Family roles in the USA

Resettlement or immigration to the USA may have a major impact on your family. The changing family roles can be one of the hardest parts of adjusting to a new life. Understanding about family roles in the USA can make it easier to cope with the changes.


Mother and grandmother laughing with three small children
Photo courtesy of Lisa Krantz

Gender roles

One of the biggest differences in family roles you may have to adapt to in the USA is gender roles. In the USA, women often work outside of the house. Women and men share household chores. Both women and men take care of the children. Sometimes, men feel frustrated because they are not used to cleaning the house or cooking dinner. But in the USA, helping out in the house and with the children is seen as an important part of being a man.

You can learn more about women in the USA.

Family roles for parents

Parenting in the USA may be very different than in your home country. Refugee and immigrant children often adjust and adapt to life in the United States much faster than their parents. They often learn English faster than their parents as well. This can be hard for you as parents and for your children, especially since you may depend on your children to help you get around and to translate for you.

Many Americans send their children to daycare centers. This means they are watched by someone outside of the home. For some refugees, this is a very strange situation. You may have always had your children at home with you or maybe you had grandparents to help take care of them. In the USA, many neighbors help each other share child care. If you live near other refugees and immigrants, think about asking them to share child care.

Newcomer parents sometimes have a hard time because their children’s behavior changes from how it was in their home country. You might not like some of their new behaviors, and you will need to learn about new ways to parent in the USA. And yet, although it may be hard, you will still be able to pass on parts of your culture to your children while also helping them succeed in the USA.

Child abuse

Children in America have laws to protect them, which means it is against the law to abuse your children. Federal Law defines abuse as anything that causes serious harm to your children or puts them in danger. Physical abuse means anything that was not an accident and can range from a small bruise to a serious injury like a broken bone. Injuries to children are abuse even if the parent did not mean to hurt the child. Physical discipline, such as spanking a child on the bottom, is allowed but not recommended.

You are also not allowed to emotionally abuse your child. Emotional abuse means something that can prevent a child from fully developing. Emotional abuse can include constant criticism, threats, or rejection, as well as withholding love, support, or guidance.

Child neglect

Child neglect means that a parent does not provide for their children’s basic needs. In the USA, you are not allowed to leave young children at home alone. You are also not allowed to leave young children alone away from home, even if they are in a stroller, on a playground, in a shop, office, library, or car. Young children must be supervised at all times.

Abandonment is now defined in many states as a form of neglect. In general, a child is considered abandoned if a child does not know where their parent is or if the child has been left alone and has been injured.

You can read more about child abuse and neglect.

Family roles for grandparents

Many older newcomers have a hard time adjusting to family roles in the USA. In many countries around the world, elders are treated with a lot of respect. Children listen to them. They are seen as sources of wisdom in their communities.

In the USA, many people value youth over age. A lot of the knowledge that elder refugees have is not as useful as it was in their home country. For example, an older refugee may know a lot about farming or tending to cows but in America, his family members work in office buildings.

Sometimes, older refugees start to feel useless. But sharing your culture and keeping your family tied to your home country is a very important job for you. Also, try to remember that even though children may act differently in their new home, they still can love you.

There are also some really good organizations around the country that support older refugees. You can find information for elders and how to find a senior center.

The information about child abuse and child neglect on this page comes from the US Government’s Children’s Bureau and other trusted  sources. It is intended for guidance and is updated as often as possible. USAHello does not give legal advice, nor are any of our materials intended to be taken as legal advice. If you are looking for a free or low-cost lawyer or legal help, we can help you find free and low-cost legal services.