In November’s blog, I gave a skeleton outline of the LIFE EXPERIENCE CHAIN that would be the content of the next several blogs. However, before that gets started, since the first link in the chain is about the rules and messages received as a child, I want to talk about the family.

The purpose of looking at childhood rules and messages is not to promote family bashing. Most people have an assortment of productive and counterproductive rules and messages they have grown up with and still influence them. This doesn’t mean you have been poorly parented and therefore wounded and ill-equipped for life. As you go through a “mental inventory” of your childhood rules and messages, the purpose is not the listing of grievances and casting blame, but of checking on what needs to be changed to provide better options for you. We will look at what isn’t working and how to make changes. While some of you may have some destructive rules/messages, most parents do not set out to traumatize their children. They raise their family in the way they think best, influenced by their own upbringing and other significant factors such as cultural, religious, and generational.

Honouring our lineage honours ourselves; by dismissing family we can become rootless and ruthless. So, remember to also look at the gifts and attributes you’ve gained from your family. Not only are physical characteristics passed from generation to generation but so are abilities, talents, temperaments, and values … Aunt Jean’s positive attitude, Grandpa Joe’s ear for music, Great-grandma’s love of words, Cousin Carol’s flair for always making people feel welcomed.


Child Needs and Parenting Styles

As a foundation for the LIFE EXPERIENCE CHAIN, I want to start with the basic needs of a child and then look at parenting styles.

All children have certain basic needs which parents are responsible for providing. Physical: to be fed, to have adequate clothing, to have shelter, to be protected. Psychological: to be nurtured, to have feelings and thoughts respected, to have a sense of worth developed, to be able to be spontaneous, playful, and carefree. Moral/ethical: to be guided by appropriate limits, to be able to take risks and make mistakes, to be disciplined without being physically or emotionally abused.

There are three parenting styles: nurturing (authoritative), controlling (authoritarian), and ineffective (neglectful or permissive).

In the nurturing system, the parent provides a structure for the child which guides, encourages, supports, while also providing healthy and protective boundaries. There are open communication lines flowing throughout the family, changes are expected and allowed, and failure is accepted as a method of learning and growth.

In the authoritarian system, there is usually only one “boss” who dictates and oversees the actions of the rest of the family. There is usually no middle ground; it’s all or nothing. There may be use of intimidation, guilt, manipulation or even disguised over-helpfulness. Change and failure are not an option and communication is restricted and one-sided.

In the ineffective system, the adult is not available as the parent. The children in this system are deprived of ego-boundaries, protective limits, and good role-modelling. Changes are random and unrestricted and failure goes unnoticed.


Family Belief System

The family belief system is what determines how parents interact with their children and how children are supposed to behave. Beliefs are extremely powerful as they determine attitudes, judgments and perceptions that define relationships, moral values, education, sexuality, career choices, ethics and finances.

Every family has rules and messages. The rules establish boundaries about what members of the family can think, say, and do. Messages are what flows out of the rules and sets the foundation for what is perceived about each other, about others, and about life. The rules and messages may not always have been spoken but were sometimes made known through behaviour or body language.

When rules are made to balance and protect the rights of each family member, everyone can thrive and learn to take risks. These are healthy or rational rules. However, when rules are made to provide control and power for certain members at the expense of other members, these are unhealthy or irrational rules.

Like a multi-car pileup on the freeway, an unhealthy system causes ongoing and far reaching problems as a result of accumulated rules, interactions and beliefs that have been handed down generation after generation after generation.

Next month, we will start to look at some possible rules and messages and how to make changes.

Judith S. Carscadden