The family structure of the Haudenosaunee is primarily based on the clan system. Families start with a female ancestor with all those dwelling in her long house linking back to her. Each family was called the long house family with the Clan Mother as the head. All female descendents including her sisters, her sisters’ daughters, and their daughters would live in the long house their entire lives bringing their husbands to live with them.
Sons stayed in the same house with her until they married and moved into their wife’s house, though they would still be members of their mother’s long house and their loyalty would always go there first. Children all lived in the long house where they were surrounded by their family and could be taught by their elders. Every child was welcomed and cared for by its mother, mother’s sisters and their husbands.
Children in the long house family were much closer to the women living in the long house who were more often around while the men were off hunting and trapping. Children called their mother and their mother’s sisters all “mother” leaving them with a great sense of security with so many mothers. Following this, Haudenosaunee children also had many “brothers” and “sisters.” They not only referred to their biological siblings as brothers and sisters, but also to their cousins as brothers and sisters.
Traditionally, women handled village concerns like property and crops while men took care of hunting, fishing and trade concerns. No member of a Haudenosaunee family was over looked with Elders holding respected positions within the communities as the wisdom keepers: the ones to impart traditions and to help raise the children.
Misbehaving children were not physically disciplined as Europeans of the time might but instead were punished by having water thrown on them. The idea was that the water would wash away the badness. Older children were dunked in the flow of a stream. If the water method does not work older children and teenagers would be hit three times with a red willow whip, each time asked if they will behave. Usually Haudenosaunee children’s own sense of morals would leave them ashamed and embarrassed of their own actions upon seeing the sadness and disappointment of their Elders.
Family structure today is more like the common nuclear family consisting of a mother, father and children. However, the Haudenosaunee still follow the traditional matriarchal structure with clans being passed down through their mother.