Personal and family relations in Lithuania | True Lithuania
True Lithuania

Personal and family relations in Lithuania

Nuclear family vs. extended family

The basis of Lithuanian nation is the nuclear family. The number of kids has been decreasing recently; today a family of four (two parents and two children) is the social norm.

It is now acceptable for couples to forego marriage (see: marriage traditions) but a cohabiting boyfriend-girlfriend couple is still considered a family by most now (except for the older generations) and acts like one. Especially so if they cohabit for several years or if they have children.

Lithuanian language has a multitude of words to describe obscure family relations (e.g. "kaliboba" - 4th husband, "dieveris" - husband's brother, "laigonas" - wife's brother). This signifies the importance a wider family once had but today these words are largely forgotten. Under the Soviet occupation, it was common to relocate people - therefore now relatives rarely live nearby and meet only on special occasions (e.g. someone's wedding or funeral) if at all. Typically, the only relatives one keeps regular contact with after growing up are the closest ones (parents, siblings, grandparents), and, from among the rest, the very few that also happened to become friends (e.g. one particular cousin one always got along with very well). It is common to not even know, for example, every cousin once removed (often a person just knows the ones who live nearby or whose parents were their parents' friends).

Housing shortage under the Soviet occupation meant that three generations typically had to share the same apartment. This changed now and adult children usually move out (although may still be supported financially), largely breaking free from parental control. The moving out often happens as one joins a university, which is often in another city. Typically, the young person then rents an apartment (or dormitory) together with other students but eventually move on to rent one alone or together with her/his boyfriend/girlfriend, thus effectively forming a family unit. Alternatively, if a child gets into a university in the same city, the moving out from parents' house often happens later (mid-20s or marriage time), depending on his/her wishes and financial possibilities / parental support for that.

Some urban Lithuanian keep cats and dogs which they treat as a "junior family member". Villagers, on the other hand, more often regard their pets more like farm animals limiting their time inside homes and expecting utility rather than cuteness (i.e. mice-eating cats and security dogs).

Money in Lithuanian families

Husband and wife usually share the income with the wife spending more. It is nearly universal that they both do work, although the husband typically concentrates on the career more (see the article on "Age groups and genders in Lithuania"). "Housewives" ar limited to very few families where husbands are rich *and* the wife has competely no interest in any work. Even in rich families, though, the wife often has some hobby-job, and hire a nanny to care for the children (this may seem perplexing to some outsiders as often the nanny is paid more than the wife earns). In such cases, a nanny sometimes becomes a kind of "junior family member" but, beyond that, any hired help is very rare or limited to "calls-on-demand" (e.g. to repair a fridge), with no personal relationships developing. The "housewife" role did not really develop in Lithuania; before World War 2, the majority of Lithuanians were still peasants. In peasant families, husband, wife, and kids all had to work in order to be able to survive. The mass urbanization came to Lithuania only after WW2. While in much of the world, urbanization would also lead to "working husband, housewife wife" types of families, this didn't happen in Lithuania, as the Soviet occupational regime generally required everybody (including women) to work.

Student children are given limited allowances on family money. A family may also give money and other support to their parents and a few other relatives in dire straits. It is regarded to be dishonourable if one's parents are in poverty when that person is relatively wealthy. Moreover, it is considered equally dishonourable to put the parents into any senior facility, which are low-quality in Lithuania. However, regardless of how rich someone is, he is not expected to share very much of it with his parents: he is just expected to keep them above the poverty line and to enable them living on their own.

Some half of marriages now end in divorce. What happens afterward, depends on particular people: mass divorcing is quite a new phenomenon and thus there is no tradition. Some couples manage to keep civil relations and join their forces in parenting their children; in other couples, child custody becomes a "weapon" in court fights. Often the court-sanctioned solution is that one parent (typically, the mother) will have a custody of a child with the other one (typically, the father) paying money. The money is legally meant to be spent for the child alone (e.g. his/her education and hobbies) but often mothers spend it on their own hobbies as there is little possibilities to check. Due to equality of genders and the common tradition of female work, there is no requirement to pay money directly to a former wife.

