We bring to marriage many conscious and unconscious influences from our family of origin and follow what we saw or react against it. We often think, “I’ll never repeat what I experienced as a child,” and then find ourselves doing or saying those very things.
This is a generational story about lunch boxes. My daughter, Carole, wanted a new lunch box for first grade. To save money, I spray painted the old one, much to her dismay. Unknown to me, while walking home from school, she’d toss her box along the road hoping the damage would get her a new lunch box. Carole now has a first grade daughter, Amy, who wants a new lunch box. Amy was told that she could make-do with the old one for another year. On reflection, I remembered disliking my workman’s lunch box in first grade. I wanted to carry a brown bag like my friends. Three generations of first grade girls in our family have had unpleasant lunch box experiences.
I questioned my parents, the fourth generation, about their lunch box experiences. Dad wanted a “lunch bucket” like his classmates but went home for lunch each day. Mom carried a disliked “brown bag” on the days she stayed at school for lunch. Both had reacted against their experience by providing me with the workman’s lunch box, and Carole and I had followed our legacy by not giving our daughters any choice. Amy did get a new lunch box with her Dad’s intervention.
Instead of “lunch box” the issue could be alcohol abuse, communication patterns, conflict resolution, finances, forgiveness, etc. The legacies unconsciously handed down from our families are part of each of us. We emotionally follow what we saw happening, such as making a lunch box decision without honoring a child’s request. Or we might go to the opposite extreme and try to remedy a childhood experience by giving our own child everything we missed. Either way our family of origin is influencing our decision.
With intentional effort the patterns we learned in our family of origin that are destructive or inappropriate can be changed or modified for more satisfying and loving interactions. It is a process that continues throughout the lives of the spouses.