Family structure

There is no single right way to be a family and no two families are exactly alike. There are things about your family that you may like and things that you may dislike. This is normal. No one is ever 100% satisfied with their family.

Families come in different shapes, sizes and colours. There are:

  • Two parent families (i.e. a mom and a dad)
  • One parent families (you may or may not see the other parent)
  • Foster families
  • Adoptive families
  • Step families (you may have one or more step-parents with or without step brothers or step sisters)
  • Families headed by same sex partners (i.e. two moms or two dads)
  • Families headed by extended family members (i.e. grandparents, aunts or uncles)
  • Mixed race families
  • Immigrant families
  • Families in which members speak more than one language or belong to more than one cultural or religious group

You can even have any combination of the above family types. Maybe you belong to a mixed race foster family or to a family that is headed by same sex partners one of whom is a new immigrant.

All families look and act very differently and each has its own set of “rules” and expectations for how the family will work. These may include:

  • The way you share meals (e.g. who cooks, where, when and what type of foods you eat)
  • How much time you spend together
  • How tasks are divided (e.g. who works, who cares for the house and children)
  • How much time you spend with your extended family
  • How you celebrate holidays
  • How you communicate with other family members (e.g. how often you talk, what you talk about, how you express differences)
  • The way you solve problems
  • How much input children have in making family decisions

But no matter what type of family you live in your family should be a place where you feel safe. Hopefully the adult(s) in your family give you guidance, support and a sense of belonging. If you are lucky the members of your family love, respect and value one another.

Unfortunately, not all families are safe and loving. Every family has difficulties but some problems are more serious than others. Here are some of the different types of problems your family may have:

  • Financial problems
  • Problems between adults
  • Fights between brothers and sisters
  • Big changes in the family (e.g. a move, a job loss, a physical or mental illness of a family member)
  • The addition or subtraction of a family member (i.e. through birth, death, divorce or remarriage)
  • Addiction (e.g. drugs, gambling, alcohol)
  • Violent or abusive behaviour

Dealing with family problems can be challenging. If your family is going through a hard time talk to a trusted adult or call Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868.

Last reviewed September 2012 by the Kids Help Phone Counselling Team


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