What Kind of Family Are You?

In my last post, regarding “Potty Training With Love”, I alluded to Barbara Coloroso’s framework of different types of families; other frameworks such as these also exist.

Before you can approach your inner work, your parenting, the tone in your home, it may be helpful to step outside of yourself if you can and view see what your family really is like, the dynamics of your home.

Here are some frameworks that may stimulate some thought for you:

In the book Kids Are Worth It! By Barbara Coloroso, she defines three types of families:

  1. Brickwall – This type of family has a definitive hierarchy of control with the parents being in charge, has lots of strict rules, a high value on punctuality, cleanliness and order, a rigid enforcement of rules by means of actual or threatened violence, the use of punishment to break the child’s will and spirit, rigid rituals and rote learning, use of humiliation, extensive use of threats and bribes, heavy reliance on competition, learning takes place with no margin for error, love is highly conditional, gender roles are strictly enforced, children are taught what to think but not how to think.
  1. Jellyfish A families – most likely raised in a Brickwall family, this parent is frightened of repeating the abuse he knew, but does not know what to replace it with. So he becomes extremely lax in discipline, sets few or no limits and tends to smother his children. Anything his child wants, his child gets, even if the child’s wants are at the expense of the parent’s own needs. The lack of structure can then lead to a frustrated parent who ends up resorting to threats, bribes, punishments.
  2. Jellyfish B families – May be struggling with personal problems that keep her almost totally centered on herself. No one is around to provide a nurturing, caring, supportive environment.

In both types of Jellyfish families, the following characteristics prevail: Anarchy and chaos in the physical and emotional environment, no recognizable rules or guidelines for the children, arbitrary and inconsistent punishments and rewards are made, mini -lectures and put-downs are the main parenting tools, second chances are arbitrarily given, threats and bribes are frequently used, everything takes place in an environment of chaos, emotions rule the behavior of parents and children, children are taught that love is highly conditional, children are easily led by their peers.

  1. Backbone families – Parents give their children the six critical life messages, democracy is a learned experience where children see their feelings and needs are respected and accepted and they also see that it is not always easy to juggle the wants and needs of all members of the family, mistakes are viewed as opportunities to grow, rules are simply and clearly stated, consequences for irresponsible behavior are either natural or reasonable, children are motivated to be all they can be, children receive lots of smiles and hugs, children get second opportunities, children learn to accept their own feelings and to act responsibly on those feelings through a strong sense of self-awareness, competency and cooperation are modeled and encouraged, love is unconditional, children are taught how to think, children are buffered from sexual promiscuity/drug abuse/suicide by three messages: I like myself, I can think for myself, There is no problem so great, it cannot be solved.

Linda Budd, Ph.D., looks at three traits central to all families in her book Living With The Active Alert Child”: who’s in charge, what the family values, and how the family handles emotion. She breaks families down into the following categories:

  1. The Closed Family – There is someone clearly in charge, and the others are expected to follow and be obedient. The family values stability. There are many traditions and rituals to create this strong sense of family unity. The family has a hard time with the intensity of emotions. Benefits of this family type include the children growing up with a strong sense of order and feeling secure within the family structure.
  1. The Random Family – Control in this family changes hands frequently- no one person is in charge. This family values freedom, choice, competition, challenge, creative expression. Individuals are valued over the family unit. People in this family express themselves passionately, intensely, authentically. Children in this system have few limits and limited supervision, but their creativity and intensity are confirmed.
  1. The Open Family – The family values equality. Control is cooperative, participatory and persuasive. Consensus is used to make decisions. The family values dialogue, tolerance, adaptability. The family needs are balanced with individual needs. The child is valued as a partner who needs help in discovering her own limits. Parents and child negotiate limits and collaborate in problem solving. Cooperation and responsibility are valued. Children feel as if they have mutual power, and that their feelings are acknowledged.
  1. The Synchronous Family – Control is understood without one person being the source. Control comes from a shared goal or value system, not from an individual. Adults assume children will learn what is correct and what is expected by watching the parents’ example. Emotions are reserved. Children gain a strong sense of security, order and routine.

She gives the example of a 5-year old running through the living room.

