The family is a complicated system. But again, what is a
family? James and Nancy and Jimmy are a family, yet families are
more than parents and children. Families include all the generations
and all the people we consider relatives, whether by birth, marriage, or
adoption. We need to distinguish between nuclear families [parents
and their children] and families of origin--where we all come from.
paying attention to multi-generational issues
When we look at previous generations, we find
the wisdom and answers for which we're looking. I wouldn't want to count how many
times I've assigned couples in marital therapy the task of asking their parents for
"3 powerful suggestions for improving their marriage." I am constantly in
awe of the creativity and relevance of the answers I hear.
We learn to relate to our children and other people
from our parents, and they learn to relate to us and other people from their parents, and
so on. Of course, this is a tremendous oversimplification--we also learn from our
kids and many others in an ongoing give and take process.
Every family has its story--its myths and rituals that embody truth as
the family has experienced it, and these myths affects us and our world view whether or not
we are aware of them. Since wisdom, ways of
relating, and even how we see and define the world are handed down from generation to
we should pay attention. When we recognize our legacy--what we get along with the love and caring from our
can accept the traditions and patterns which are useful
and meaningful to us, and change those that are not.
This example is a fairly benign expression of a "leaving home
issue." The daughters of this family tend to be perhaps just a little more
connected to their family of origin than to their nuclear families. This is not
necessarily abnormal--neither I nor any family therapist has a right to say how much
connection to either family is right.
In this example, we have grandparents, parents,
and a granddaughter. The grandmother died 3 years ago [indicated by
the line drawn through her circle]. Now, in this family, the daughter
was always close to her father and distant from her mother (when we
see a pattern like this, we might wonder if relationships between
parents and children are more intense or more important than those
between spouses). When her mother died, she naturally became the
caretaker for her father and devoted so much time to him that her
husband became angry and lonely. He gradually drew closer to his
daughter. What kind of relationship will the granddaughter have with
her husband, if she marries? One possibility is that she'll marry a
loving, fatherly kind of guy who will probably, in fact, be an
excellent and involved father to his children, freeing up his wife to
care for her father.
questions, or suggestions? Please, email
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Jonathan P. Levine, CSW
2300 West Ridge Rd.
Rochester, NY 14626
Jonathan P. Levine, CSW