A "New" Definition of Family

All families are the same…

When it comes to families, there’s more that’s the same about us than there is different. Sometimes—especially when families are experiencing hard times—they might feel as if no one else has had the same issue, problem, or feeling. The truth is, families are all experiencing similar challenges, and there are some basics that are important and apply to everyone.

Despite the many definitions that encompass “family”, it’s important to keep in mind that all our kids are growing up through the same developmental stages, with the same basic needs. And they benefit from the same developmental assets and basic, solid parenting philosophy.

...Yet, all families are different!

Although many families share common traits, there’s still no denying that we’re all different! The concept of family appears simple, but is quite complex in reality. And families today come in more varied forms than ever before.

The decline in marriage rates, the increase in divorce and remarriage rates, changing social attitudes toward marriage, economic factors, and an increasing broad acceptance of non-traditional forms of family have all contributed to the family diversity now seen across the country.

Each sub-type of family, while similar in many ways, has its own challenges that result from their unique structure and relationships. This is not bad news, though. The Pew Center for Research Survey of Americans, “The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families” (2010), suggests that even though the forms of family life have changed dramatically, the central importance of family and the satisfaction with family life is as strong as it ever was.1

While not everyone is at ease with the changing shape of American families, an increasing number of people, especially those under the age of fifty, are quite open to calling all sorts of committed relationship combinations “family.” A University of Oregon Extension Service Report lists some of the more common types of non-traditional families (Hare & Gray, 1992). 2

Each of the following sections suggests a few parenting ideas that may be useful to consider, based on the unique family structure and the particular opportunities and challenges faced by these various family forms.


1. The Pew Center for Research Survey of Americans, “The Decline of Marriage and Rise of New Families,” (2010). Printer-friendly version available online at: http://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2010/11/18/the-decline-of-marriage-and-ri…

2. Hare, J. & Gray, L, Non-tradtional families: A guide for parents. Oregon State University Extension Service (1992). Retrieved online at: http://hdl.handle.net/1957/19519.

3. Rothausen-Vange, T, “Family diversity,” The Work and Family Encyclopedia. The Sloan Work and Family Research Network of Boston College (2005). Retrieved from: http://wfnetwork.bc.edu/encyclopedia_entry.php?id=1138#




This article is an excellent resource!
Family configurations vary considerably today, but those individuals who live together and care for one another can benefit from establishing family traditions. These celebrations serve to enhance children’s emotional well-being by fostering feelings of security, continuity and identity. For a direct link to a short article, “Family Traditions and Children,” click below: