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  • Writer's pictureLorrie L. Richins

Correcting Dysfunctional Family Patterns

Updated: Sep 26, 2019

I had to say it. I wasn't my mother. I would develop a new pattern - a better pattern to pass down to my children. The dysfunction was going to stop with me.

Sept. 19, 2019

“Which of you parents is responsible?” the sports trainer unexpectedly inquired.

Brian and I had been in the stands watching our daughter’s high school volleyball game when we noticed Lilly limping on the court. The coach rotated her out of the game while Brian and I quickly left the bleachers and walked down the stairs to get to our girl. A friend soon followed who was a physical therapist and a parent of one of the other team players. Tears were in Lilly’s eyes by the time we reached her on the gym floor. She was in pain - emotionally and physically. The expected protocol began: ice, something for the pain and swelling, an evaluation, and then eventually the all too familiar tan sports wrap.

Lilly had had ACL surgery on her left knee over a year ago and with this sudden new injury, we mentioned to the trainer that her sister Elizabeth had had ACL surgery as well. That is when the question was asked, “Which of you parents is responsible?”

The trainer went on to explain that a single ACL injury in a family can occur, of course, but when siblings are involved, usually a parent has had the injury as well. We fit the stereotype perfectly then when we answered his question - Brian was the parent. He tore his ACL when we were newly married and damaged his meniscus as well. In Lilly’s case, further evaluation would determine that her replaced ACL was still intact, but her meniscus was damaged and out of its proper place.

As a professional life coach, I’ve been thinking alot about the trainer’s question: Which of you parents is responsible? My business is called Whole Family Mentoring, and I focus on helping families heal and feel whole again. I’ve addressed an array of different family dynamics over the years and family patterns passed down through the generations has become more and more apparent with each new client I serve. Sometimes the patterns are favorable and fortifying. Often, however, they are not.

I received a message today from a client I’ve dearly grown to love. I’ve worked with nearly every one of her immediate family members, such as her husband and children, and her sister’s family members as well. I’ve seen tremendous humility, growth, and determination in both of these families and a profound desire to address and improve their individual and familial relationships. Today’s message from one of the sisters was significant. She started out her message with, “You are not going to believe this but my mom has agreed to meet with me and my sister for a session with you!” My client and friend was thrilled, and so was I. I know this mother well. She is a beautiful, strong woman. But I also know the sisters have been working on developing new patterns, better patterns which are empowering themselves and their children. They have seen changes that have needed to be made, patterns that have been passed down that have needed to be corrected. They’ve strengthened their relationship as sisters and have wanted to do so with their mother as well. But it’s hard, really hard for parents to not feel offended or hurt when those patterns are placed on the table by their posterity, inspected, and then deemed less than ideal.

Sixteen years ago I was in the midst of a very serious health crisis. To be honest, it felt like I was dying. My mom would call and check on me on occasion and would sometimes say things like, “I know what it’s like. I had that problem, too.” She thought she was being helpful, but it only made matters worse. My mother was not a healthy person during many of my growing up years. Physical injuries and health issues sometimes required lengthy hospital stays. Currently she was having substantial health challenges as well. During one particular conversation, my mother said something similar to what she had stated before…but added a bit more. It went something like, “Yes. I remember what that was like. You are just like me.”

It was that last statement that caused me to scream inside. I was already doing all I could do to physically keep from sinking with my health, and the thought of having the same challenges as my mom long term was almost more than I could bear. With all the courage I could muster, I tried as calmly and as kindly as I could to state over the phone the following words, “Mom, I’m not like you. I’m my own person. Please don’t say that to me again. “

It had to be said. I had spent years trying to create a happier, healthier life for myself and for my family than what I had had during my formative years. The thought of passing down the problems and patterns to my children that I had experienced was unthinkable. It wasn’t going to happen. And so I had to say it. I had to say I wasn’t my mother. I was my own person. And in so saying, I started a ball rolling which would ultimately lead to complete estrangement from my mom.

I am noticing that many of the younger generations are wanting to break free from the old, dysfunctional patterns of the past. They want to learn a new, better way, but that is incredibly difficult sometimes when parents are still thinking and acting in ways that keep the children feeling limited or trapped. Often times the children love the parents deeply and don’t want to hurt them as they seek help for themselves. The parents can feel defensive or confused and don’t know how to stay connected to their children after they’ve been given insight regarding healthier behavior and thinking. Some parents might feel their children have been ungrateful regarding sacrifices made in their behalf, or they’ve become judgmental and overly critical of what might be considered as common imperfections of parenthood.

That is why today’s message from my client was so significant. This client’s mother is willing to hear hard things. This mother loves her daughters enough to engage in the potentially painful process of strengthening their relationship rather than allowing ego or pride to cause withdrawal or separation. My mother withdrew on one level and retaliated on another. This is not uncommon. It is destructive and divisive, but, unfortunately, all too common a response when a parent doesn’t feel safe or adequately supported in the process of improving upon what once was. I couldn’t fix the situation with my mom. It was and is incredibly complicated. I have, however, used my energy to fix myself both physically and emotionally. Sometimes that is the hard reality. Sometimes all you can do is fix yourself.

During my mentoring sessions, all parties are made to feel safe and supported. A loving atmosphere of compassion and kindness allows the listeners to learn without feeling condemned on any level. As an empowerment coach, my job is to give clients the tools needed to navigate courageously through their life experiences. They learn to step into their problems and face their fears. The intention always is to create positive patterns of behavior that can be passed down through the family generations so one day a person might ask, “Which of you parents is responsible for this wonderful child?” Hopefully the answer will be, “We both are.”

If you are needing support and guidance in developing healthier behavior patterns within your family, let’s get started. There is hope and healing ahead…

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