Guatemalan Family Life: Exploring Roles & Traditions

Published January 28, 2021
Guatemalan Maya Family

Guatemala is a beautiful country. It has a diverse landscape filled with lush green fields, mountains, volcanos, beaches, rainforests, a rich history, and a vibrant culture. Guatemala is a great place to vacation, but you have to see beyond the tourist attractions tto learn about Guatemalan family life.

Guatemalan Family Life

Guatemalan family life depends on whether the family is indigenous (Maya) or ladino (those who have adopted the Spanish language, dress, and lifestyle, regardless of race). It is estimated that the indigenous population is between 35 -50% of the total population.

Ladino Families

Among the more urban ladinos who live a more western lifestyle, a family that includes a father, mother, and children is the most common. A more prosperous Ladino household might also include grandparents or other relatives and servants.

Indigenous Families

In the indigenous (Maya) rural areas, it's common for the nuclear and extended family to share the same home. Alternately, parents, sons who are married and their family, unmarried children, and grandparent may live in a family compound. Often, the extended family shares responsibilities such as food, childcare, and finances. The extended family is the basis of the indigenous community. Indigenous Guatemalans rarely marry outside their own language group and village.

Family of indigenous Mayans

Guatemalan Family Roles

Guatemala is patriarchal and the most gender unequal country in Latin America. It's traditional gender roles revolve around machismo, caballerismo, and marianismo. This means that in Guatemalan families, men are generally the strong, aggressive head of the family and provider, while women are the moral core of the family and handle the majority of household work and childcare.

Guatemalan Families

The Guatemalan culture is warm, generous, places great emphasis on family, and values solidarity, interdependance, cooperation, and loyalty. Due to these values, a Guatemalan family includes actual family members and often extends to friends, household servants, and others. Families rely on their community for support and resources. You could say in Guatemala, "it takes a village to raise a child."


Guatemalan values, such as colectivismo (group) and personalismo (friendliness), mean that it's traditional for mothers to have the support of a social community. The support includes a padrino and madrina (godfather and godmother) and a compadre or comadre (close friend, companion, or close associate) who also have godparent roles.

Mother and Child

Guatemalan mothers are usually very protective of their children, especially their daughters. Young children are seldom out of their mother's site. Co-sleeping with infants and children is not merely a trend; it's what Guatemalan mothers do.

The Family Home

The family home has few modern conveniences, but protecting the family home is paramount. The more affluent families often live in gated communities, but most houses have some sort of wall around them.

Old village in Guatemala

Problems Guatemalan Families Face

There's a significant disparity between rich and poor in Guatemala, which has one of the world's highest poverty levels. The country struggles with health and development, malnutrition, literacy, contraceptive awareness, political instability, and natural disasters. Sadly, this all greatly affects Guatemalan families, which is often the only dependable source of support and safety for family members.


According to, in Guatemala, "almost half of all children under the age of 5 suffer from anemia, and malnutrition is the single largest cause of child mortality in this age group. Almost 60 percent of children living in rural areas experience stunting due to malnutrition." says, "Lack of food is a daily concern for many Guatemalan families," predominantly indigenous families.


Guatemalans have a saying, "El que te quiere, te aporrea." (The one who loves you, beats you). This a sad expression of how violence is seen as normal and even as an expression of affection. Violence is another problem facing Guatemalan families. Children are confronted with violence and insecurity in the streets and within the family. Domestic violence is common. Corporal punishment is accepted and practiced in Guatemala and often leads to abused children who end up on their own with no safe or secure place to go. According to, Guatemala's "double-digit rate of child homicide" is among the world's highest.

Child Labor reports that "more than 20% of Guatemalan children are forced to work to contribute to their family's income." These children have various jobs and are often "exploited ruthlessly in strenuous and sometimes dangerous situations. "


According to, "migration has become a duty for many families in some parts of Guatemala." While the Guatemalan's who migrate looking for a better life may send financial support back to their families, migration alters Guatemalan families. Children might be left behind by migrating parents, brought along, or migrate on their own without an adult guardian. says the "involvement of substitute care or the lack of care causes difficulties for some children's emotional well-being and psychological development."

Guatemalan Traditions

Guatemalans have little sense of shared cultural traditions due to their ethnic diversity, which can be seen in the various languages and lifestyles throughout the country. However, as more indigenous families move to urban areas for education and greater opportunities, a blending of native and western traditions is happening. There's likely to be even greater consolidation in the future, this means that rather than ethnic background social class is likely to determine what Guatemalan family life will be like in the future.

Guatemalan Family Life: Exploring Roles & Traditions