Nontraditional Families
Impact on Child Development
Tiffany L. Hunter Marshall
George Mason University
The Facts
“Of the 74.6 million children younger than 18 in 2011, most
(69 percent) lived with two parents, while another 27
percent lived with one parent and 4 percent with no
parents. Of those children who lived with two parents, 92
percent lived with two biological or two adoptive parents.”
America’s Families and Living Arrangements, 2011; US Census Bureau
….hence, a LARGE portion of the US’s children are
members of nontraditional or “alternative” families.
Types of Nontraditional
 Same-sex Parents
 Cohabitating, Unmarried Parents
 Single Parents
 Adoptive Parents
 Foster Parents
 Grandparents as Caregivers
The Breakdown
Controversial topic:
Youths in two-biological-parent “intact”
commit the fewest kinds of antisocial
display fewer cognitive, emotional, and
social problems compared to children of all
other alternative family types
Current research says there’s apparent
disadvantages for child development
in each type of alternative family…
But there are also protective and
resiliency factors that may benefit
children of these families in the long
We Will Explore…
Blended Families
 Divorced/Single
 Adoptive Parents
 Same-sex Parents
Blended Families
Criminology Research:
“broken homes” elevated risk
for delinquent behavior
Patterson & Dishion’s (1985)
Stages of Delinquency
• 1. childhood: poor parental
monitoring and family
management lead to antisocial
behavior, reduced academic
achievement, and maladaptive
social development.
• 2. adolescence: continued
inadequate parental monitoring
and control leads to school failure
and peer rejection that place
adolescents at risk for pressure
and influence from deviant peer
(Apel & Kaukinen, 2008)
Divorced/Single Parent
 Economic Hardship
 Eating Patterns in Adolescence
 Emotional/Cognitive Reactions to
• Sense of Isolation
• Confusion
Parental Involvement
• fostering emotional attachment
• Setting/maintaining rules
• Contact lessened?
• Tough time for parents too
 More behavioral, internalizing, social,
and academic problems
(Kelly & Emery, 2003;Stewart & Menning, 2009)
Adoptive Parents
Parental Investment Theories
Lack of blood ties
 Kin selection
 Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness (EEA)
 Socioeconomic issues
Findings: remarkably similar to 2-parent biological families
Parental problems- “perfect parent” pressures
 Social stigma Lack early bonding experience
 Multiple transitions
worse academic, behavioral, and emotional outcomes than 2-parent bio. families
Advantages (compared to other alternative families)
educational achievement
employment success
Asset accumulation
(Hamilton, Cheng, & Powell, 2007)
Same-Sex Parents
Burden of home life- need to succeed
Teasing/ rejection by peers/society
Feeling need to “come out”
Retrospective (Adult) Reports:
• Many schools reinforced institutional heterosexism
pressure to minimize challenges, depression, anger, relationship
issues within family, acting out
Children may be:
Less gender-typed
Less rigid about sexuality
More able to express feelings
More empathetic/tolerance of diversity
• Openness and Realism in Parenting-->Coping Strategies
• Social Support
(Goldberg, 2010)
The Reality is…
“While there is general agreement that children from
nontraditional family structures tend to show poorer
social, psychological, and academic adjustment when
compared with children from two-biological-parent
families, there is less clarity about the factors that
may contribute to those poorer outcomes, or
factors that may act as buffers against them…
Quality of parenting and relationships was strongly
associated with children's social, psychological and
academic adjustment in both traditional and
nontraditional families.”
(Bronstein, Clauson, Stoll, & Abrams, 1993)
Counseling Implications
Key factors in working with children of
this population:
 Ecological/ Systems Perspective
Legal issues affecting parental
Sensitivity and Empathy
Solutions/ Interventions
Involving families in counseling services
Prevention services for at-risk populations
(academic, behavioral, psychological
Advocacy against discrimination against
nontraditional families/their children (in
schools and in community)
Support groups for students (i.e. in
transition, bullied, pride, etc…)
Apel, R. & Kaukinen, C. (2008). On the relationship between family structure and
antisocial behavior: Parental cohabitation and blended households. Criminology,
46(1), 35-70.
Bronstein, P., Clauson, J., Stoll, M. F., & Abrams, C. L. (1993). Parenting behavior and
children's social, psychological, and academic adjustment in diverse family
structures. Family Relations, 42 (3), 268-276.
Carlson, M. J. & Corcoran, M. E. (2001). Family structure and children's behavioral and
cognitive outcomes. Journal of Marriage and Family, 63(3), 779.792.
Deater-Deckard, K., Dunn, J., & Lussier, G. (2002). Sibling relationships and socialemotional adjustment in different family contexts. Social Development, 11(4),
Gennetian, L. A. (2005). One or two parents? Half or step siblings? The effect of family
structure on young children's achievement. Journal of Population Economics,
18(3), 415-436.
Goldberg, A. E. (2010). Young adults and adults with lesbian and gay parents speak out.
Lesbian and gay parents and their children: Research on the family life cycle.
(157-175). Washington, DC, US: American Psychological Association.
Hamilton, L., Cheng, S., & Powell, B. (2007). Adoptive parents, adaptive parents:
Evaluating the importance of biological ties for parental investment. American
Sociological Review, 72(1), 95-116.
Kelly, J. B. & Emery, R. E. (2003). Children's adjustment following divorce: Risk and
resilience perspectives. Family Relations, 52(4), 352-362.
Kierkus, C. A. & Hewitt, J. D. (2009). The contextual nature of the family
structure/delinquency relationship. Journal of Criminal Justice, 37, 123-132.
Ono, H. & Sanders, J. (2010). Diverse family types and out-of-school learning time of
young school-age children, Family Relations, 59, 506 – 519. doi:10.1111/j.17413729.2010.00619.x
Pelka, S. (2010). Observing multiple mothering: a case study of childrearing in a U.S.
lesbian-led family. Journal of the Society for Psychological Anthropology, 38(4),
422-440. doi: 10.1111/j.1548-1352.2010.01159.x.
Stewart, S. D. (2010). The characteristics and well-being of Adopted Stepchildren.
Family Relations, 59, 558 – 571. doi:10.1111/j.1741-3729.2010.00623.x
Stewart, S. D. & Menning, C. L. (2009). Family structure, nonresident father
involvement, and adolescent eating patterns. Journal of Adolescent Health, 45,
193-201. doi:10.1016/j.jadohealth.2009.01.005

Nontraditional Families - Tiffany L. Hunter Marshall