Child parenting in Lithuania

Lithuanian child parenting styles and values vary greatly from family to family, and libertarian laws respect this. For example, some parents may micromanage their kids and drive them everywhere while others would send them to a school alone from a young age, encouraging their independence. Some may be strict in their expectations while others may allow the children to choose their own path. Some may set exact "bed times", "PC game time limits", and try to "censor" what the child sees, while others may not limit child's access to computers, internet, "blood" and "sex" at all, believing that kids would see all that anyways or that censorship is always evil. Some may "pour" many gifts and lavish lifestyle on their children while others - even if actually richer - would try to enforce a frugal lifestyle reminiscent of their own childhoods (buying very few cheap toys, avoiding anything prestigious, etc.), believing that anything else would spoil the kids. Any state intervention into child-rearing (which is common in the West) is generally frowned upon although there is more of it since late 2010s, copying the West.

The extent of which parents participate in the lives of their grown-up children also varies greatly, ranging from "you are grown up now so you must decide / act / take responsibility yourself" attitude since approximately some time in child's early 20s (or since child's "first serious gf/bf relationship" / marriage) to attempts to micro-manage the lives of the grown-up-and-married children, keep a daily contact and regular mutual visits, expect to "know everything about them", etc. There is no exact cultural norm here and the choice is up to the parents. The grown up children may either like their parents' "strategy" or not (whatever that strategy is) and thus may either comply with it or not (there is no cultural norm here either). Often, there are problems in young families when husband's and wife's relationship-with-parents preferences (and the preferences of their parents') differ greatly. A "micro-managing mother-in-law" is among the top reasons for divorce when her son or daughter likes this micro-management but his/her spouse does not. For these reasons, in a lot of Lithuanian jokes, the "mother in law" is an especially evil figure.

That said, grandparents often help with rearing children, although the extent of that now varies greatly as well, from grandparents serving as effective free nannies to just taking the children once a month or more rarely.

The reason for such variation in practices of parents-to-child relationships may be the Lithuanian history, as Lithuania was subjected to strong, sometimes forcible, cultural influences that often competed and collided with each other, including the Christian family relation expectations, Soviet expectations, Western expectations, etc. In addition to that, there was swift urbanization, movement to capitalism, migration, and more factors.

Boyfriend / girlfriend relations in Lithuania

While a part of youth has a dissenting opinion, having sex is commonly held to be an important commitment and faithfulness is valued. The average number of lifetime sexual partners is less than 3. Teen pregnancy, abortion and STD rates in Lithuania are all considerably lower than those of the two other Baltic States.

A common "life story" in Lithuania is that a person would have several "serious relationships" in the life (e.g. 1 to 5), most of them at least months but usually multiple years long. For many, each serious relationship would mean sex, cohabiting, and marriage and/or children. All of that outside "serious relationship" would be uncommon for the most, especially for the people of generations born before 1980s. At the same time, many would question the quality of serious relationship if there is either no sex, no cohabiting, no marriage, or no children, although now there are exceptions.

Before a relationship become "serious", the future boyfriend and girlfriend typically have some relations of another type, e.g. co-workers, classmates, or friends (see "Dating in Lithuania"). Historically, marriage would be the sudden moment a relationship is converted into a serious one, with everything else coming together. After 1990s, however, this development is much less clear and there is no single time that relationship become "serious". Rather, there are multiple steps that increase the seriousness, including sex, cohabitation, marriage and having children. Each of these steps is often taken months (or even years) away from the other steps; these days, it is not uncommon to have a decade or more separating the "first" and the "last" of these four steps. It is extremely rare for somebody not to have sex until marriage, for example, or marry quickly after the first sex. While sex>cohabiting>marriage>children is the most common order of "growing relationship seriousness", the orders sex>cohabiting>children>marriage or sex>marriage/cohabiting>children are also possible.

The terms "boyfriend" / "girlfriend" (vaikinas, mergina) can mean either a serious relationship (effectively "unmarried family") or an "unserious" relationship that lacks most or even all of the above attributes (but includes, for example, going out together to engage in various hobbies or hugging / kissing, which are steps of a relationship usually taken before sex). As there may be different expectations in what is "essential" for serious relationship, this may lead to conflicts / misunderstandings, with one person believing that the relationship is already serious after the first kiss, another one believing it is serious after the first sex, and yet another one thinking it is not serious before marriage or even children.

Friends relations in Lithuania

After the nuclear family (wife/husband and children) or boyfriend/girfriend, an average Lithuanian spends much of his remaining free time with friends. "Friends" include select relatives, select workmates, a few (former) classmates and (former) university mates. Friendships are generally within the same age group and more-often-than-not the same gender. Often, friends form a kind of a group (e.g. 4-8 people) that (semi-)regularly meets all together. While such a "group of friends" is often derived from some kind of formal group (e.g. a class), it typically includes only a part of the members of that larger group and may grow to include some outsiders. Each person may be a part of several such "friend groups" and have some friends outside these groups as well.

