• Titi Tade

Growing Up with Extended Family Members; The Psychological Aspects.

The family is the basic building block of a child. The family greatly influences a child’s first lessons, sense of security, identity, and values. Family systems and functioning vary between a small nuclear family, a large extended family, or even a polygamous family.

An extended family can be described as multigenerational. It may comprise (but is not limited to) grandfather, grandmother, uncles, and aunts. It is an expansion of the nuclear family which may consist of only parents and their unmarried children, regardless of their age. Extended families are common in the African culture and is often the norm, rather than the exception.

Child development and growth have been reported to be affected by many things such as hereditary factors, environmental factors, socioeconomic status, and familial conditions.

Family nature and conditions are a great indicator of mental wellness. A toxic family environment is filled with conflict and dispute; it can negatively affect the mental health of the children with issues like low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, substance abuse, and have problems with social situations.

The Extended Family and Childhood Development

The ultimate type of interaction children can have with an extended family is when they live together under the same roof and are not just seeing them occasionally. It can be argued that because of the availability of many adults and possibly strong role models for the child, there will be a feeling of warmth and community. The phrase “It takes a village to raise a child.” may have been gotten from the experience of growing up in an extended family. Grandparents are also more likely to tell the history of the past background and tie children back to their roots with stories. Raising children in a collective manner also removes a strain on the parent’s shoulders especially if they belong to the working class.

However, growing up in extended families is also fraught with many dangers. One of the negative effects is that these families are prone to conflict and rivalry. They can even be a source of stress on the immediate nuclear family especially if they are not financially contributing to the family’s welfare. The issue of boundary-setting can be difficult and could be a source of conflict if the nuclear family wants to retain its space.

Using the social support theory, Cohen, Underwood & Gottlieb, [1] identified three distinct perspectives on the influence of extended family on children:

· stress and coping,

· social constructionist, and

· relationship.

The stress and coping perspective state that support from others helps negate the influence of stress on an individual and improves his or her ability to cope. This predicts that support from others fosters wellbeing by protecting individuals from the negative impacts of stress.

Second, the social constructionist viewpoint indicates that support from others directly affects health because it increases an individual’s self-esteem and self-regulation.

Finally, the relationship stance states that support from others improves health because it

also provides companionship and intimacy.

These perspectives help to conceptualize the social support that young adults receive from extended family members and have been supported by William Dressler’s observation [2] that persons who perceive their extended kin to be more supportive report fewer symptoms of depression.

This might also be gender-based, as observed in another study where it was reported that female adolescents indicated having fewer depressive symptoms than male adolescents when their perceived social support was higher, indicating that the resilience of females is enhanced by social support more than the resilience of males [3]. This may be because females are more socially trained to have emotional bonds with family or people in general. Edmund [4] reports that children and grandmothers were better adjusted in extended families than nuclear families while mothers were better adjusted in nuclear families; probably because mothers are socialized to take care of the home and maybe burned out from taking care of the many individuals in an extended family.

One other aspect to consider is the concept of familism. It can be defined as a strong belonging and connection to individuals of the extended family; and prioritizes the collective goals or values of the family over the individual values. One study [5] found that familism contributed to psychological health by facilitating closeness and support. However, they did not find that familism was directly linked to psychological health. Valuing close, warm, and supportive relationships and prioritizing family over self was not itself sufficient to benefit psychological health. Neither was closeness. Familism and closeness only contributed to better psychological health through links to perceived social support. Perceived support, however, was directly linked to better psychological health.

The closest type of interaction that adolescents can have with extended family members are living in the same household as one or more extended family members. Hamilton [6] found in his research that living in a household with parents and a grandparent correlated with less deviant behavior in all participants, and less depression in African-American adolescents. In contrast, living with parents and an extended family member other than a grandparent, such as an aunt or uncle, was associated with more symptoms of depression, but less deviance when living in a household with many siblings.

Extended family support doesn’t only end during childhood. The system also impacts people during middle and late adulthood, as shown in a study by Crowell [7]. Results showed that close relationships with extended family decreased symptoms of anxiety and depression.

A warm, loving, and supportive extended family can be a backbone for the psychological wellbeing of children. Although they are not directly related, the ability of the extended family to mitigate stress and provide valuable support when needed helps to reduce the probability of having a mental health condition.


  1. Sheldon C, Underwood L, Benjamin G. Social Support Measurement and Intervention: A Guide for Health and Social Scientists [Internet]. Oxford Clinical Psychology. 2000 [cited 9 August 2020]. Available from: https://psycnet.apa.org/doi/10.1093/med:psych/9780195126709.001.0001

  2. Dressler W. Extended Family Relationships, Social Support, and Mental Health in a Southern Black Community [Internet]. 2010 [cited 9 August 2020]. Available from: https://www.jstor.org/stable/213672

  3. Landman-Peeters K, Hartman C, van der Pompe G, den Boer J, Minderaa R, Ormel J. Gender differences in the relation between social support, problems in parent-offspring communication, and depression and anxiety [Internet]. Social science and medicine. 2005 [cited 9 August 2020]. Available from: http://10.1016/j.socscimed.2004.10.024

  4. Sonuga Barke E. The effect of extended family living on the mental health of three generations within two Asian communities [Internet]. Doi.org. 2010 [cited 9 August 2020]. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1348/014466500163167

  5. Compos B, Aguilera A, Ulman J, Setter C. Familism, and Psychological Health: The Intervening Role of Closeness and Social Support [Internet]. Dx.doi.org. 2014 [cited 9 August 2020]. Available from: https://dx.doi.org/10.1037%2Fa0034094

  6. Hamilton h. Extended families and adolescent well-being. [Internet]. American psychological association. 2020 [cited 9 August 2020]. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jadohealth.2004.02.022

  7. Crowell j, Dearing E, Davies C, manzoros C. PARTNERSHIP AND EXTENDED FAMILY RELATIONSHIP QUALITY MODERATE ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN LIFETIME PSYCHIATRIC DIAGNOSES AND CURRENT DEPRESSIVE SYMPTOMS IN MIDLIFE [Internet]. Guilfordjournals.com. 2014 [cited 9 August 2020]. Available from: https://guilfordjournals.com/doi/pdf/10.1521/jscp.2014.33.7.612

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