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Family refers to a group of people connected by genetic, marriage, or legal bonds, but it involves deeper meaning for most individuals. It is considered the smallest and most elementary group of individuals found in our society.

What Is A Family?

In our society, the term typically refers to individuals related by birth, affinity or kinship, such as parents and children or by marriage, who live together as a single unit. Ideally, these individuals often tend to share similar characteristics & traits and provide structure, support and safety to all the members. It involves two or more people who are either related by blood, marriage or adoption. Members of a familial unit typically reside together unless they are compelled to live separately due to education, career, vacation, imprisonment or other reasons. However, a member may also stay away from the shared house when they are legally disowned and are no longer considered a family member. It should be noted that a “nuclear family” refers to a married couple who create the “nucleus” of the familial unit.

Researchers 1 have observed that the structure tends to change rapidly “over the course of a child’s life.” Regardless, it is believed that familial relationships are enduring and are significant for our overall physical, mental and emotional health. One 2017 study 2 explains, “For better and for worse, family relationships play a central role in shaping an individual’s well-being across the life course.”

Defining Family

The concept may seem simple, but there is no simple or comprehensive definition as it is ever-shifting and social scientists have heavily debated upon it. In its most basic sense, a families refer to intimate and domestic groups or units of individuals who are connected by blood bonds, legal ties, or sexual mating. This social group mostly includes parents and one or more children. The relationships within a familial unit are enduring and consequential enough for the well-being of an individual across his/her life course.

Families are those familial units that can shift, even within a single culture. For example, a child might identify his/her immediate family as his/her father and mother, while an adult female might identify her familial unit as her husband, in-laws, and children. A 2013 research paper 3 defined a familial Unit “as an unit of two or more persons united by marriage, blood, adoption, or consensual union, in general consulting a single household, interacting and communicating with each other.” However, the study mentioned that “interacting and communicating with each other” may be difficult to elicit or maintain in today’s generation as many cultures describe families whose members live separately.

Understanding Family Dynamics

It refers to some specific patterns of communication and interaction (both healthy and unhealthy) between family members, their roles, and relationships in families. As they rely on each other emotionally, socially, and economically, they are considered the only source of relationship security. Research 4 says that these dynamics can have a significant impact on the conscious and unconscious choices one makes throughout childhood and as an adult.

These dynamics impact mostly all phases of life. If you are not fully aware of your own unique family dynamic, you may not feel in tune with why several experiences are triggering you, or why you have chosen a specific career, or even why you are drawn to certain relationships. A recent 2021 study 5 says that family dynamics and the quality of relationships can either positively or negatively affect a person’s mental health. According to this study, several factors can contribute to a healthy and unhealthy family dynamic, such as:

  • Individuation
  • Mutuality
  • Flexibility
  • Stability
  • Clear communication
  • Role reciprocity
  • Enmeshment
  • Isolation
  • Rigidity
  • Disorganization
  • Unclear communication
  • Role conflict
  • Values
  • Cultural or religious beliefs
  • Parenting style

Read More About Family Dynamics Here

Types Of Family

Types Of Family

According to the most basic definition, people who share a genetic, legal, or marital bond form a familial unit. The following are some of the most common types of structures that can be observed within a society.

1. Extended

According to a 2017 study 6, an extended familial unit includes all close relatives, such as grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins who live together and share every household responsibility and economic expenses. It is generally not limited in size and is also called a multigenerational or joint familial units based on which members are included.

2. Procreation

In this kind of unit, an individual sets up after marriage and starts living together with their in-laws under one same roof. It can also be addressed like the family of orientation in which people live together but can still be distinguished.

3. Nuclear

A 2013 research 7 suggests that it is a small group of people that includes a husband, a wife, and children (natural or adopted). It is also called a conjugal familial unit whose members live in the same residence and share the closest bonding. It is the most common type of family in all modern societies and involves only two generations.

