Our family of origin is the family we were born or adopted into. It’s the people who raise us and who we spend most of our childhood with. The importance of an individual’s family of origin is enormous. Since parenting shapes a child’s core beliefs about himself or herself, our family’s beliefs about what it means to be human and the purpose of life will have a tremendous influence on what we learn and how we develop. These beliefs will, in turn, inform every decision and choice you make and every relationship you have.

The beliefs, values and rules of a family are passed down from one generation to the next through living life together daily, and this is how an unhealthy or healthy family of origin is perpetuated.

Unhealthy families

Since the quality of family life is created by the parents, it stands to reason that if a parent or both parents are not mature enough, they will have difficulty creating a healthy family environment. Depending on the degree of immaturity, the family environment can range from slightly unhealthy to extremely unhealthy. Children raised in an unhealthy environment will inevitably perceive themselves and the world around them in a way that distorts the true meaning and purpose of life, which is to live in dependence on God who loves us.

Immaturity includes, but is not limited to, being unable to resolve conflict well, an inability to communicate openly and honestly, an unwillingness to assume adult responsibilities and wanting to be "taken care" of. In marriage, all too often men and women look to their spouse for what they didn’t get in childhood from their parents. An immature woman may want her husband to take care of and love her in a way her father never did. An immature man may be looking for the same thing in his wife, someone who will fill the gaping hole left by an absent mother. To stop looking for someone or something to fill that emptiness means coming to grips with that void and letting God give our hearts the love we didn’t get as a child.

Many people enter adulthood without the proper tools to build a good, solid, loving relationship. They don’t have them because their parents didn’t have them to pass on, nor did their parents’ parents have them and so on back down the line many generations. Parents cannot give to their children what they have never been given themselves. What we didn’t receive in childhood can be made up in adulthood only by God who can heal those losses and wounds we received from mom and/or dad.

Healthy families

No family is perfect, but many families are healthy. Families function well primarily because of the maturity and emotional health of the primary caregiver(s). Whether co-parenting, single parenting or parenting as a couple, the more mature the parents are, the healthier the family is. Mature parents are able to make a full commitment to their responsibilities and the quality of their lives. Even though some of the challenges faced by single or co-parents are different than those faced by two-parent families, the overall spiritual, emotional and mental health of each parent is what determines the level of health within the family.

Mature couples are committed to their relationship, to the vows they made on their wedding day: to love one another for better or worse, in sickness and health, for richer or poorer until death parts them. They make a decision to work things out and they choose to stay together no matter what. Each spouse takes responsibility for the quality of their own life, knowing that this ultimately improves the quality of their shared life. Healthy parents know that having children is one of the biggest responsibilities they will ever undertake. They know that they are responsible for the overall emotional, psychological, physical and spiritual well-being of the family.

Healthy single or co-parent families are also led by people who choose to stay the course no matter how hard things may get. They take the responsibilities of life seriously and do not falter in their commitment to maturity in all areas. They work hard to provide a loving, stable, safe family environment for their children.

Christian parents, whether single, co-parents or married, do their best to raise their children based on the knowledge that each child is a gift from God, that each child is made in the image of God and has immeasurable value, and that the purpose of life is to love and be loved and bring glory to God. They model these truths to their children in the way they conduct themselves every day, in the way they relate to the world around them, to each other and to their children. They live out what they believe, and in this kind of environment children will be encouraged to grow and develop into the unique persons God has created them to be. A child will learn that love is not perfect and that apologies and forgiveness are a part of life. They will learn that they can use their anger constructively. They will learn that they possess strengths and weaknesses, have likes and dislikes, have limits, and have gifts and talents. They will grow up with a strong sense of self and be able to relate to others with a deep sense of connectedness and separateness. They will know that they are okay just the way they are, because they have received love from their parent(s) and from God.

Michele Langmead was a registered counsellor with Focus on the Family Canada at the time of publication. .

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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