Skip to main content
Social Sci LibreTexts

3.5: Caregivers and the Evolving Definition of Family

  • Page ID
  • \( \newcommand{\vecs}[1]{\overset { \scriptstyle \rightharpoonup} {\mathbf{#1}} } \) \( \newcommand{\vecd}[1]{\overset{-\!-\!\rightharpoonup}{\vphantom{a}\smash {#1}}} \)\(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \(\newcommand{\id}{\mathrm{id}}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\) \( \newcommand{\kernel}{\mathrm{null}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\range}{\mathrm{range}\,}\) \( \newcommand{\RealPart}{\mathrm{Re}}\) \( \newcommand{\ImaginaryPart}{\mathrm{Im}}\) \( \newcommand{\Argument}{\mathrm{Arg}}\) \( \newcommand{\norm}[1]{\| #1 \|}\) \( \newcommand{\inner}[2]{\langle #1, #2 \rangle}\) \( \newcommand{\Span}{\mathrm{span}}\)\(\newcommand{\AA}{\unicode[.8,0]{x212B}}\)


    Divorce refers to the legal dissolution of a marriage. Despite popular belief, divorce rates in the United States actually declined for many years during the 1980s and 1990s, and only just recently started to climb back up—landing at just below 50% of marriages ending in divorce today; however, it should be noted that divorce rates increase for each subsequent marriage, and there is considerable debate about the exact divorce rate. Are there specific factors that can predict divorce? Are certain types of people or certain types of relationships more or less at risk for breaking up?

    Indeed, there are several factors that appear to be either risk factors or protective factors. Pursuing education decreases the risk of divorce. So too does waiting until we are older to marry. Likewise, if our parents are still married, we are less likely to divorce. Factors that increase our risk of divorce include having a child before marriage and living with multiple partners before marriage, known as serial cohabitation (cohabitation with one’s expected marital partner does not appear to have the same effect). And, of course, societal and religious attitudes must also be taken into account. In societies that are more accepting of divorce, divorce rates tend to be higher. Likewise, in religions that are less accepting of divorce, divorce rates tend to be lower.

    Divorce can impact the stages of the developing parent and the attachments to the child(ren). Caregivers can employ specific strategies to their parenting style by reassuring their children that all caregivers will continue to love them and that the divorce is in no way the children’s fault. Caregivers should also encourage open communication with their children and be careful not to bias them against their “ex” or use them as a means of hurting their “ex” (Denham, 2013; Harvey & Fine, 2004; Pescosoido, 2013).

    Pause to Reflect!

    Listen to the following podcast:

    She wanted to vaccinate their kids against COVID. He didn’t. A judge had to decide

    Consider the co-parenting model and debate presented to the caregivers in the story.

    1. What questions would you ask the caregivers in this story about their parenting relationships?
    2. What questions would you ask the caregivers in this story about their co-parenting future?
    3. What questions would you ask the children in this story?
    4. What strategies would you offer to this family as it moves forward into the future?


    Abuse can occur in multiple forms and across all family relationships. Breiding, Basile, Smith, Black, & Mahendra (2015) define the forms of abuse as

    • Physical abuse: the use of intentional physical force to cause harm. Scratching, pushing, shoving, throwing, grabbing, biting, choking, shaking, slapping, punching, and hitting are common forms of physical abuse;
    • Sexual abuse: the act of forcing someone to participate in a sex act against his or her will. Such abuse is often referred to as sexual assault or rape;
    • Psychological abuse: aggressive behavior that is intended to control someone else. Such abuse can include threats of physical or sexual abuse, manipulation, bullying, and stalking. Abuse between partners is referred to as intimate partner violence; however, such abuse can also occur between a parent and child (child abuse), adult children, their aging parents (elder abuse), and even between siblings.
    • Neglect: a family’s failure to provide for a child’s basic physical, emotional, medical, or educational needs (DePanfilis, 2006).

    Abuse is a complex issue, especially within families. There are many reasons people become abusers: poverty, stress, and substance abuse are common characteristics shared by abusers, although abuse can happen in any family. There are also many reasons adults stay in abusive relationships: (a) learned helplessness (the abused person believing he or she has no control over the situation); (b) the belief that the abuser can/will change; (c) shame, guilt, self-blame, and/or fear; and (d) economic dependence. All of these factors can play a role.

    Children who experience abuse may “act out” or otherwise respond in a variety of unhealthful ways. These include acts of self-destruction, withdrawal, and aggression, as well as struggles with depression, anxiety, and academic performance. Researchers have found that abused children’s brains may produce higher levels of stress hormones. These hormones can lead to decreased brain development, lower stress thresholds, suppressed immune responses, and lifelong difficulties with learning and memory (Middlebrooks & Audage, 2008).


    Adoption has long historical roots and involves taking in and raising someone else’s child legally as one’s own. Becoming a parent is one of the most fulfilling things a person can do (Gallup & Newport, 1990), but even with modern reproductive technologies, not all couples who would like to have children are able to. In 2013, in the United States, there were over 100,000 children in resource families available for adoption (Soronen, 2013). In total, about 2% of the U.S. child population is adopted, either through foster care or through private domestic or international adoption (Adopted Children, 2012).

    For years, international adoptions have been popular. In the United States, between 1999 and 2014, 256,132 international adoptions occurred, with the largest number of children coming from China (73,672) and Russia (46,113) (Intercountry Adoption, 2016). People in the United States, Spain, France, Italy, and Canada adopt the largest numbers of children (Selman, 2009). More recently, however, international adoptions have begun to decrease. One significant complication is that each country has its own set of requirements for adoption, as does each country from which an adopted child originates. As such, the adoption process can vary greatly, especially in terms of cost, and countries are able to police who adopts their children.

    This page titled 3.5: Caregivers and the Evolving Definition of Family is shared under a CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Joan Giovannini (Remixing Open Textbooks with an Equity Lens (ROTEL)) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.