“Mana ka talaga sa tatay mo!” How often has this been said by mothers washing their hands of a child’s “undesirable” personality traits? Hold that chuckle as there may be some truth to the utterance. Accordance to Ning Reyes, counselor at the Center for Family Ministries Foundation Inc. (CeFaM), the family we grew up in—or family of origin, as experts prefer to call it—affect both our and our children’s behavior.
What It Is
Aside from our natural parents, our family of origin may also include other people who raised us, like our grandparents and yayas. It is important that parents—both mothers and fathers—study their family of origin, even going back a few generations, to identify what past events, attitudes, and behaviors affect their present life. This will be a tremendous aid to anyone out to determine what works and what doesn’t in her parenting style.
What You Bring In
When your own parents tell you to finish college because nothing is as important as education, or when they tell you to marry someone from the same cultural background, they are overtly passing on to you the values, belief systems, norms, rules, and expectations of the family. All these make up your family mythology, the group’s way of defining itself.
These may also include covert rules, when you know what is expected of you without your parents having to say it. Family ghosts are real. That accomplished great-great-great grandmother of yours, for instance, may be kept alive by parents talking about how you and your cousins should do at least as half as well as she did.
According to Reyes, these information tell us how to act (norms) and what is important (values), as well as point out what is expected of us. “Some culture may be good or it may be a little damaging, such as when humor is used to put down people or to trivialize important issues. The family may not be comfortable talking about serious issues and may end up not addressing problems.”
Family traditions and rituals are significant events. Observing these may reinforce family values, make the members closer to one another, and bond individuals to each other. But take note: We do not have to continue these traditions. If New Year festivities always end in family members being drunk and too rowdy, for example, it may be wise to think up an alternative way of celebrating. “You can be the transition person in the family,” Reyes says.
And then there are the patterns of behavior and the mental disorders that have a genetic component. Did you know that alcoholism tends to run in families? The same is true of marital infidelity, mood disorders (such as depression), and temperament (such as being prone to violence and bad temper). The tendency to be hyperactive or overreactive is also passed on. “It’s important for parents to know what these patterns running in the family are, so they can teach their children how to deal with situations better. Parents can show them safeguards to control their behavior.”
Finally, you bring in to your family all your childhood experiences. “Whether we like it or not, we are the product of family conditioning. The way we were patterned has a lot to do with how we parent now,” says Reyes. If a person grew up in a family where conflict was handled with the raising of voices, she may become anxious at any sign of bad temper, them clamp down and become uncommunicative when confronted. Psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud once said that childhood experiences define the mental health or illness of a person. Reyes adds, “The childhood years are the impressionable years; they are very important in molding the character of a person. One’s experiences during this time will definitely affect behavior during adulthood.” She further says that 90 percent of anger stems from childhood. “We should be very careful in exposing our children to experiences.”
To help people analyze their family of origin, psychologis Murray Bowen, M.D., developed genogram processing. A genogram is an emotional family tree. It provides a graphic picture of the family’s structure and emotional processes over at least three generations. Reyes says that when the genogram of the husband and the wife are compared, you can see what to watch out for. Professional psychologists such as those in CeFaM can do genogram processing.
What Kind of Parent are You?
All these things you bring into your family determine the kind of parent you now are. Individuals who believe in the way their own parents raised them and consciously choose to pass on all the methods and values of their mother and father are called traditionalists. “Whatever was learned from their parents, whether positive or negative, are transmitted to their children,” Reyes says.
Rebels, on the other hand, do the opposite. They reject everything their parents stood for. If a rebel’s parents were very strict with him, he becomes permissive with his own children. Reyes points out a danger. Rebels may end up junking even the good, sound structure in their families.
Then there are the compensators, who also reject their parents’ style but try to make up for what happened in their own childhood through their actions today. The individual who grew up economically deprived, for example, may end up giving her grade schoolers such things as credit cards and cell phones. “This is not answering the needs of the children; it is answering the parent’s needs,” Reyes says.
So what should we strive to be? “Adopt the good, discard the bad, revise what needs to be revised.” The person who takes from the past what works and changes what does not is called the synthesizer.
Change Comes After Knowing
Knowing your family helps you understand and improve yourself. Once you’ve become aware of what you brought into your family and what kind of parent you are now, you will know what changes you need to make. You will be a better parent, guiding your kids positively into adulthood. Hopefully, they will recognize the good you’ve taught them and pass these on to their own children.