When I think of the word family, I think of the words belonging, love, forever, care, safety, acceptance. Some people may describe family as those who you share your blood with, but I think (and know) that family can and does encapsulate a lot more. Specifically, being adopted, I know that you don't have to share the same DNA with your parents or siblings to love them just like in any normal family. Out of curiosity, I turned to the internet to see how others defined family. What I found was 6 "common" family structures: nuclear family, single parent, extended family, stepfamily, childless family, and grandparent family. While these are legitimate categorizations, I believe that there are multiple subcategories within these groups that deserve their own recognition, as well as categories that exist out of the 6 "common" ones. So, what exactly defines a family? Here are 13 different ways a family can look.

1: Adoptive Family:

An adoptive family is typically where one or more of the children are adopted. However, generally speaking, if any family has an adopted family member, this can be also categorized as an adopted family.

There are, however, many different ways an adoptive family can come to be. Here are some examples:

a. Transracial adoption: when the race of the adoptive parents is different than that of the adopted child. This is the family structure I was lucky enough to be adopted into!

b. Domestic adoption: adopting a child from within the same country

c. International adoption: adopting a child from a different country

d. Foster care to adoption: some adoptees initially are foster kids before they're adopted

e. Biological family member adoption: when a family member adopts a child that is not their own within the family due to circumstances

2. Foster family

A family where one or more of the children are foster children (and therefore legally are temporary members of the household.)

3. Sperm/Egg donor family

Where a sperm or egg was donated to a couple (or person) who wished to have a child of their own but could/did not.

4. Nuclear family

The nuclear family consists of a married man and woman and their biologically related children. While this is a perfectly legitimate family structure, there exists some conservative viewpoints that the nuclear family is one of the only ways a family should look.

5. Single parent family

A family where one person is the sole parent and caretaker of his/her child(ren).

6. Divorced/separated family 

In some families with divorced/separated parents, one of the parents may be out of the picture. However, in many situations, a co-custody situation will arise. I have many friends with divorced parents that have a co-custody arrangement, and I know how difficult this lifestyle can be. Many of my friends had to move from house to house every weekend throughout their childhood. In co-custody families, both the divorced parents have legal responsibility for their child(ren). This can mean that the children may alternate between which parent they live with, or live with just one and plan regular visits the other.

7. Conditionally separated family

A conditionally separated family is when one of the family members is separated from the family due to circumstances, but still are an integral, significant member of the family. Some examples of said 'circumstances' may be serving in the military, being incarcerated, hospitalization, or having a job far away.

8. Stepfamily

Where one of the parents are a step-parent. The stepfamily often overlaps with the divorced/separated family lifestyle.

9. Childless family

Families do not necessarily have to have children in order to be deemed a 'family'! There's not one way a childless family has to look (besides that no one in the family has any children, of course.)

10. Blended family

A family that typically merges extended family with immediate family. However, a more general definition would be when 2 or more previous families merge to form one big family.

There also exists 'grandparent families', which I decided to categorize under blended family. This is when the grandparent(s) live with one of their children and his/her family.

11. LGBTQ+ family

A family wherein one or more of the family members are of the LGBTQ+ community. I believe that this family dynamic is a perfectly legitimate, yet different experience, and deserves its own category and recognition.

12. Biracial or multiracial family

A family where the parents are of different heritage(s), and therefore have multi-ethnic children!

13. Immigrant family

Where one or more of the parents have immigrated into the country as an adult; their children may be immigrants as well, or may be citizens (if they were born in the country following their parent(s)'s immigration.

As you can see, there are so many different ways families can look. I know I definitely missed some, and I'm curious to discover more family structures throughout life as I meet more people. So, what does family look like to you?