Family Culture

Our families shape and influence us in many ways, for better or worse. In turn, these small microcosms are closely linked to the society and culture that surrounds them. Would you like to know what defines family culture and how it's built? You can find out here.
Family Culture
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 06 May, 2023

How would you define your family culture? Did your family have strong and inspiring values? Or, were they lacking which meant you grew up without the attachment and positive influence of close and nurturing parents? We’re all, to a certain extent, the result of dynamics that occur in our families. These are dominated by our own customs.

The doctor and pediatrician, Salvador Minuchin, claimed that, when we come into the world, nothing determines us as much as our families. Their internal dynamics represent our particular ways of understanding the world and interacting with it. In turn, these small social microcosms are greatly influenced by the environment that they’re surrounded by. Let’s find out more below.

The family is a phenomenon directly linked to the culture it’s contained in.

paper dolls to represent family culture
The culture of the family greatly influences the development of the human being.

Family culture

Although you may not think about it, your family culture is always there, conditioning you. It’s the set of codes, mandates, customs, beliefs, and purposes that defined the unit of people that made up your home. The purpose of these dimensions is to create a series of norms and roles that strengthen and give meaning to the family.

This internal culture results from an inherited legacy (by extended family and/or ancestors ) or is the product of initiatives or modifications of its current members. These dynamics seek to build a kind of coherent and stable microsystem, where all its members are integrated into a particular framework of meanings and processes (Galvin, Bylund, & Brommel, 2004).

The expression of family culture

In 2017, the University of Texas conducted a study that highlights how the concept of family and culture always go together. Therefore, it’s impossible to separate one sphere from the other. In fact, the family is a sociocultural institution that covers our need to belong.

The way in which family culture is expressed in daily life is heterogeneous. We’re referring to often unconscious dimensions that we continuously put into practice. They’re as follows:

1. Beliefs

Many beliefs that our families transmit to us tend to settle in our unconscious. They impregnate almost all our streams of thought, especially those related to the social sphere. They’re ideas, assessments, and even cognitive biases that we internalize and that direct our behaviors and thoughts.

The family culture of each group is unique. Indeed, it’s unusual for the same traditions, values, beliefs, etc. to be shared.

2. Mandates

In all families, mandates are established that configure integrated rules. In certain ways, we replicate them throughout our lives. Above all, they refer to specific codes of behavior. They might be expressed in ideas such as “I must be strong and not ask for help”, “I must hide my emotions” or “I mustn’t trust anyone”.

3. Customs, practices, and traditions

Customs define family culture. They range from the most basic of actions (what time to eat or go to bed) to slightly more complex realities. For example, religious or spiritual practices.

Family traditions are interesting and significant phenomena. They go beyond beliefs. Family traditions seek to transmit guidelines loaded with symbolism considered to be positive so that children can perpetuate them.

3. Values

The family must transmit enriching values to children. Firstly, the family must exercise them and serve as a model for new generations to assume them. As a rule, the most significant values in the context of family culture are as follows:

  • Love.
  • Justice.
  • Goodness.
  • Respect.
  • Gratitude.
  • Empathy.
  • Friendship.
  • Effort.
  • Generosity.
  • Responsibility.

4. Purposes

Whether implicitly or directly, a family environment always has certain goals and purposes. These can be oriented towards dimensions like promoting a happy coexistence and respect for each member. On the other hand, they could be quite the opposite. For instance, there are often members who exercise authoritarianism. In this case, their goal is control and domination.

Types of family culture and their influence

Family mandates, beliefs, traditions, and values influence us directly. That said, we must bear in mind that no two family cultures are exactly the same. There are always certain factors that make them unique. For instance, in some cases, they can make the members feel more fulfilled, free, and happy.

However, although there are always certain particularities that differentiate families from each other, there are also similar patterns that make up different typologies. For example:

Families with traditional culture

Traditional culture is usually based on classic moral values, but also on a specific religious or spiritual ideology. The ancestors and the sociocultural environment in which the members operate have a great influence in this respect. Naturally, family members assimilate much of the relevant code.

The culture of the family provides a framework for new generations to feel safe and integrate certain codes. These allow them to perpetuate good habits and values.

Progressive family culture

Progressive family culture moves away from constructs based on religion or other ideas. In fact, it tends to only focus on values such as responsibility and personal freedom. As a result, in these families, traditions don’t have as much weight. Nor does the sociocultural legacy of the ancestors.

Moreover, the influence that this kind of family has on its members is far from the traditional model. For instance, parents may not give much importance to marriage and they tend to respect the sexual freedom of children.

Independent or hands-off families

Among the most problematic of family dynamics is the kind that applies the culture of non-intervention. In these families, parents don’t demonstrate or transmit any specific beliefs, mandates, or values to their children. It defines the classic strategy of laissez-faire or ‘letting it be’. These parents don’t view attachment as particularly relevant. Furthermore, they might exhibit avoidant or ambivalent attachment styles.

Paper dolls forming a family culture
Society directly influences family dynamics.

The influence of social structure on family culture

The culture and social structure that surrounds the family act as a referential macro-framework for the group and its members. After all, we’re not separate from our surrounding context. We’re integrated into a series of external dynamics. They condition our representations and behaviors.

For this reason, it can’t be denied that family culture affects the construction of identity. We must also take into account how this social scenario shapes the family unit itself. For example:

  • Social and economic crises may change the culture of a family at any given time.
  • The history and cultural legacy of a country can mediate the cultural and psychological construction of a family nucleus. For instance, think of the Palestinian/Israeli conflict.
  • Families are conditioned by the culture, politics, and religion of the context in which they develop. For example, living in Iran isn’t the same as living in the United Kingdom.

When you look at your own family, you might see faces and codes that, in some way, promote your happiness and feelings of fulfillment. On the other hand, you may see those that are damaging. But, behaviors and beliefs don’t occur alone. They’re often the result of inherited behaviors that have been uncritically assumed.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.