FAMILY IS A PLACE TO
by Linda Kondracki
The sense that "I belong in this
family" is not something children automatically feel. Rather, it
is something we orchestrate for them as we give our children a sense
of their family history.
Eleven year old Jason was crying. His dad had just told the family he
was moving out of the house to live somewhere else. "I can never
go to school again," he said through his tears.
"Why not?" Dad wanted to know.
"Because all the kids will think I'm different," came the
Dad wasn't convinced. "Jason," he asked, "how many kids
in your class have parents who are divorced? He waited while Jason
named eleven kids in his class of 25 students. "There," Dad
consoled, "you aren't different. Lots of kids have parents who
"I don't care," Jason wailed. "All the kids will think
I'm different because I don't have a family anymore!"
Eight year old Jenny had been very quiet and withdrawn for several
days. Finally, she asked her Mom, "Why don't we ever see Grandma
and Grandpa anymore?"
Mom looked at her daughter with sadness. "Remember how I told you
before that some things happened when I was a little girl that hurt me
very much? Until we can work it all out, it's better for us to stay
away from each other. I'm sorry you are missing them so much."
Jenny hugged her teddy bear closer. "Mom," she asked
timidly, "when I grow up, is that going to happen to you and me,
Belonging is a basic human need, and the place children learn about
belonging is in their families. The issue of belonging to the family
is really one of building positive bonds of attachment to each other -
a healthy aspect of family life. Unfortunately, we are living in a
time when children's sense of belonging in their families is very
often seriously damaged by the emotional trauma so rampant in our
society today. I'll never forget one seven year old girl's response in
one of our Confident Kids support groups: "How can your family be
a place where you belong," she asked timidly, "when your
Daddy says he hates you?"
Parents in recovery must deal with the reality that one of the primary
ways we help our children develop healthy attachments is by helping
them understand their family history. The problem arises when parents
who suffered damaged or severed family relationships want to protect
their children from their past history rather than talk about it
openly. However, parents in recovery also know better than anyone else
that it is only by understanding our past history of family
relationships - both positive and negative - that we can create
healthy ones in the future. Although the following suggestions may be
hard for your to do, they will help you accomplish that goal.
- Keep a family album for each
Their album should tell them their
family history. Include "heritage" pictures from both
biological parents, as well as pictures of their own history
beginning with their birth (or adoption). Be sure to include
pictures that are important to your child's history, even if they
may be painful for you to look at.
- Tell family history/stories to
Kids love to hear family stories from
the past, and it is an essential part of building family
connectedness. I'll never forget sitting in on a family counseling
session with a father and three teen-age boys. The therapist,
realizing that the father had never told his sons anything about his
life growing up, insisted that the father tell his boys their family
history right there in the counseling room. The boys were deeply
moved by the story of how their grandfather had been involved in the
mafia! The father, however, had withheld this information because he
didn't want his sons to know about their criminal ancestor, and
possibly become like him. But I saw the bondedness that happened as
they were finally given a sense of family history! No matter what
the history is, kids need to grow up feeling connected to a past.
- Grieve family losses together.
When there is a special loss in a
family, the whole family needs to be included in the grief process.
Times of loss are the most dangerous ones for losing a sense of
belonging to the family. To stay connected, all family members need
to know that you are all in this together, and can cry, be angry and
remember the past without losing their place in the family.
- Plan for family togetherness.
Having a family history is about more
than just being connected to the past; it is also about creating a
history by the quality of your life together now. Family belonging
never happens automatically; it takes work and planning. If you
don't plan for it, it probably won't happen. Schedule times for
family outings, work days and celebrations - and don't let anything
stop them from happening!
Activity: Celebrate Your Family
Keeping connected to your family history takes intentional
work. Set aside a specific time to do one or more of the following:
- Sort through family pictures,
movies, videos, etc. Your goal: Celebrate memories, tell family
history, grieve past losses, start or update family albums.
- Invite extended family over and
record family history stories. Set up a tape recorder or video
recorder and invite several generations of family members over and
get them started telling family stories from as far back as they
can remember. Use these stories as occasions to talk with your
children about family dysfunctions, as well as the strengths
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by Linda Kondracki in STEPS Magazine.
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