There are no simple answers to family relationships, but the working solutions come from certain understandings of the family dynamics. Here are some frameworks from which to examine family problems:
- First, the family relationship is a system.
No family functions unless all the parts of the system “fit.” The oldest example is the husband who drinks so that his wife can nag, but it can be turned around – she nags so that he can drink. Parents teach their children – directly or unintentionally – what their expectations are. Each member of the family learns what his part in the system is. When parents are irresponsible, one of the children steps up to play “rescuer” for them - and perhaps the rest of the family. When family members are in conflict, one member of the family learns to be the “peacemaker.” A child may learn to please everyone else if he or she is to feel loved and appreciated. The description can be easily recognized, but changes can be very difficult to achieve. Change begins when the family realizes that each member plays a part in their “system.”
- Second, someone in the family has to take responsibility to be different.
Some years ago a family came to my office complaining about one son’s behavior in school. He was disruptive and annoying in class and disobedient at home. After framing the system for them, I asked this young man how he enjoyed being the “devil” in the family. He laughed sheepishly and said he didn’t like it. So I offered to help him negotiate with the rest of the family for someone else to take his role. All the other family members declined! But they began to see some of the reasons which supported his role in the family system. Finally, Dad accepted the job of bringing about change. He began to praise the “devil” son for good behavior and not to “reward” the conflicts. Over several months positive living changes developed.
Psychiatrist Thomas Szass says: “Insanity is doing the same things over and over again and expecting different results.” When families do that, chaos results.
- Third, the most important gift a parent gives a child.
This may be the most important line in this article: a parent gives a child the right to fail so that a child can earn the right to succeed.
The mother I described in the beginning would not allow her son to face his failures. She assumed if he “failed,” she was a bad mother. Only the parent who is willing to let a child face his failure or lack of success will plant the seeds that will grow into maturity or success. The Biblical principle will always apply: whatever is sown will be reaped. Immature behavior or choices will bring unacceptable results. Give your child the gift of responsible thinking. Allow him to face his own fears and failures. You will not be disappointed as a parent.