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A Well-Written Family Story

December 28, 2021

Some of you who are reading this blog come from family stories that were well-written. Not that all was bliss as you were coming along. All families have ups and downs. But overall, the mood was positive, the trajectory of each family member was constructive, and the family, being supportive of one another, was seen as making a healthy contribution to society.

Others of you came from families where the story written was not so positive. The overall mood of the family tended to be negative, with tension, which lay beneath of surface, bubbling up into outbursts periodically. Possibly there was abuse or neglect. This is not to say that a family is either good or bad. Each exists on a continuum. But certainly, some family stories were better than others. And every family story exerts a powerful influence on the development and well-being of its members.

Let’s begin by looking at the characters in your family story. We’ll unpack this in more detail later in our blog, but for now, let’s take a thirty thousand foot view of this and other issues that are important to consider in our family stories.

First, consider fathers. Some theorists have maintained that fathers have been in the shadows for some time in family life. Their importance has been overshadowed by mothers and other influences exerted on the family. But fathers are critical to healthy family stories, and their absence creates a great deal of problems that many in our present society now face.

What are the essential traits of a father?

o Our fathers name us. More than passing on a surname, our fathers in many ways define our essence. Much of how I experience who I am and how we experience ourselves comes from our fathers (This is not to say that our mothers are not also critical in this process).
o Our fathers accept us. Unfortunately, this is certainly not always true. But the acceptance, or nonacceptance, of the father is critical to our sense of well-being. One young professional athlete who had just landed a multi-million dollar contract was asked, “What really gets you excited?” His response, “When my father calls me and tells me he loves me.” The absence of those or similar words ringing in a person’s ears throughout life can leave a lasting hole in one’s psyche.
o Our fathers guide us and correct us. When functioning properly, fathers point us down paths that are ultimately beneficial to our welfare and productivity.
o Our fathers provide for us. In many ways, modern society has left only this trait as the defining contributions of fathers. It is a critical function, but must be combined with the other traits to provide a holistic picture.
o Our fathers protect us. Fathers not only protect us physically, but protect us mentally, emotionally and spiritually by protecting our honor and dignity.
o Our fathers push us forward by challenging us to be our best selves.
o Our fathers ultimately give us freedom. They do not hold us back, but recognize their job is to work themselves out of a job as we take wings and fly.

It has become difficult to talk about fathers and their worth, given the current zeitgeist. Gender roles have become murky along with the place of marriage. Fathering is rarely discussed. It therefore behooves us as kingdom citizens to maintain an even stronger father presence in our families, which will appear counter-intuitive to the watching world.

What are the traits of a mother?

A passage in an old play by Martha Finley states: “The mother in her office holds the key of the soul; and she it is who stamps the coin of character and makes the being who would be a savage, but for her gentle cares, a Christian man! Then crown her the queen of the world.”
o Our mothers bring us into the world and point us toward maturity. In many ways, she is the constant in our lives on whom we can depend. It’s always been interesting to me when cameras catch pro athletes in games. What they seem to invariably mouth to the camera is “Hi Mom!”
o Our mothers deliberately create conditions in the home that stimulate us to grow to our full potential as responsible persons. Mothers tend to watch over and manage the home more than fathers.
o Our mothers nurture us and give us a feeling of belonging and being loved.
o Our mothers teach us the truth and point us down right paths. Paul writing to Timothy, reminds him of his sincere faith, which he first saw in his grandmother, then his mother (2 Tim. 1:5). Men aren’t mentioned.
o Our mothers allow us to develop the unique traits and personalities God has given us. In fact, mothers are usually the ones most ‘hands on’ when it comes to character development.

And what about children?

o Healthy children believe in themselves. If they have been properly raised, they will display decisiveness, firmness and vigor – as opposed to emotionality, overly sensitive, frailty, and submissiveness.
o Healthy children, as the scripture teach, are temperate and self-controlled. They are emotionally intelligent and restrain from emotional excess without dampening emotional expression.
o Healthy children are able to take risks. This requires courage, a certain amount of daring, adventurousness and confidence as opposed to helplessness and vacillation.
o Healthy children display increasing autonomy. This requires assertiveness, courage and power (as opposed to impotence, child-likeness and excessive dependence on others).
o Healthy children are interdependent. They understand their primary dependence on God. They are sufficiently trusting of other people to form lasting relationships embodied by mutuality.

Jim

About Dr. Jim Osterhaus

Dr. Jim Osterhaus is the Senior Executive Coach at Leighton Ford Ministries with extensive experience helping ministry leaders and organizations
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