John Cowan - New Zealand Family Life

Publish Date
Thursday, 1 September 2016, 3:24PM
By John Cowan

Some new research* wraps figures around a trend we’ve seen for a long time in our work at the Parenting Place. Dr Judith Sligo and fellow researchers looked at 209 fifteen year-olds born to parents in the world famous Dunedin study. Only 26% lived with both biological parents; only 14 of the 209 had spent their whole lives in a home with just their mother, father and sibling. Most had moved multiple times with multiple care arrangements.  So, the Mum, Dad and the kids nuclear family stereotype is not extinct, but it is a lot rarer than it was.

Let me say, straight off, that I know it is possible to raise fantastic, whole, happy, healthy kids in a wide range of family types. But I also have to say that there are certain family dynamics that make parenting easier and others that make things a lot more complex and tricky. Anything that undermines a child’s sense of security or of being loved, anything that adds stress to their home, is going to impact them negatively. Of course, that can happen dramatically during relationship break-ups and family recombinations. They need extra support at that time but sometimes parents can be so absorbed in their own stress and pain that they don’t have much emotional energy to really look out for all their kids’ emotional needs.

This could be a vital time for other family to swing in to help the kids. If you are an uncle or an aunt – and I think grandparents can be particularly valuable here – move in close and surround those kids with the reassurance and love they need at that time. You will have your own opinions on what is going down between the parents, but bite your lip and just be there for the kids. You might be their only secure rock in their tumultuous world. And your input at that time could make all the difference.

For more, including information on our Grandparents Raising Grandchildren course, check out

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