Do you have a sad family story?
My parents lived in a constant state of unacknowledged disappointment when I was growing up. That’s because I have only sisters, no brothers. Is it like that for you too? What about if you have another version of a sad family story?
Read on. Because there are ways to limit those stories becoming a lifelong burden to the next generation – to your children.
My Sad Family Story
Like a broken drinking glass lying on the kitchen floor, the lack of male children in my family was an irreversible reality. We talked about it under our breath, and the issue rarely rated a full conversation. But it felt like, somehow, we didn’t make the grade. There were no boys.
The saga began years before I was born when my Dad’s adored older brother, Laurence, died when they were both young men in their 20’s. Uncle Laurence was killed in action in Singapore during the war years. And ever since that tragedy, Dad planned to name a son after him.
Fast forward two decades, and our family of three girls was expecting baby Number Four. I’m Number Three in that line-up, and there was great hope that this new babe would be the longed-for boy. However, when my beautiful baby sister arrived, she was not named for weeks. Mum and Dad had so anticipated a baby boy, who would be called Laurence, that they had no idea what to call a baby girl! (They ended up naming her with an unusual female version of “Laurence” which I’m not writing here, to protect her privacy.)
As well, she is very different to us older girls – we’re all brunette, and brown or green-eyed. But our younger sister has curly, fair hair and is blue-eyed. She’s very much like one of our many cousins, and as it turned out, one of my sons. But in our immediate family, she was the black, er, blonde sheep.
Am I good enough?
The impact of that “failure” of our mother’s, was far-reaching. My sister always felt she didn’t quite meet Dad’s approval. But it was more than just her fair-hair-blue-eyed look. It was also that unspoken lack of a boy in the family. Unfortunately, just because it was unspoken didn’t make it any less real.
It turned out those two factors – not a boy, and physically different – caused my sister to deeply question her identity. Big time. Who am I? Do I even belong in this family? Is it my imagination when it feels as though Dad does not love me like the others? Am I good enough? And the most difficult thing, never verbalized until she was an adult: “Am I, in fact, adopted?”
Dad’s disappointment in her, while not intentionally communicated, seemed to sneak into just about every conversation. It was only as adults that we began to understand what shaped her feelings of inadequacy. Later still, we started to understand why she felt distant from Dad, and why she spent years seeking male approval. This was not helped by the early death of our mother when my sister and I were both still teenagers.
Finally – we have a boy in the family!
Thankfully the situation was redeemed when that same sister produced Dad’s first grandson. But not before he had six granddaughters! By that stage the lack of male heirs had become the family joke. Happily, but perhaps not unexpectedly, my new little nephew was named Samuel Laurence. But more than that, there was a measure of unexpected healing as he grew up. Especially when my sister produced Son Number Two a few years later.
Eventually, she and the boys moved from the city to live in the same country town as Dad and my lovely step-mother. It gave Dad the opportunity to be proud of his grandsons, even if they were not the sons to carry the family name, as he had always dreamed of.
Many things changed with Samuel’s birth. For one, the “boy drought” was broken (I even added a couple of boys to the tally!) And for another, the sad family story now had a new ending. Attitudes shifted. The unspoken pressure on us girls to do the impossible, to fill the boy gap, was relieved. But sadly, the impact of those decades of not-quite-making the grade had a long-term impact on all of us to some degree.
That’s what happens in many families. It’s the attitudes of fathers and mothers that make people. Or break them. I’m pretty certain you know what I’m talking about. And it’s the making of a sad family story like mine. The thing is, these sorts of traumas create dysfunction. And dysfunction passes very easily from one generation to the next.
What about the up-and-coming generation?
So how do I make sure I avoid a sad family story for my children? And how do you avoid it for yours?
That’s a great question, and is resonates with everyone I speak to about this. For me, it had to do with me working through the issues, accepting the areas where I was at fault, and consciously forgiving those who hold, or held, unhelpful attitudes.
To be honest, I can write about this family drama with this much clarity only because I’ve spent a lot of time in self-reflection, consciously thinking through the incidents of the past. While our Dad has now passed on, I still want to honor his memory. And I want to forgive him for the places where he unconsciously made life difficult for us. I know for sure that Dad loved my sister, and he did get much better at showing it as he grew older. However, I don’t think he ever truly understood how his initial disappointment had such a profound impact on her.
