Wayne State College

Cultural Adjustments

Family Customs

It is difficult, if not impossible, to be specific about the American family because of the many regional, religious, and national backgrounds that are found in the U.S. The East Coast, West Coast, Midwest, North and South regions, etc., all have different customs and family values that have developed over the years. The following information about American families are generalizations and may not be true of families that you meet.

There are several different combinations of people that may make up a family unit. The family you meet may be composed of a mother, father and children, but other families you meet may be composed of a single parent with children, two or more partners who live together, a husband and wife with no children at home or no children at all, or an adult who lives alone and has close friends that share special times and activities. In many families, both the husband and wife are employed away from home. Few American families have servants. At most, they may have someone to stay with children while they are away (a "babysitter") or someone to do weekly cleaning or yard work as it is needed.

Household responsibilities are often shared among family members, including children. Gender does not necessarily determine familial responsibilities. Jobs that were once performed mainly by women (such as cooking and cleaning) and those once performed mainly by men (such as taking care of the car and yard) are often done by either gender. Traditional patterns are still followed in some families. American families often share more than household duties. For example, husbands and wives may share in making decisions and in taking responsibility for other family members. The opinions of children are often asked for and accepted and children are often included in entertaining.

The individuality and autonomy so valued by Americans has extended into the family setting to the extent that individual rights within the family are enforced by law. It is now illegal, for example, for an individual to use physical force on another even though that person may be his/her spouse or child. What was formerly considered "discipline" or exercise of authority within the family is now a matter for official intervention. Neighbors may report such instances to the police. In addition, professionals such as counselors, teachers, and doctors are required to report suspected instances of physical abuse to the authorities.

Adapted from the University of Texas - Austin