Family Forms in the Caribbean

What is a Family?

A family is not simply individuals sharing a specific physical and psychological space but a natural, social system with its own properties and sets of riles, ascribed roles for members among many other qualities. Relationships are generally based on a shared history, sense of purpose, perceptions and assumptions of the world.

Entry into this system is through birth, adoption or marriage. Membership is for life; no member can be replaced once they leave by death or otherwise. For example, you go away for college for five years, do you cease being your mother’s daughter?

Family Forms

One of the many words used in the description of what a family is above, was system. A family is a social system. In support of this system is was noted that a family inevitably attempts with varying degrees of success, to arrange itself into as functional or enabling group a group as possible so that it can meet its collective or jointly defined needs and goals without consistently or systematically preventing partial members from meeting their individual needs and goals (Kantor & Lehr, 1975). People who live together for any length of time develop preferred patterns for negotiating and arranging their lives to maximise harmony and predictability.

Several prevalent family forms have been identified in the Caribbean; and it is through these forms that families seek to do what was described above. They are:

  • Nuclear Family,
  • Extended Family,
  • Single Parent Family and,
  • Blended/Combined.

Note that these are not the only family forms that exist in the world, but mainly the ones prevalent in the Caribbean.

The Nuclear Family

Also known as the traditional family, is composed of a husband, wife and their offspring living together as a family unit. These members may be related by blood, marriage or adoption (see definition) and share a common residence.

The Extended Family

This includes the basic family unit, plus additional generations and relations. For example two adults from different generations of a family who share a common household, in addition to aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents. The extended family may live together for many reasons. In many instances it provides financial and emotional support to help raise children or just a convenient arrangement to support an ill or elderly relative. There are two types of extended families: vertically and horizontally extended families.

A vertically extended or consanguine family may be one, two or three generation families living in the same household.

A horizontal family are those that are extended as a result of the siblings introducing their spouses into the households. The household can be extended to include their children as well.

The Single Parent Family

This family is led by a single custodial parent, most often a woman, as a result of divorce, death of a spouse, desertion or never having married.

Blended/Combined Family

A more modern term for this family type is The Reconstituted Family. These families are formed through the union of people who were previously married to others. This may occur through the death of a spouse or divorce between partners. In many cases, each partner comes into the second marriage with children from their former marriage.

Sourced: Family Therapy: An Overview; Sociology for Caribbean Students.

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Family Forms in the Caribbean

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