The Closed Family says: “You are not to run in the living room. You will have to go to your room until you learn how to behave in here.”

The Random Family: No one notices, or mom and dad may play chase with him if they feel like it.

The Open Family: “Mark, when you run through the living room, you disturb your grandma who is trying to read. You also stepped on the block house your sister is building. We have lots of special things in here that might get broken. It is not okay to run in the living room. Let’s think of a place where you might be able to run around without disturbing anyone else.”

The Synchronous Family: Uncle Jim says to Mark, “Come sit by me while I carve.” Uncle Jim continues to carve, saying nothing to Mark about his behavior. Twenty minutes later, Mark’s mother puts items Mark disturbed back into place.

Food for thought: What kind of family is your family according to either Barbara Coloroso’s or Linda Budd’s structure?

Are you and your significant other different according to Barbara Coloroso or Linda Budd’s structure? What was the family you grew up in like?

Have a meditative day,


17 thoughts on “What Kind of Family Are You?

  1. Great article Carrie – this is great food for thought right now as we ponder what we will put in our Family Mission Statement. Thanks!


  2. What is wrong with a 5 year old running through the living room? My three year old runs in circles in the living room. It doesn’t bother anyone.

    A genuine question – is there anything wrong with children running in the house?

    • Hi Maria,
      This was not my example, it was just used as an example in Linda Budd’s book to illustrate different types of families and how they react to things.
      Carrie 🙂

  3. I am reading this and I see our family more in the “Brickwall” and “Closed” category…We have many similarities with those two…I like the idea of the “Synchronous Family”, but don’t know how to get there…I was raised in a combination of “Brickwall” and “JellyFish B” and lean so heavily towards that behavior…

  4. I re read the post and realize we are not that structured here to be a total “Brickwall”…We are actually very “Jellyfish B” like, with a lot of “Brickwall” tendencies…

    • Hi Tahara,
      A few places to start would be with either La Leche League, who has a philospohy regarding loving guidance and how to set limits in a loving way, or Attachment Parenting International, who has lots of information regarding positive/gentle discipline. There are also many good positive discipline books. My two favorites are Becky Bailey’s “Easy to Love, Difficult to Discipline” and La Leche League International’s “Adventures in Gentle Discipline.”
      If you contact your local LLL group or API group they should also have articles to share with you and be able to talk about positive discipline approaches specific to your family.
      Hope that is helpful; as you can tell I think gentle discipline is really important and really does set the tone for your home! 🙂
      I think many of us were raised in a Brickwall kind of situation and then backlash into Jellyfish, so the scenario you bring up is so common, and it does take a road map to move into something else!

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  7. We have created a home that is open for our children to be free to explore and create without the need to control. I would say we are between the Random and Synchronous Family.

    A very interesting article.

    • Jeanene,
      This is so fascinating to me as well! Who knew all this stuff when we were growing up??
      Carrie 🙂

  8. What about the loving parent who says, “Hey, Mark, lets pick up that mess”? And remind him that inside we have “quiet feet”. There are so many ways to respond to this scenario. I am a teacher and its so important, at least in an institutional setting, that the expectations are clearly communicated, modelled, and gently enforced. The “synchronous family” resonated with me up until the part where the mom picks up the mess. I want my children to learn to take responsibility for their actions, and this presents a good teaching moment. I like the seamless way “Uncle Jim” redirected Mark’s energy with a quiet activity and the way he was doing handwork to begin with, but there is no reason to give mom the role of perpetual cleaning lady.

    • Camille –Agreed! I think that is why Barbara Coloroso’s authoritative/backbone family resonates with so many!

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  11. wow, still reading digesting and learning, but I know we both came from a brickwall family, and we are Jelly A + B, plus a little bit of what we have learned in the past 3 years. Had my sons been born 20 years ago, we’d be a brickwall family with no nope for anything different. Nor would we know anything different existed until/if we ran into it. And likely, permutating that out, likely not to have run into anything different ever.

    Looking for Waldorf resources that don’t cost so much, so it means a lot to me that you have this site free to all. We are looking at whether we can continue in the school we are in and I am thinking whether we should, but it feels right.


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