In Poland, the family is fundamental to people’s lives and society, grounding individuals. Extended relatives play a central role. The extended family is often considered close family, as well as any long-term boyfriends or girlfriends of children. The elderly are usually very involved with their grandchildren’s lives. While most households are nuclear, these large networks of relationships congregate together as often as possible. However, this is becoming more difficult with the changing life tempo. Poles are staying home less and working more. Parental contact time is decreasing as, in many households, both the mother and father are working hard to secure their children’s monetary future.
Nevertheless, family values are still upheld with utmost importance – both in people’s personal lives and the national debates. For example, changes to the that reduce the amount of time an individual is afforded with their children have been commonly challenged as ‘anti-family’. Shared meals are very important to maintaining cohesion within the family unit. Families often try to dine together as much as possible.
Traditionally, the family is with the father considered a dominant authority figure. However, mothers are also known for effectively commanding a household. Most Poles recognise this dual power dynamic. A common Polish saying explains that while the man is the head of the family, “the woman is the neck that turns the head”. The enforced socialist policies of communist times increased gender equality. Today, both parents generally work, with women often taking leading roles.
Many traditional family values remain important to Poles. Parents generally expect obedience from their children, but ultimately want them to be independent and self-reliant. Children are often given considerable responsibilities from early ages. Traditionally, older relatives are cared for by the family. However, nursing homes and residential care facilities are increasing in use. If parents must live in a nursing home, their children are expected to visit them often and make all arrangements for them.
Dating and Marriage
The Polish have similar dating customs to other Western European countries, but remain somewhat conservative regarding relationships. Poles tend to marry at a younger age than any other country in the European Union, and couples are generally discouraged from living together before marriage. Instead, parents of the couple often give financial assistance and allow a newlywed couple to live in their family home for the first few years.
In the 1990s, over half of all married men were under 25 years of age. However, this is changing. The percentage of married women under 25 has decreased from 73% in the 1990s to 34% in 2013. Today, the age group most likely to get married is aged between 25 and 29. This older age of marriage means that Poles are generally more educated by the time they get married. In 2013, 47% of brides had a high level of education. This is in comparison to 15% in 2000 and only 4% in the 1990s.
Polish weddings themselves are traditionally massive affairs with a lot of cheeky games occurring between speeches and dining. Weddings often reveal the Poles’ love for parties. For example, the custom of ‘poprawiny’ means having a second wedding party after the first.