Contemporary Family Structures Are Continually Changing

By Jan Cheek, MSW, LCSW

Interestingly, society has an “ideal” notion of the “typical” or “normal” family system while, at the same time, ongoing societal changes have created altered ways in which families are structured.  We think about family functioning and family dynamics in broader contexts and there is likely no longer a true “normal or typical” family structure.

Various family structures have strengths and challenges, and as in any family, life and family functioning can be very satisfying and, also, very frustrating.

Some contemporary varieties of family structures include:  Step-Families  — consisting of married adults with children from previous relationships that may or may not be living in the household;  Single Parent Families  — consisting of one adult raising one or more children secondary to the absence of the other parent due to a break up prior to marriage, or divorce, or death;  Grandparent or Extended Families  — consisting of grandparents or other adults such as aunts, uncles, older siblings, cousins sharing in child-rearing and household duties;  Childless Families  — consisting of two adults who cannot have or choose to not have children;  Adoptive Families  — consisting of one or two parents who adopt children or one adult who adopts the child of their partner;  Foster Families  —  consisting of adults who provide temporary or permanent custodial guardianship for children separated from their biological parents for any number of reasons;  Same-Sex Families  — consisting of same sex couples and one or both persons may have their own children from previous relationships, or who choose to adopt children together.

It is true that any family system will face life challenges just in the normal course of life, including the “normal” intact household with a mother, father and children in one home.  But, it is sometimes assumed that contemporary family structures face more complex social dynamics and more general trials in daily functioning, thus more frustration overall.  In fact, no family structure is immune to current societal pressures and demands. And, with adequate support, guidance, resources, motivation, determination, and leadership, any family can develop the resilience and foundation necessary to be able to problem solve and to develop healthy attachments within the family and commitments to the family system.

With contemporary family structures, individual family members may experience an increase with adjustment problems, confusion about roles in the family system, difficulty with communicating and expression of emotions, values, opinions, beliefs and ideas. Sometimes there may be increased conflict, powers struggles, and overall distress.  

Individual and family psychotherapy and behavioral therapy, and parental guidance and training therapy can be very beneficial to assist with building and developing healthy and cohesive family unit with balanced and resilient family members. Therapy and treatment would assist with developing effective and respectful communication skills and behaviors, identifying family strengths and enhancing those strengths, identifying family goals and developing plans to reach goals, establishing household rules and plans for enforcement, and assistance with healthy family bonding and attachments.