Saturday, October 9, 2010

A Family of Connected Individuals

Being a family means that you are all related, however, it does not mean that you are all alike. One of the challenges in a family is creating space where each member can be an individual. Families are not created in a vacuum. Each parent comes with a lifetime of influence from their family of origin, and the experience of being in that family affects every aspect of their life in some way. When we choose to have children we often start recreating our family of origin without consciously realizing what we are doing.

In some families everyone is expected to accept and embrace the family religion, eating and sleeping habits, hobbies and recreational activities. These families live a life defined by the parents, often a life defined by their parents before them. These families have a strong identity as a unit, "this is who we are," and the individual members are seen only as parts of the whole. In these families there is very little room for personal growth outside of the prescribed pattern. These parents know what is best for their children, what their children need to do to grow up and be successful, what their children should and shouldn't eat, what their children need to believe, and the person their child should grow up to be. These parents are often very involved in their children's lives as a dominant authority figure. These children learn that the purpose of the family is to meet the parents' needs and expectations.

In some families the emphasis is placed on the individual. The parents often identify strongly with their roles outside the family. They push their children towards autonomy from birth. As the children grow older the family members have separate lives while living together in one house. The parents encourage the children to develop hobbies and interest, but usually do not share in those activities. The parents have their own interests and hobbies, and having time for those/time for themselves is often a higher priority than spending time together as a family. The parenting in these families focuses on making life more convenient for the parents. The children sleep on a schedule, in their own rooms, through the night, so the parents can have scheduled time to themselves after the children go to bed. The children eat on schedule and eat what is offered to minimize the time parents have spend on food preparation and cleanup. The children learn early on not to expect their needs to be met if it will inconvenience their parents.

Read My child doesn't mind to see how being raised in either of these families can affect some children.

My goal as a mother, as a member of a family, and as a wife, is to find the balance of living together as a connected family while supporting each other as individuals. Part of strong relationships is the ability to accept the other person as they are, not because they are who we want them to be. This is particularly true in the parent child relationship. In our society certain activities, jobs, hobbies, life-styles are held up as more important, more valuable, more worthy, than others. As parents we must value our children's interests equally. If one child loves to read and the other loves to play games on the computer, if one child loves to play football and the other would rather go for long walks in the woods, if one writes stories while and the other draws cartoon characters, we may feel like one child is wasting time while the other is learning. In different families different activities may be valued more highly. In one family being a football player maybe a valued activity; in another, it may be seen as a distraction from academics. We must realize that just because something is important and meaningful to us does not mean it will be the same for our children. We also must learn to support our children in their interests, even the ones we initially find uninteresting. At the very least we can be interested in our child's interest, even if we aren't interested in the actual activity or subject. In our society certain personalities and behaviors are also held up as more desirable and worthy. Children who are quiet, calm and obedient may be seen as good children, while high energy, high volume children may be punished for being disruptive. Children who are easy going and adaptable are given approval, while children who are intense and focused, requiring time to transition between activities, are seen as challenging or difficult. Parents often fail to consider how the seemingly less desirable traits may be beneficial along a child's life journey.

We can try to mold our children into mini-me's. We can stuff them into appropriately labeled socially accepted boxes. Or, we can appreciate our children for who they are. It is easy to smile and nod and agree that we should appreciate our children. It is much more challenging, and healthier for everyone, when we realize we need to look at our families, children and relationships, and consider where we are letting our expectations, preferences and ingrained patterns get in the way of our appreciation for, and enjoyment of, our children. As a family we can appreciate the richness our differences bring to our life together.

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