So last year I made a trip back to my home state specifically to talk through our family story with my younger sister. Because here’s the thing I’ve discovered: the way you stop sad stories becoming a generational pattern is by dealing with them in the present.
It’s not just a father’s mind-set, it can be a mother’s too. Your attitudes have such a huge impact on the way your children feel about themselves. Even the attitudes you’re trying desperately to hide! As the primary adults in a child’s life, parents are incredibly important keys in a person’s understanding of themselves and their identity.
Scroll down for six ways you can avoid a sad family story.
SIX Ways to Help you Avoid a Sad Family Story
1. Love unconditionally
This is so important. Make time to enjoy and love your kids, regardless of their achievements, their abilities, and their aspirations.
2. Think through some of your own attitudes
Do you have expectations of your kids that are unrealistic? Long-held dreams that you hope they can fulfill? Hopes and desires for them that you never fulfilled for yourself? Be honest. These are good questions to write down and journal about. Learn how HERE >>> Sometimes, you can unexpectedly make connections as you write. Issues surface, and problems fade away as you start to understand what happened.
The important work to be done involves clarifying the issues, being honest, forgiving yourself, and forgiving others who have hurt you. Read more about the power of forgiveness >>>
3. Work through your own disappointment
Watch out for unexplained disappointment and unrest in your relationship with your kids. Be careful as you talk about the conception and birth of a child. If it’s a sad family story, then it could be you are giving them an unhelpful message without even realizing it. And if necessary, re-write and re-tell the usual story so that it’s still truthful, but more positive, without the negative undertones.
Take time to examine what’s going on for you. Again, write it down, and face it. Maybe it’s not your children who are lacking – perhaps it’s your expectations.
4. Take lots of photos
Unfortunately, part of the problem for my sister is that there are very few photos of her as a baby. So her adoption theory seemed to hold some truth. (It wasn’t true BTW!)
We parents are so good at taking lots of photos of our eldest children as they reach their milestones, but younger children, especially the youngest often miss out. There’s no excuse for not taking photos in this day of smart phones.
I do understand though. At one level, I know life with four children was very full for my parents to manage photos, as well as everything else. At another level, I wonder if this was evidence of some deep-seated, unspoken shame having not produced that longed-for son.
5. Build freedom into family life
Freedom! Give your children the opportunity to be free to explore their own likes and dislikes. It’s a critical way for them to develop a sense of self. They love to have their good opinions validated, and they enjoy play and adventure.
Of course, with freedom comes the balance of appropriate boundaries. To take an extreme example, if you are free to drive as fast as you like, with no boundaries, then you will either produce death or injury, or end up with a speeding fine and potential imprisonment. And that equals loss of freedom. It’s a wise parent who can balance great freedom with firm boundaries.
Creating freedom for your children even goes as far as giving them the freedom to choose their future path as an adult. Read on for more, in Point 6.
6. Develop their natural talents
Expectations are big things, becoming either stumbling blocks, or giving kids wings to fly. While your hopes and dreams for your children are valid, it’s so important they have the opportunity to choose their life’s path for themselves. Of course, helping your children to develop their talents is part of the challenge, for us as well as for them. Helping them tap into their passions, and letting them know what they are good at, are facets of your job as a mother.
Does an early interest in animals indicate veterinary science, or just a love of pets? And if they are good with their hands, does this mean carpentry or neurosurgery? This article explains how you can help them work it out.
The Final Word
Disappointment in your children can have long-lasting, and heart-breaking, outcomes. On your motherhood journey it’s always good to affirm, build-up, love and enjoy your children. This will hopefully avoid a sad family story. You can read more about the outcomes for me when I was at the end of Dad’s stern tongue HERE >>>.
One day your children will be young people, full of hope and expectation for the future. By intentionally choosing your responses, you can make sure they arrive at adulthood being proud of who they are, what they do and what they hope to achieve. And isn’t that a great hope to bring into existence!
Can you identify any disappointments in your family as you were growing up? Have you resolved any sad family story?