What Family Members are Included in Your Extended Family?

Updated

The people we call ‘family’ are more diverse than ever before, as family unit definitions have been changing over the past few decades.

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There are more families than ever where children have different parents and live together with step-parents. There are also a wide variety of arrangements, such as children being raised by a single parent, by grandparents, or by their much-older siblings. Families have always been a complex web of connections, and now they are even more so.

Extended family has long been a catch-all term for your entire family, including everyone related to you. Ever wondered where your immediate family ends and where your extended family begins? Luckily, we’ve got some answers for you. 

The most overarching answer, when it comes to determining who your family is, will always be “it depends.”

What’s an Extended Family?

When we think of the strict definition of extended family, it helps to consider a family tree. In most family trees, any given ancestor is connected by a line to their parents, siblings, spouse, and children. These one-line relatives are the immediate family.

As such, this person's relationships with others in the family tree beyond those first few are “the extended family.” They are those who are at least two ‘lines’ away from a given person on the tree.

So your brother is your immediate family, but his wife or child is your extended family. Your mother is your immediate family, but her father is your extended family. If you can trace a connection to someone, they’re generally considered part of your extended family.

In some sense, the whole world is part of your extended family. When the complexity of tracing the relationship becomes too great — think fifth cousins, for instance — people tend to stop thinking of each other as extended family.

With modern software and applications, it is possible to find a third cousin twice removed who lives on the other side of the world, which can make your extended family feel larger.

A more expansive way of thinking of family may include people your family has unofficially brought in as family. An example would be a couple who are close family friends, where your children grew up calling them Aunt and Uncle.

Different cultures blur or keep clear the distinctions between family and friends. Some people see relationships other than those of blood relation and marriage as family relationships.

Example of an extended family

Here’s a fictional take to explain who is considered to be your extended family. Alice has one brother as well as a mother and father, here are some people who’d be considered her extended family.

  • Alice’s grandmother, Sue, and grandfather, Joseph.
  • Alice’s mother’s sister, Joan, who is her aunt.
  • Joan’s children, Clive and Anastasia.
  • Alice’s great uncle David and his seven children.
  • Alice’s distant great-grandfather Matthias who lived in a far-away country from where she lives now.
  • If Alice’s mother got divorced and remarried, her new spouse Evan’s family would all be members of Alice’s extended family.
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Extended versus Nuclear versus Immediate Family

Extended families offer an umbrella term to describe everyone who isn’t part of your immediate family. As a reminder, immediate family are your siblings, parents, spouse, and children. A more rigid, specific definition of the immediate family is the ‘nuclear’ family.

A nuclear family describes only two parents, a mother and a father, and their children living at home. It sometimes is also considered a parent and his or her children, along with a partner if that parent has one.

Nuclear family is a more traditional unit that doesn’t describe as many households in the United States as it did in the past. Immediate family offers a valuable grey area of anyone “directly” connected to the person in question.

Who is Included in Your Extended Family?

These are just a few of the many levels of family who might be considered part of your extended family.

  • Grandparents or grandchildren
  • Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins
  • Further-out, second cousins, great-aunts and great-uncles, and nieces and nephews.
  • Cousins once-removed, the children of your cousins.
  • Many people include the family members in blended families, including step-siblings, step-parents, half-siblings, and ex-spouses, as extended family.

Calling members of blended families your “extended” family will vary in usage. The elements of blended families have become more and more common in recent decades.

Each person’s relative closeness to step-siblings and step-parents will influence whether they’re more like immediate family or more like extended family.

Who is Not Included in Your Extended Family?

These are the primary individuals who won’t be considered extended family. They'll instead be called your immediate or nuclear family, depending on how your family is structured.

  • Mothers and fathers
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Husbands or wives
  • Daughters or sons

Extended Family and the Impact on Bereavement Leave Policies

When you are grieving the loss of a member of your extended family, the company you work for may have a range of reactions if you need time off. If you don’t use bereavement leave frequently, they may approve any request you make. Some companies can accept that many of us are closer to a member of our extended family than we are to our immediate family.

In an effort to avoid discriminatory leave approval, some companies spell out exactly which family members are appropriate for bereavement leave.

These policies may approve paid time off only for bereavement related to direct or immediate family members. These employers may opt to suggest a secondary option, such as using vacation time, if you need to miss work for the funeral of an extended family member.

One extenuating factor might be if your extended family member doesn’t have anyone else closer than you.

People make assumptions about closeness when they hear that this person was your great-aunt or your second cousin. If that person doesn’t have siblings or their own children, you might be the next of kin. Consider making the case to your employer with the idea of being their “next of kin” in mind.

There is also the possibility of using unpaid leave, though few people prefer not to use this if they don’t have to.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) specified that, under certain conditions, you can take unpaid leave in order to care for family or attend to concerns like planning a funeral. If an extended family member needs you or you need time to grieve for them, taking some FMLA leave may be the way to go.

Widening the Circle for the Whole Extended Family

Getting one’s immediate or nuclear family together for dinner might only need one table. On the other hand, you practically have to plan a family reunion to get a whole extended family in one place. Many families find that one of the times they see each other most often is when they want to gather to remember a loved one. 

Though funerals can be sad, they often create new bonds. As the definition of family continues to expand, encompassing more people who are incredibly close with or without a blood or marriage bond, we all benefit. Having more supporting people in our community of family is very positive and helps us continue to be resilient and grow.


Sources

  1. “Paid Family Leave in the United States.” Congressional Research Office. United States Government. 29 May 2019. crsreports.congress.gov/product/pdf/R/R44835/13
  2. “Family and Medical Leave Act.” U.S. Department of Labor. dol.gov/agencies/whd/fmla

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