Being with the Family

 

When clients first come to my office, I find out about their backgrounds. Where they came from sets a backdrop to who they’ve become. Who raised them lays a foundation for the values and lifestyles they grew up in and this impacts who they become as they age.

I often see people who do not know how to disclose their thoughts and feelings. It was not done in their home of origin and they never learned to do it. They have not learned the vocabulary of feelings. They do not know how to confront or challenge. It was not accepted or modeled in their past. 

I began to see a girl when she was 11 years old. She had asked to be in therapy. She was having major problems in school. I began to discover that the members of her family had little to do with each other. Conversations did not occur. Excursions rarely occurred and the whole family never went together when they did. I asked to meet with the parents and discovered the mother was in therapy herself. She had discovered her family of origin was less than ideal. She said, “I had no idea how to be a mother. I am just beginning to learn.”

Last night, my family came over for dinner. I moved to California six years ago, to be near them. Two of my children are in San Francisco and one is in Santa Monica. The two locals had birthdays this month and I always invite them over to celebrate. One is married and has two children. And so, the seven of us sat down to dinner. 

I decided to prepare a chicken dish that was one of my son’s favorites when he was growing up. I remember that when he moved into his first apartment his second year of college, he called and asked me for the recipe. And my grandsons love chocolate and caramel, so I found a new cake recipe with those ingredients. 

As I prepared the food, I reflected on the girl I see in therapy. Her family only eats together twice a year, and that is when they go to someone’s home for dinner on two holidays. Then they sit with many other people. But she has never sat with her family for a meal in her home. When she disclosed this to me, she said that it took her years to discover that other families do eat together. Her family did not have friends where she formed relationships with peers and learned how other families function. She only knew of those two holidays a year. She invited her parents to one of her sessions and told them how angry and disappointed she was about her background. 

I sat with my family last night and cherished our background. So did they as they expressed their own memories. And they are passing it forward.