknesses of Childless Families:
- Couples can feel isolated or left out when all their friends/family start having kids
- If you like kids, you can feel like something is missing
- Infertility can force a family to be childless, which can be hard for couples
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.
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 are sometimes looked down upon by people who prefer the nuclear family dynamic, but they 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:
- Children get the benefit of having two parents around
- Children and their new siblings or step-parents can form strong bonds
- Benefit of having two incomes compared to single parent families
Weaknesses of Stepfamilies:
- Adjustment can be difficult for parents and children
- Parents can run into problems trying to discipline each other's kids
- May lack discipline or be inconsistent
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 stepsiblings as part of the family and form strong bonds.
- Grandparent Family
The final family type and the least common of them all 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." Why does this happen?
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 in jail, too young, on drugs, or (unfortunately) just not care. Thankfully, in these situations, the grandparents step up and act as parents to their grandchildren. A lot of times the situation isn't ideal, but they would rather take on the responsibility than see their grandchildren end up in a worse situation, like foster care.
Strengths of Grandparent Families:
- Grandparents and grandchildren form a close bond
- Keeps children from ending up in foster homes or other situations
Weaknesses of Grandparent Families:
- Grandparents may not work or have full-time jobs, may struggle with income
- Depending on their health, it may be difficult for them to keep up with young children or discipline them as they get older
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, grandparents will step up and do what's needed. Depending on the relationship, children may become very close to their grandparents while others might take advantage or rebel.
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.
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.