The Diversity of Today’s Families

The landscape of families has changed considerably over the last few decades. It is not that diverse families have never existed; it is that in today’s society, we are making places at the table for this diversity.  Today, we elevate and value diverse families. Following are definitions of many of the family structures today.

Table 1.1:  Family Structures

Family Structure Description
Dual parent family This is often referred to as a mother and father raising children. However, if we think about the diversity of families this could include same sex caregivers as they are also raising children together.
Single parent (either by choice or through divorce) This could be a male or female caregiver who either wants to be a parent and doesn’t have a partner to create a child with or is raising children on their own due to divorce. Often, we think of single parents as female, but today as we continue to form acceptance of family structures, there are males who are also choosing to form a family on their own or raise their children (from divorce) on their own.

As families immigrate or migrate to other parts of the U.S. or world, we might find single parents by default, as not all members of a family unit may move at the same time.

Grandparents or other relatives raising children (relatives can also be non-related family members who are close to the child(ren)) Children whose caregivers are not able to care for them (for whatever reason), may be raised by their maternal or paternal grandparents or may be raised by extended family members including those family members that are not related biologically.
Teen parents Today it is more acceptable for teens who become pregnant to raise a child. Sometimes they may do this together or separate. Sometimes they may do this with the help of their families. Teens who become pregnant while still in high school are often able to return to school and there are programs on high school campuses where teens may bring their child. They may receive parenting classes in addition to their high school curriculum.
Adoptive families Families who are not able to conceive a child on their own may choose adoption. While this tends to be most common, there are families who consciously choose adoption over procreation as well as decide to add to their family through adoption. In any case, forming a family through adoption is a choice that is not taken lightly. There are many options in forming your family through adoption. You can choose to have an open or closed adoption. Open adoption refers to having a continued relationship with the birth parent(s) to just knowing who the birth parents are and everything in between. Closed adoption means that the family does not have access to birth parent(s) information. In addition, families may choose to adopt a child of the same race or of another race. They may choose to adopt nationally or internationally.
Resource Families (formerly referred to as Foster Families) Children placed in temporary care due to extenuating circumstances involving their family of origin are often placed in homes licensed to care for children. The adults who care for these children must go through strict protocols in order to provide the support and care that these vulnerable children will need. The most common name for this arrangement is fostering, but you may also hear them described as resource families. In these cases, it is the intent to reunite the children with their family of origin whenever possible. When this is not possible, the children are placed in the system to be adopted. The foster family may decide to adopt the children or another family may adopt the children. It is always the intent to find a permanent arrangement for children whenever possible, as we know that stability has better outcomes for children.
Families with Same Sex Parents Same sex couples, whether two men or two women, may choose to form a family and raise the children together. There are many ways in which they may decide to form their family. They may adopt, they may use reproductive technology, or they may use egg or sperm donors. In the case where two women are choosing to form a family, they may decide to have one of them become pregnant and give birth to their child.
Bi-racial/Multi-racial families These are children who are raised by parents from two different races, including parents who may be bi-racial themselves. This also includes multi-racial families.
Families with Multi-Religious/Faith Beliefs There are children today raised in multi-religious homes. This means that each parent may have different faiths/religions. They may choose one faith/religion or both in raising their children.
Children with an incarcerated parent(s) Sometimes children are raised by one caregiver while the other parent is incarcerated. This can be complicated for the family as the parent may spend some time away and then return home. While the parent who is incarcerated is away, the family structure changes.
Unmarried parents who are raising children Today, many caregivers are deciding not to marry but to raise children. The only difference is that they do not have a legal marriage license; however, their family structure is the same as dual parent families whether opposite sex or same sex.
Transgender parents raising children This refers to two ways in which children may be raised by a transgender caregiver(s). A parent may transition after already having children with someone of the opposite sex or they may transition prior to having a child and decide they want to parent.
Blended families A blended family can be two different caregivers that come together each bringing their children from a previous relationship with them. Sometimes the caregivers that come together with children from a previous relationship may also decide to have a child together.
Families formed through reproductive technology Today we have sophisticated medical advances to help parents who are infertile to become pregnant and give birth to their biological child as well as to use the biological material from someone else and carry that fertilized embryo to term. There are a variety of reproductive technologies that are available to families. This is often at a huge financial cost to the families, as most medical insurance companies do not cover the medical expenses of becoming pregnant.
First time older parents Today it is becoming more common for men and women to have children in their 30’s, 40’s, and even older. There are many reasons why men and women may wait to become parents. It may be due to infertility. It may be that the man and/or woman want to establish themselves in a career prior to having children. It may be that they wanted to have financial security before starting a family. What is important is to not assume why someone is parenting at an older age.
Families who experience homelessness We know that some children are raised without a stable home. The family may be living in their car, living in a hotel, a homeless shelter, or living in multiple dwellings also known as couch surfing. Families experiencing homelessness may be due to the loss of a job/steady income, being employed by making minimal wages that do not provide the means necessary to sustain housing (and other basic necessities), or other issues that may complicate the family’s ability to sustain a stable place to live. Families do not always share their homeless status as there is often shame and embarrassment that society places on these families.
Families with children who have developmental delays and disabilities This refers to families who have a child or children with developmental delays and/or disabilities. These delays/disabilities are varied. There also may be children without delays/disabilities in the family as well. This often places a burden on families, not only because of the time needed to care for a child who is not typically developing, but because society often misinterprets children who display behaviors that may be viewed as inappropriate.
Families raising their children in a culture not their own and in which English is not the primary language This refers to families who may have immigrated here and whose children were either born in their country of origin or born in the United States. This duality of cultures can create problems for the child and their family if societal expectations are that the family acculturate to the dominant culture. This results in children feeling shame about their family when they should feel pride in their family of origin.

Children experience different family structures.  Those structures may change as a child grows. We must provide supportive and inclusive interactions, relationships and environments for each and every family. This can be accomplished through our ability to be open, inviting, and listening to what the families in our program need from us to feel a sense of belonging.

Pause to Reflect!

Discuss the following questions.

  1. After reviewing all of the families above, were there family structures that you were not previously familiar with?
  2. How do the family structures above challenge the traditional social construct of “family”?
  3. Imagine that you are working with families in a school or community setting.  What level of comfort do you have in working with diverse families? What may be challenging for you? What are some strategies that you could use to help you in working on the biases that you may have?


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