I (Dawn) grew up in a “Waltons” esque home. Maybe you don’t remember The Waltons. In 1972, The Waltons debuted on CBS. It was a television series about a family in rural Virginia. The family consisted of grandparents, parents, and SEVEN children all under one roof living and learning about life during the Depression and WWII. Each episode concluded with a shot of the house at night and everyone saying goodnight from their rooms, with the final line always, “Goodnight, John Boy!” Man, I loved that show. It felt close to my life. I grew up in the home with my grandparents, parents and two siblings. Thank goodness it wasn’t seven! It was a great way to grow up and I’ll admit, I was a bit spoiled. We weren’t rich, but I had what I needed and most of what I wanted. My Daddy was consistent at making sure of that. I really didn’t worry for much, or work for much. I just figured that when Scott and I married, I would waltz into my new life much like I had waltzed through it up until that point. I was sadly mistaken. Scott was not my Daddy and he made that abundantly clear. Cue the broken hearted princess tears.
Much of what we think and believe about marriage and how life works are learned from our family of origin. Here are some of the most common viewpoints couples bring into marriage from their families of origin…
Spending and Saving of Finances
Perhaps your family was thrifty. Maybe your partner’s family lived paycheck to paycheck. You learned from your family to save for a rainy day. And, your partner learned by observation to enjoy money now because you can’t take it with you when you die.
Giving and Receiving of Affection
Your wife came from a family that was very expressive with affection both verbally and physically. When you first met her family, you were welcomed by her grandparents, aunts, and uncles with firm handshakes, warm hugs, and lots of words. Your family, on the other hand, was not quite as expressive. Because of that, your wife was concerned for some time that your family didn’t even like her.
Thoughts about Sexuality
You came from a family where sexuality was discussed openly. Neither your mom nor your dad were squeamish about discussing matters such as sexuality, affection, what’s appropriate sexually prior to marriage, masturbation, pornography, etc. Your dad was rather affectionate with your mother. At times you found either you or your siblings shouting to your parents, “Get a room!” because, in front of you, they were so loving with one another.
Your spouse however came from a family where sexuality and affection were not discussed. As a matter of fact, if brought up, the subject was treated as if it were taboo. Little, if anything, was said about sexuality between a man and a woman. Issues of puberty, menstruation, nocturnal dreams and such were left to be figured out on your own or from friends or teachers at school.
Celebration of birthdays and holidays
In your family birthdays and anniversaries were a big deal. Not only was your immediate family a part of the celebrations, but aunts, uncles, cousins, and grandparents were involved as well.
Your spouse’s family was a bit more low key. They celebrated birthdays with a meal at the celebrant’s favorite restaurant. Gifts were not a big deal. Being together as a family was the most important aspect of the gathering.
Children, Parenting, and Discipline
In your family, your dad was a strict authoritarian. It was dad’s way or the highway. What he said went. No questions were asked. Your mom was the good cop and your dad the bad cop. You probably had a bit of fear and trepidation. Everyone in the family had a role to play and was expected to fill that role or there would be consequences.
Your spouse came from a family that was much more “go with the flow”. He was trusted to make decisions for himself. He never had a curfew. As a matter of fact, he often stayed at his best friend's house with little to no check in from his folks.
Maybe you were the child of divorce, growing up with a suitcase to go back and forth and meeting in parking lots to be exchanged with the other parent. The worlds of the two homes were very different.
So What’s a Couple to Do?
How can a couple that seems to come from different ends of the spectrum on so many issues make a marriage work? Moses’s words in Genesis 2:24 give us a clue.
“For this cause a man shall leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” - Genesis 2:24 (NASB)
When working with couples prior to marriage, we spend an entire session examining Family of Origin (FOO). As homework prior to this session, we ask each partner to think about their FOO and make a list of their “Takeaways” and “Leave Behinds.”
“Takeways” are experiences, traditions, celebrations, values, beliefs, etc. that a person has fondness for. They value these dearly and would like to emulate them (as much as possible) in their newly forming family.
“Leave Behinds” are aspects of a person's FOO that were less than desirable. They may be poor communication or conflict resolution skills between their parents or the family as a whole. It could be emotional, verbal or physical abuse by a parent, or some form of addictive behavior. One or both partners know these aspects of their or their partner’s FOO is not God’s best, and in their new family they want to make better and different choices.
It’s not uncommon for a person that comes from a dysfunctional family system to have little to no “takeaways”. But, we like to remind folks that “a broken clock is right twice a day”. So, even if you don’t think there’s much to celebrate from your FOO, think again. Afterall, they were a part of creating a person that your mate fell in love with - YOU! So, they must have done something right!
Next Step: Take some time this week to think about your FOO.
What “takeaways” do you want to take away and apply in your new family? You may not be able to incorporate those aspects completely in your new family. But, take the best aspects and seek to get buy-in from your partner as you apply those “takeaways” to your family now.
What “leave behinds” do you want to “leave behind”? Don’t feel as though you’re throwing your FOO under the proverbial bus as you think about what you want to leave behind. Wisdom observes the past and learns from the past. Foolishness repeats the folly of the past. Choose the path of wisdom. You’ll be glad you did.
Your FOO has had a greater impact on you than you probably realize. That is the case for the vast majority of us. By God’s grace and wisdom, we’ll take the best from our families of origin and we’ll leave behind the worst.
Scott & Dawn Smith