While there are various events where entire mass of people of some large group meets (e.g. a class reunion, a pre-Christmas company party of co-workers, or a wider family reunion), typically, even during these events, the "large group" quickly disintegrates into smaller "regular" friend groups who spend time together. Someone who has no friends among that wider group of people may thus be inclined to avoid participating in such events, or make a token appearance only.

Male friends tend to limit touching each other to handshakes while for female friends hugs and kisses are acceptable.

Hierarchic relationships in Lithuania (student/teacher, boss/employee, etc.)

Social differences do not preclude friendships but boss-employee or teacher-student friendships are rare as hierarchy prevails in most institutions. Deliberations have now become more fashionable but it is still usually up to the leader to individually decide whether to take the advice of his/her subordinates. This decision-making hierarchy, however, does not mean inequality of working conditions.

Also, while somebody in a hierarchy below somebody else is unlikely to voice discontent directly and is likely to "play the role of a subordinate" to the fullest, hierarchy alone does not mean the "leader" would be respected beyond what is required. Lithuanians tend to choose the people they respect and follow themselves, regardless of societal position. While a small child may always respect and follow his mother and father, this may or may not stop at the teenage years. Likewise, the positions of teacher, boss, "rich-and-famous", politician or other does give more chance to earn respect than other positions at best - but, in any sense, a respect must be earned. In fact, a position of power or attention is also a "great opportunity" to become a target of hate - and there are likely even more hated bosses, teachers, politicians, "stars" than there are respected ones. For example, a "bad teacher" won't be respected simply because he/she is a teacher - rather, he/she will most likely be hated because "How could a person like that work as a teacher?". Nevetheless, such a "hated teacher" would likely still be shown "visual obedience" as his/her position demands. Parents or grandparents are typically loved but that does not mean they will be respected in the sense of regarding their opinions or requests as important - this is also completely personal.

Nevertheless, regardless of somebody's personal opinion on somebody else, there are many times one will still show his obedience visually, and it is not appropriate not to do this. This includes talking to those "higher up" in plural ("jūs" rather than "tu"), standing up when a teacher comes into the room at some schools, etc.

Younger people treat seniors (older by 10+ years) more formally than otherwise expected, whereas older people treat younger ones less formally, essentially creating a hierarchic age-based relationship as well even though there is no direct hierarchy. One is not expected to listen to or follow others just because they are older, though: here too, the respect beyond "visual obedience" must be earned.

Neigbors, acquaintances, and strangers

Lithuanians almost never talk to strangers, except for "designated areas" such as nightclubs and internet forums. They keep a high degree of formality towards acquaintances (e.g. co-workers who are not friends) and service personnel. It may be considered untactful to display emotions or (to a lesser extent) political-philosophical opinions to anyone but one's friends.

In Lithuanian villages, the "everybody knows everybody else" tenet still holds true. In cities, however, the neighbour relations essentially have been destroyed by the centrally-planned Soviet urbanization (when very different people used to be moved into the same neighbourhoods). Average urban Lithuanian knows very little about those who live next door even for years. Not saying "hello" to one's neighbour is not considered rude. This is somewhat changing in post-independence housing developments where more similar people (in age, salary, education) acquire apartments.

Typical large Soviet residentials in Klaipėda. Nearly every such building houses both rich businessmen and poor pensioners, Lithuanians and Russians, hard workers and alcohol-addicted social security recipients. At one time even the acting Prime Minister lived in such apartment. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

On the other hand, many keep relations with people far away as a massive emigration led to virtually everybody having some relatives and childhood friends abroad (until 2004, mostly in the USA but now mostly in Western Europe). They come back for holidays and cheaper medicine and may send remittances. Some locals see emigrants as traitors, however, believing them to have sacrificed the needs of their small nation and families for personal material gain. Such views are usually held about the ones who assimilate into the foreign cultures and have no plans to return or perpetuate Lituanity abroad.

Article written by Augustinas Žemaitis

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  1. Pls tell me
    did In Lithuania English language speak people?

  2. Great website! I found some very useful information.

  3. I am gratefully acknowledging the usefulness of this informative website about the family in Lithuania.
    Prof. Charles KH Borowsky, USA


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