It’s all in the Family!
It was a great TV series and it illustrated a lot about how family works (or doesn’t work). I just finished a week teaching about family systems–how families function. Some of the students didn’t really want to look at their own family, thinking it made no difference what was there. Some were probably a little nervous opening up that box. But we had a great time together talking about family.
A family is not merely a collection of separate individuals who simply happen to share the same last name and street address. The family is an organism in which the attitudes, values and actions of each member interact with those of all the other members. Each family member shapes, and is shaped by, the other family members.
Everyone is the way he or she is, in part, because of the way he or she fit into the overall scheme of things in the family. That’s why we call it the “family system.” Many of our behavior patterns–both the healthy ones and the unhealthy ones–flow from the role we occupied in our particular family as we were growing up. Those patterns typically continue on into our adult life.
Tennessee Williams’ classic play, The Glass Menagerie, offers a typical example of how a family system operates. Laura, the daughter in the play, could easily be considered mentally ill, even schizophrenic. But if we look at the world through her eyes–especially the world of her family–her “crazy” behavior becomes perfectly logical. Indeed, her behavior is vital to the family’s survival. Whenever the tension between her mother and brother rises to a dangerous level, Laura steps in with some bizarre type of behavior that takes the focus off their fighting and shifts it to her and her “strangeness” Her behavior had a purpose.
Once we understand the concept of the family system, it is not so easy to say simply that Laura is “sick.” She certainly had her own problems to be addressed. However, a good case can be made that there is more to it than that, that each family member is the way they are because of the family they are part of. It is the family that is often at the root of a problem, not just the individual members’ own problems. So it’s important to understand our family and it’s way of functioning–as a whole the system.
Question: What are some things you see in your family that you could explain by saying, “It’s all in the Family?”