Have you ever Googled ‘Family Trees’ and checked out all the different types of family trees? Do it. Tell me what you see.
One thing you’ll notice with most family trees is they start with the trunk, and branch up and outwards.
Most family trees place the genealogy above the soil line. Everyone is just an offshoot of another offshoot. A branch, seemingly blowing randomly in the wind of existence.
I suspect, however, we’ve got the concept of family trees wrong.
In Australia, (not including Indigenous Australians, who have a rich history and identity in this great land), we really don’t have a real concept of ‘generations’. Unlike a host of Indigenous communities worldwide, plus Europe, Asia and even America, we really don’t have a strong generational connection. Many families can’t map out more than two or three generations in Australia. As a result I think, Australia has an absence of a generational family culture. Certainly, we see pockets of it with some cultural groups. We see it sometimes with special events, like Christmas or Easter when the family gets together. As a whole, however, I don’t think we have a close-knit family and generational influence culture. The reasons for this are many, and maybe we’ll explore those in another post.
The concept of ‘strong foundations’ is used in many contexts. We see it in building, for any structure that does not have strong foundations is set to shift, move and not be stable. We see it in education, where to build a love of learning needs a strong foundation of literacy. We see it in the spiritual, where adherents of a faith need to be strongly grounded in their beliefs for them to stay strong in their faith. We also see it in both individuals and families.
I mentioned above that I think we have the concept of the family tree wrong. I think we need to look at family trees in reverse. What roots have nourished the tree?
Most would agree that you are the biological product of your parents genes. You might thank your dad for your big ears or your mum for your fast metabolism. Your growth may have been stunted in utero if your mother suffered from an illness or malnutrition. Your genes may be subject to some type of abnormality if your fathers sperm was affected by chemicals. Inversely, you may have benefitted from healthy parents who gave your growing body the best chance in life.
If you go to your parents, their parents too had the primary biological influence in their lives, and so it goes, back through the generations. Your olive skin might be a gene from Mediterranean blood, passed down from many generations ago. Your crystal blue eyes could be a throwback from some Nordic gene inherited from your grandparents grandparents.
Whilst we often think about the biological traits inherited from generations past, do we ever give thought to the spiritual traits inherited from generations past? I’ve mentioned in past posts of my Christian faith. I know that my faith is the product of the prayers of generations past, proclaiming the love and faithfulness of God on offspring they will never meet. These faithful voices of yore, proclaiming love and life through the generations.
We know that a parents (and grandparents) influence does not simply stop once a baby is conceived. Family influences have a HUGE impact on the direction a child goes in life. Anyone who’s been married will attest to the influences their spouses’ family has had on their spouse in relation to money, careers, life perspective, faith, parenting, sex – actually, almost anything!
Here’s where the concepts of an ‘upside down’ family tree and a generational family culture meet the real world. Here’s where they meet your world.
You can’t control or change what came before you. You can’t change your genes, not one iota. You can’t change your grandads violent alcoholism, your mothers cold personality, your fathers austere upbringing or your grandmothers faith. You can’t simply put roundup on the weeds in your family tree. You can however be thankful for the good, understand the bad and seek to learn from their mistakes of the past.
A tree needs ongoing nourishment to survive, just like a person. One of the best ways to nourish a child is in a family environment. A place where not only mum and dad, but grandmothers, grandfathers, uncles, aunts and cousins share their love, their knowledge, their experience and their wisdom. A place where the generations feed off each other.
Now you might say ‘but you don’t know my family – that would NEVER work!’. You know what? It might not have worked in the past, but guess what – you have the opportunity to make it work for your children.
Here’s the challenge for you, especially if you are yet to have children. What are you doing now to make sure the tree you will eventually support will have the best shot in life? What decisions are you making now to develop healthy habits – with money, physical health, spiritual development and relationally – that will positively impact on your future generations.
What will the root you spawn say about you? Will they say that your root was unhealthy? A drunk? Unwise with money or angry? Will they say that your root was healthy? That you paved the way for a healthy tree? That you faithfully sewed nutrition and life into the generations to come?
You may have gotten to a point in your life where biologically or relationally, you’ve messed it up for your children, or even your grandchildren. Maybe you were an angry father, or a distant mother. Maybe you worked too much or were financially irresponsible and have no inheritance (in any sense of the word) to pass onto your children. It’s not too late to start trying to develop a generational culture. Of trying to break those bad habits of the past. Those generational curses. Those harsh words, those seeds of unhappiness. It’s time to start developing a positive generational family culture. It will need to start with you, and it will need to start now.
Don’t be the root that stunts the growth of your family tree. Take ownership of your family tree. Start nourishing it with love, faithfulness and kindness. Believe it or not, it’s your responsibility. There’s plenty out there that will seek to grind your family tree down to a stump.