4. Complex

It is perhaps one of the most complicated 8 structures of an extended family unit where three or more adult members live together with their children. Mostly, this kind of familial unit is formed due to separation or remarriage, or the existence of polygamy in a society where these kinds of practices are acceptable.

5. Step

In this type of unit, adults have separated and remarried and brought children from their other units to create a new nuclear group. The children may come from different parents but live together in the same household. Research 9 says that these types of families are also known as blended families as they are a blend of different families.

6. Single parent

As the term 10 suggests, it consists of one parent and his/her children. Such families can be the result of the death of a parent, separation, divorce or single-parent adoption.

7. Foster

It involves one or more parents who play the role of a temporary guardian for one or more children. The parents may or may not be biologically related to the children. In such families, foster children can be legally adopted by the guardians over time. “There is more than half a million American youth currently in foster homes due to child abuse and neglect,” a 2011 study 11 claimed.

8. Childless

These types of units include a couple with no children. A 2017 research 12 explains that the couple may choose not to have children or be prevented from having children due to any medical or other issues. Such families often consider their pets as their family members.

9. Adopted

These families share legal associations but not genetic ones. A couple may adopt a child with whom they don’t share any genetic relation, or a parent may adopt the children of another parent.

Read More About Adoption Here

10. Traditional

The classic definition of a traditional family suggests, in such families, the father works outside the home to financially support his family. The mother stays at home, takes care of her children, and performs household responsibilities.

Types Of Family Environments

Based on the environments, families can be divided into two other different categories, including:

1. Functional

It refers to a household where adults perform every responsibility and create an emotionally secure environment that makes everyone feel safe and respected. Individual differences and opinions are appreciated as it allows children to become independent when it’s appropriate. Adults express anger in a controlled manner and teach children how to show empathy and respond sensitively to each other. The parents set important rules but never force rigid restrictions on anyone. In such healthy environments, misbehavior and slights are strictly addressed and clear boundaries are set.

2. Dysfunctional

In a dysfunctional environment, disrespect, misbehaviors, and even abuse occur repeatedly on the part of individual members. Children often grow up with the understanding that such conflicts are normal. Such disagreements and arguments can have lasting effects on each relationship the members share with each other. There is no empathy or unity in this kind of atmosphere and members can be highly judgemental towards each other. Dysfunctional families are mostly the result of the alcoholism or other substance abuse or parents’ untreated mental illness.

Effects Of Family Dysfunction On Children

Effects Of Family Dysfunction On Children

There is great variability in how communication and behavior occur within a family. According to studies 4, the pattern of communication forms the core of a family dynamic. Every family has its unique dynamic that affects how a member thinks and relates to each other. Various factors that influence these dynamics, including, the relationship between parents, personalities, separation, death, unemployment, marriage, beliefs, culture, ethnicity, and many more.

A 2016 study 13 found an association between family dysfunction and worsened physical and psychological functioning in children. A dysfunctional environment may include:

  • Aggressive behavior, domination, belittlement, and lies
  • Lack of physical and verbal affection of love
  • Negligence and discomfort among members
  • Alcohol, work, gambling, sex, or drug addiction in elders
  • Physical and sexual abuse

The severity and regularity of dysfunction vary from family to family, but a dysfunctional atmosphere can lead to children experiencing several uncomfortable situations that may trigger their mental health issues. Children may experience the following –

  • They may be forced to take sides in disagreements between parents.
  • Their feelings or thoughts may be criticized or ignored.
  • They may have overprotective parents.
  • They may have parents who are not emotionally involved with them.
  • Their parents may place excessive demands on their choice of friends, time, and behavior.
  • They may receive preferential treatment from their parents.
  • They may experience physical or verbal abuse by their parents.
  • They may be restricted from having direct communication with other members.
  • They may be encouraged to use drugs or alcohol.

