Russian families are large and friendly. The meaning of the family in Russia is not limited to the husband, wife and children. It stretches to include grandparents, aunts and uncles, brothers, sisters, nephews and nieces. The members of the Russian family closely communicate with each other and frequently get together, especially on such family occasions as birthdays and anniversaries. Just like in any family, there might be misunderstandings and even quarrels among family members, however one thing is certain: Russians cherish their families and are always ready to help their relatives in difficult times. The tradition that everyone should love their own home and protect their family is instilled into Russians since the early childhood.
Just a few decades ago, it was very common among Russians to play the wedding at an early age. Young men and women would get married at the age of 18-20 while studying in their second or third year at the university. A typical student family (студенческая семья) would consist of a young husband and wife pursuing their university degrees while receiving material support from their parents.
According to the latest statistics, the marriages between Russians of the same age are much less common. In the majority of Russian families, the husband is 4-6 years older than his wife but the age difference of more than 10 years is still acceptable by most Russians (for example, the lead singer of the popular Russian band Mumiy Troll is sixteen years older than his young wife).
The Russian tradition, according to which a young woman had to get married as early as possible traces its roots to the distant past. In the ancient Rus', a fifteen year-old girl was considered to be mature enough for adult life and giving birth to children. Marriages were arranged and were a matter of practicality with the emphasis not being on romance. Such views on life preserved in Russia until the end of the twentieth century when marriages at the age of 18-20 were still common. It was only at the close of the twentieth century when an unmarried 20-year-old girl would no longer be referred to as someone who "stayed too long in maids" (засидеться в девках) and an unmarried 25-year-old woman would no longer be called the "old maid" (старая дева).
Nowadays the majority of young men and women in Russia prefer not to rush to marriage and the opposite trend has gained popularity: prior to marriage, the future spouses strive to receive good education, find a decent job and achieve the first successes in their careers. By the time of marriage and the birth of children, the young families have their lives arranged and are able to support themselves financially.
Civil unions have been gaining popularity in Russia lately. A civil union is a relationship where a man and a woman live together and share household expenses without officially registering a marriage. Civil union is a great opportunity for the young couple to test their feelings and make sure they are ready for a family life together. A marriage becomes official when the couple receives a wedding certificate in the Civil Registry Office (ZAGS) and gets married in a civil ceremony. In addition to the official civil ceremony, many newlyweds arrange an Orthodox wedding ceremony in the Church.
The question of where newlyweds will live is not an easy one to answer. Young couples rarely have an opportunity to buy their own apartment or a house. In wealthy families, an apartment may become a wedding gift from relatives. Some couples apply for a home loan to buy their first home. Other couples rent an apartment paying monthly rent to the landlord. However, there are still a lot of young families who prefer to live with their parents to save money. Living together as an extended family is so common in Russia that it can be called a tradition. It's been always a norm for grandparents, their children and grandchildren to live together as a family in one house. This trend has seen some changes lately. Nowadays, more and more young Russian families strive to get their own housing whereas the families regularly reunite during a weekend family dinner.
The husband's in-laws are called тесть (father-in-law) and тёща (mother-in-law) in Russian. The wife's in-laws are called свёкор (father-in-law) and свекровь (mother-in-law).
When talking to their in-laws the young spouses may simply call them мама (mom) or папа (dad). At the same time, they use the formal pronoun вы to show respect to the older generation. However, that is not a requirement and each family finds their own ways to address their in-laws.
The birth of children means that one of the spouses will be forced to temporarily leave work. Just like in other country, there are agencies providing the services of nannies and babysitters however their services are rather expensive and young spouses prefer to take care or children on their own. Many families receive the support of grandmothers. It's fairly common in Russia for a grandmother to look after children while their parents are at work. In any case, parents always have a right to leave work for the term specified by law. This time is called декретный отпуск (parental leave) and is paid by the state. Either the mother or the father of the newborn may уйти в декрет (take the parental leave) depending on whose job pays more.
Just like in any other country, a couple may realize that their marriage has become obsolete after a few years of living together. Formal dissolution of marriage is called развод (divorce) and occurs when one of the spouses or both of them files and official request for divorce. The children may stay with either their mother or father but it's more common for mothers to keep bringing them up. After divorce, the father helps support his children till they turn 18 years old—the age when a child is considered and adult in Russia. The support comes in the form of monthly payments called "алименты" (alimony). The amount of child support that the father pays is 25% of wages for one child, 1/3 of wages for two children, or half of wages for three children.
The Russian Federation actively supports young families to reduce the number of divorces. There is a special program in Russia that supports construction of housing for young couples and provides favorable terms for home loans.
When a child is born, the young family receives support in the amount of 343,387 rubles (approximately $11,000 in 2010). Many Russian families bring up three or more children. These families are called многодетные (large families) and receive discounts on electricity, gas, water, education and public transport.
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