The Apple and The Tree, The Tree and the Orchard

Early in my education as a counselor I was taught about family patterns – the notion that we can (at minimum) gain some insight into what may be happening in our lives by looking at our family history. Disease, mental health, addiction – we all know that these things have genetic links that tie us to our parents, grandparents, and even further. However, we often overlook the fact that family patterns cut a broader swath than genetic markers.

Take a moment and answer these simple questions. How would you describe your mother and/or your father? What personality traits (positive or negative) would you say best characterize them?

Now for the harder question; how do those descriptions and personality traits fit into your life?

If you’re anything like most of us, and you answered honestly, I think you’ll see that the patterns, habits and characteristics that you saw play out in front of you as a child are likely some part of your life today. I can say with a degree of confidence that, despite the fact that it may appear like your child disagrees with everything you say and do, they are actively learning to become more like you in thought, word and action.

Let me be a little more explicit. One of the most frustrating feelings I have as a professional working with families is the moment I realize that “It’s no wonder” that you’re dealing with this. Sometimes the family patterns are as clear as day to everyone except the family members themselves. The most basic example is what I call a pattern of irresponsibility. Most people keep an eye out for large shifts in life, but no one thinks much about small irresponsible actions. However, as these small actions pile up the result is a wake of neglected tasks, frustrated peers, incomplete projects and unfinished conversations. Think of it this way – no one thinks much about putting one dirty mug in the sink, until there are no more mugs in the cabinet because they’re all in the sink. It’s a relatively common pattern that I see in families I work with; the metaphorical mugs have piled up and the cabinet has long been bare. It’s usually at this point that a parent calls me to ask if I have any insight on the behaviors they’re seeing in their child. Sometimes it’s plain as day, and other times it takes a little more digging, but it’s not at all uncommon that what we discover is less insight and more pattern.

Are you unsure of a behavior or thought pattern in your children? It may be time to check for patterns in your life that may be subtly trickling through the generations. The old adage is good one. The apple certainly doesn’t fall far from the tree, but it’s also true that the tree doesn’t grow far from the orchard. We are all products of the people, families and communities that raised us. It’s not impossible to break from these patterns, but they can certainly provide detail and understanding to who and why we are.

blog comments powered by Disqus