Family Structure & Dynamics

Modern families might look very different from the traditional stereotype of a two-parent household. Understanding the different complexities at play in varying family structures can help explain some of the evident dynamics, although these won’t necessarily apply to every family. Family dynamics differ not only because of family structure, but because of the personalities and idiosyncrasies of individual members.

Single Parent

A single-parent family can face challenges, such as statistically higher poverty rates and parents with less formal education, according to Iowa State University. Children raised in single parent families may struggle more with academics and be less likely to attend college. This might be more directly related to poverty than single parenthood. Single parents may feel overwhelmed more often because of the high levels of responsibility they are maintaining alone, according to the American Psychological Association 2. However, single parents might receive support from friends, significant others, or other family members for support.


Statistically, children benefit when raised by two married parents, especially when the parents have a low-conflict relationship, according to the Center for Law and Social Policy. However, this could also have more to do with poverty rates and the statistical profile of individuals who marry. Kids in two-parent households are less likely to have health problems or become pregnant and more likely to achieve academically. The public support married couples sometimes receive (for example, having two sets of families and friends for support) might help explain these benefits.

Extended Family

The family dynamic can benefit when grandparents help with babysitting, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information 3. However, it might cause some stress as grandparents try to help while still maintaining their own routines. If grandparents are caring for children because parents have issues with substance abuse or are incarcerated, the children could be negatively impacted if they feel sad or ashamed. Children might also struggle with adjusting to new household rules, according to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy 2.


New parents might experience less stress when welcoming an adopted child to their family structure, since the complicated adoptive process is over, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. However, the realities of being a new parent can feel overwhelming. Newly adopted children might feel lost or abandoned by their birth parents. If welcomed into a happy family, the child might feel guilty about her conflicted feelings.


Children who have same-sex parents will not develop differently than children with different-sex parents, according to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Their relationships with other adults and with peers will remain the same as children raised in more traditional family structures. Although they may face questions about their parents, they aren’t more likely to be gay than peers.


Siblings play key roles in one another's lives, according to the National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities 4. Sibling relationships grow more complex as they develop. Birth order can affect personality; points out that first-born children tend to be more successful and more loyal to the family. Siblings help one another learn conflict resolution skills, especially when parents refrain from intervening except in serious disagreements. Fighting at home can correlate with fighting at school, though. As parents age, siblings who have grown apart will sometimes reconnect over shared concerns. Having a sibling with a disability can cause some children to take on a protective role while others experience bitterness or jealousy.