Story: Diverse families

For many people family means mum, dad and the kids, but families in New Zealand come in many different shapes and sizes. As well as nuclear families, they include sole-parent and blended families, families with gay or lesbian parents, and households with several parents and their children.

Story by Rosemary Du Plessis and Candice Diggelmann
Main image: A blended family: John and Noelene, with his daughter, her daughter and their son

Story summary

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Different kinds of families and households

The traditional Pākehā idea of the family is the nuclear family – mum, dad and their children. But there are many different kinds of families in New Zealand.

  • Māori whānau include people of several generations (e.g. grandparents, parents and children) who are related by descent or marriage. They may or may not live together in the same house but share a strong sense of connection.
  • Extended-family households may include several generations – children, parents and grandparents. These are more common among Māori, Pacific and Asian households.
  • Sole-parent families are usually the result of parents separating or children being born to mothers who live alone.
  • Families with lesbian or gay parents may have children from a previous relationship, or children conceived through donor sperm or with a surrogate mother.
  • In blended families adults and children who have been part of other families come together to form a new family, often after separation or divorce.

When parents do not live together, children often live part of the time with each parent, moving between different households and families.

Different family practices

Families can have different rules and ways of behaving. Some cultural groups place emphasis on respect for elders, and relationships between parents and children are quite formal.

In some families men and women have different roles, for example women may focus on domestic work, and men on paid work. In other families gender roles are less traditional, such as when fathers are the main caregivers for children.

Families have different ways of managing money. Some share money, for example by having a joint account for the household. Pacific Island people are more likely than other cultural groups to share money with extended family members.

How to cite this page:

Rosemary Du Plessis and Candice Diggelmann, 'Diverse families', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 28 September 2023)

Story by Rosemary Du Plessis and Candice Diggelmann, published 5 May 2011, reviewed & revised 22 Jun 2018