Defining Family


Afamily refers to a social unit that is made up of parents, theirchildren and relatives who are considered to be a group. This applieswhether they live together or not. The family is the basic unit thatforms a society. Therefore, it goes without saying that the natureand behaviors of a family have a direct impact on the society(Wiseman, 2008). The definition of family in its application,however, varies depending on several factors. This paper seeks toexplore the different definitions and challenges of family life basedon two cultures. These are an African American family and a whiteAmerican family.

TypicalDefinition of Family

TheAfrican American family in most cases has only one parent. Blackwomen have a more chances of becoming teenage mothers (Marin, 2011).Marriage instability is high among black families. As a result, mostAfrican American children are born into single-parent families..Consequently, most marriages end up in divorce leaving the childrenunder the care of one parent, in most cases the mother. AfricanAmerican families live in close relation with their relatives andother black members of the community.

Thewhite American family on the other side is based on marriage. Whitefamilies are made up of a father, a mother and their children.Currently, 46% of underage children in the US live in such a family(Wiseman, 2008). In cases of divorce or death of one parent, whiteparents remarry giving their children step parents. Unlike theirblack counterparts, white families do not live in close relation withtheir extended families or the rest of the white community. Eachfamily is a closely knit unit with minimal interaction with the restof the world. The children’s and parents’ close friends areregarded as part of the family.


Thenature of the family stipulates the type of relationship that existsbetween children and their parents. In most African Americanfamilies, the relationship between parents and their children is notas deep and personal as it is between white parent and theirchildren. On one side of the divide, the African American family isheaded by a devoted father who is the source of livelihood for thefamily. Here, the father and the mother each plays their roles intheir children’s lives. When this is not the case, the mother inthe family takes up the responsibility of keeping the broken familytogether. In this case, it becomes the sole duty of the single parentbringing up the child to play the role of both parents. In contrast,the parent-child relation is white families is deeper and moreintimate. White parents pay more attention to how they relate totheir children as compared to black parents. Children relate closelywith their parents even engage them in important aspects of theirlives such as sexuality in the teenage years.


Inthe African American families, the relationship between the husbandand the wife is a delicate one that in most cases ends up in divorceand separation. In most families, the father is conspicuouslymissing. Apart from divorce and separation, crime is the other keyfactor that takes African American families from their wives andchildren. As Marin (2008) asserts, more than 25% of African-Americanmen in the United States are serving jail sentences. Additionally,male chauvinism creates room for African American men to mistreattheir wives. The wives do all the work in the family during thehusbands just provide for the family. White husbands in contrast viewtheir wives as their equals who can do what they do for the family.The husband-wife relationship is based on mutual respect for eachother and the family.

Challengesand Changes

TheAfrican American family faces a myriad of challenges. The threechallenges are poverty, low education levels, and teenage pregnancy.As mentioned earlier, most African American families are headed by asingle parent, mostly the mother. Such women work in low paying jobsand take a large share of Americans living in poverty. As a result,they cannot provide all that their family needs. Growing up in singleparent home is seen to have a negative impact on the education ofchildren. Many children from such families end up dropping out ofschool, reflected by the low education levels of black children. Divorce and separation leave African American children engaging invices such as teenage sex, resulting in teenage pregnancies and earlymarriages (Alexander &amp Rucker, 2010). The white family does notface significant economic challenges since most of them aremiddle-class citizens. This implies that they can comfortably paytheir bills. They, however, face some challenges such asdisagreements with their children and at times divorce and separationof the parents. Such divorces come with lawsuits that cause emotionaland financial pain for the parents and their children.

Rolesof the Family

Regardingthe roles played by the family, the African American family and whitefamily are almost the same. The roles include the provision of basicneeds, emotional and financial support in all aspects. The differenceonly comes in focusing on who plays what role (Wiseman, 2008). Insingle-parent African American families, the roles of the family areplayed by the present family. If both parents are present, the rolesare mostly carried out by the father with minimal assistance by themother. In white families, both parents play their roles. Each parenthas their responsibility, and they perform it even when they areseparated or divorced.


Eachsociety has its description of what makes a family. Culturaldifferences affect the internal structures and functioning of thefamily. The African American family is seen to be vulnerable todivorce, separation, and male chauvinism. Such families face somechallenges such as poverty, low literacy levels, and teenagepregnancies. The white family, on the other hand, equates the husbandand the wife as equal entities in the family. They however still facechallenges such as marriage wrangles that cause divorce orseparation. However, both family structures ensure that the familyplays its roles, particularly for the children. In the AfricanAmerican family, the roles are played by the father when both parentsare present and the mother in a single parent family. In the whitefamily, the roles are equally distributed between the husband and thewife, even in cases of divorce.


Alexander,L. M., &amp Rucker, W. C. (2010). Encyclopediaof African American History: Volume 3.Santa Barbara, Calif: Abc-Clio.

Marin,D. (2011). ThisIs US: The new all-American family.Hampton: JY &amp B Publishing.

Wiseman,D. (2008). TheAmerican family: Understanding its changing dynamics and place insociety.Springfield, Ill: Charles C. Thomas, Publisher.