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Senior Hispanic man with his granddaughter using tablet computer, looking at each other, front view

The concept of family has evolved throughout the years. Life is not the same as it was 50 or 60 years ago because family dynamics have changed. The traditional idea of family has been transformed to more than just a father and a mother raising their biological or adopted children. Today, there are several forms of nontraditional families including

  • blended families
  • divorced, cohabitating, and same-sex couples
  • single parents by choice
  • families with step, adopted, or foster children
  • grandparents raising grandchildren
  • children who care for aging parents

Nontraditional Families by the Numbers

Grandparents raising grandchildren is a more common form of nontraditional families. The Census Bureau (2019) reports there are an estimated 2.5 million grandparents raising grandchildren, but that number may be higher.

In addition, some foster parents make a lifetime commitment to adopt foster children. The Children’s Defense Fund estimates that approximately 423,997 children were in foster care in 2019, with 41 percent under the age of six. A third of foster kids are expected to be adopted by their foster parents to form another example of nontraditional families.

While the concept of nontraditional families is not new to mainstream America, the “Brady Bunch” and more recently, the “Modern Family” television shows introduced society to nontraditional families, such as blended and same-sex families.

As state and federal laws change, so has family structures. For example, same-sex couples are raising children, whether adopted or biological. The Census Bureau reported that 15 percent or 1.1 million same-sex couples in the United States in 2019 had at least one child under the age of 18 in their household. Same-sex couples are also more likely to adopt. In fact, 43.3 percent of children of same-sex couples were adopted.

Family Dynamics

The term, “nontraditional families” is an accurate description of many thriving families in America and around the world. Children raised in nontraditional families are just as successful and happy as those raised in the traditional family structure. What makes a strong, healthy family is not the composition of the family, it is factors such as open communication, spending quality time together, resolving conflicts in a nondestructive manner, and accepting one another. The National Academy of Sciences also adds that parents, rather traditional or nontraditional, should be concerned about the health and welfare of children, instill good social skills, and allow for intellectual growth and freedom.

Interacting with Nontraditional Families

With change comes acceptance or rejection, but also support and understanding. As society continues to interact with nontraditional families, awareness of their existence is the first step towards understanding and acceptance. For service providers, on the other hand, the challenge comes in offering support, resources, and educational programs that are more inclusive and representative of all families, traditional and nontraditional.

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