“Children’s risk of developing a psychiatric disorder increased only when the children were raised in a dysfunctional family environment,” a 2019 research paper 14 suggests. It further explains that the abuse or neglect children experience in a dysfunctional family often inhibits the development of trust in children. When they grow up, they may find it difficult to trust the words and behavior of others. They may criticize their own decisions and have self-doubts about their capabilities. The children are more likely to misinterpret themselves and develop negative self-images. These behavioral changes can lead to them performing poorly in their academic works and having problems in interpersonal relationships.


The dynamics of each familial unit are complex in their own way and difficult to understand. Every individual witnesses some form of disagreement, arguments, and relationship problems in their families at some point in their lives. A healthy environment encourages members to have their voices and place their unique opinions. It includes a secure attachment between parents and children. But dysfunctions are also common in a familial unit and they should be addressed at an early stage as they may cause a large number of severe problems in the future.

Family At A Glance

  1. Family refers to a group of people connected by genetic, marriage, or legal bonds, but it involves deeper meaning for most individuals.
  2. Family dynamics are some specific patterns of communication and interaction between members, their roles, and relationships in families.
  3. There are some common types of family structures observed in a society, such as extended, procreation, complex, step, foster, single parent, childless, and many more.
  4. Based on the environments, families can be divided into two other different categories, including functional and dysfunctional.
  5. Studies found associations between family dysfunctions and children’s risk of developing a psychiatric disorder.
👇 References:
  1. Craigie, T. A., Brooks-Gunn, J., & Waldfogel, J. (2012). Family Structure, Family Stability, and Outcomes of Five-Year-Old Children. Families, relationships and societies : in international journal of research and debate, 1(1), 43–61. []
  2. Thomas, P. A., Liu, H., & Umberson, D. (2017). Family Relationships and Well-Being. Innovation in aging, 1(3), igx025. []
  3. Sharma R. (2013). The Family and Family Structure Classification Redefined for the Current Times. Journal of family medicine and primary care, 2(4), 306–310. []
  4. Härkönen, J., Bernardi, F., & Boertien, D. (2017). Family Dynamics and Child Outcomes: An Overview of Research and Open Questions. European journal of population = Revue europeenne de demographie, 33(2), 163–184. [][]
  5. Jabbari B, Rouster AS. Family Dynamics. [Updated 2021 Jul 26]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: []
  6. Reyes A. M. (2018). The Economic Organization of Extended Family Households by Race/Ethnicity and Socioeconomic Status. Journal of marriage and the family, 80(1), 119–133. []
  7. Sharma R. (2013). The Family and Family Structure Classification Redefined for the Current Times. Journal of family medicine and primary care, 2(4), 306–310. []
  8. Cherlin, A. J., & Seltzer, J. A. (2014). Family Complexity, the Family Safety Net, and Public Policy. The Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 654(1), 231–239. []
  9. Jensen, T. M., Lippold, M. A., Mills-Koonce, R., & Fosco, G. M. (2018). Stepfamily Relationship Quality and Children’s Internalizing and Externalizing Problems. Family process, 57(2), 477–495. []
  10. Anstett R, Lewis B. The single-parent family. How an understanding physician can help. Postgrad Med. 1986 Aug;80(2):137-40, 143. doi: 10.1080/00325481.1986.11699489. PMID: 3737492. []
  11. Tyler, K. A., & Melander, L. A. (2010). Foster Care Placement, Poor Parenting, and Negative Outcomes Among Homeless Young Adults. Journal of child and family studies, 19(6), 787–794. []
  12. Buhr, P., & Huinink, J. (2017). Why Childless Men and Women Give Up on Having Children. European journal of population = Revue europeenne de demographie, 33(4), 585–606. []
  13. Hayaki, C., Anno, K., Shibata, M., Iwaki, R., Kawata, H., Sudo, N., & Hosoi, M. (2016). Family dysfunction: A comparison of chronic widespread pain and chronic localized pain. Medicine, 95(49), e5495. []
  14. Wiegand-Grefe, S., Sell, M., Filter, B., & Plass-Christl, A. (2019). Family Functioning and Psychological Health of Children with Mentally Ill Parents. International journal of environmental research and public health, 16(7), 1278. []
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