Our family background is a source of not only history and influence, but the roots of our present day thoughts, behaviors, and patterns. Some parents grow up and want to disown some aspects of their family experience. Some grow up and begin to look back to figure out what they want to heal and possibly carry forward with their children.
I feel fortunate that my parents and grandparents encouraged me to explore the nature of family heritage and culture in general. At age three, my mom took me to a store to purchase my first baby doll. There were two choices: a white doll and a brown doll. I asked my mom why the dolls were two different colors and she said responded that the doll manufacturers likely thought girls with brown skin may want brown dolls and vice versa for girls with fair skin. I thought that was funny and picked the brown doll. I am glad my mom offered me the choice.
Appreciation of family and culture can mean different things to different people. In our blended family I keep in mind that the kids will benefit from tracing their roots as they grow and become curious about those who have come before them. We often share stories from our upbringing and encourage the children to ask questions and explore family and cultural aspects that pique their interest. I also want to facilitate genuine appreciation, rather than ideas that make one group or belief better than another leading to a biased separation of family values or cultures. Here are some ideas to get started in your family:
Sift through your family experience to see what you can appreciate now. There are probably lots of stories from growing up – some more desirable than others. What can you learn from them now? How can you offer them in balanced, loving ways that allow your children to reap the most benefit? Even hard experiences offer some sort of gift, insight, or blessing. Notice when you feel like there’s nothing to appreciate and consider doing some work to heal any wounds or residual negative emotion.
Respect your elders. Yep, I said it. My mom is probably grinning. I admit that when I was younger I did not want to hand out respect to anyone. I must have had the idea that not all people are worthy of it. That is simply not true. All human beings deserve honor and respect – even if we choose not to communicate with them because it would be harmful to our well being. Look for common ground, ways you can appreciate people in your family and culture who may have made mistakes, and communicate respect so your children do, too.
Listen to the stories. We are all living a story. What are you telling about yours? What are the children saying about theirs? What stories are your parents, aunts, uncles or others in your culture telling? Stories provide insight. They are not absolute fact, yet they can illustrate where a person is coming from, how they view life, and how that affects their actual experience of life. Just listen.
Visit or connect with family that you don’t know well. Sometimes learning about your family from someone a bit removed can provide interesting insight and stories you have never heard. It may help you make sense of your life or result in a deeper appreciation for what your family members experienced and who they were.
Research your family and culture. Many people are doing family history and some even put the information online. Cultural aspects can be found in all kinds of places as well. If your family traveled from one country to another or around a country consider learning about those areas and times. Talk about what those experiences meant to the family and culture and how that affects you today.
Bend your experience of culture. Sometimes we identify with a particular culture or group because it feels right, safe, or comfortable. That’s fine. Allow yourself to explore a broader sense of culture by looking for common ground and connection with people outside of your normal circle. You may enjoy cultural festivals that have nothing to do with your family, participate in learning at a local library, or simply strike up a conversation with a person from a different group at a local park.
Choose what you take forward. Most importantly, take inventory of what you are passing onto your children in the area of family history, beliefs, patterns, and culture. It is probably most noticeable when you feel frustrated and say “Ugh, I said I would never do that” or “I am turning into my parents – and I don’t like it!” Take note of what you don’t want to be passing along, look at what you can appreciate and do want to take forward, and explore alternatives to integrate along the way.
Amy Phoenix is a gentle yet direct parenting guide, healing facilitator, creator of Peace 4 Parents, and mother of four dedicated to sharing insights and practices to transform frustration and anger, heal the past and nurture conscious relationships.
Stay up to date on the latest happenings. Subscribe to The Mahogany Way. Follow me on Twitter at MahoganyWayMama, or like my page on Facebook. Are you a mom of color? Be sure to join my Community for Moms of Color. Do you love to talk birth? Come see me at The Birth Cafe.