This simple statement is a reminder that a person affects and is affected by the persons, places, and things around him. It is impossible to understand an individual apart from the context in which he lives — his family, his work, his church, his community, his country.
Just as medical doctors do not look at an organ in isolation but rather in the context of the complexity of the entire human body, we cannot truly understand individuals without understanding the complexity of the world in which they live.
In respect to family, this complexity of influence can easily be seen for at least three generations. Young people sometimes mistakenly believe that once they leave home, their families will no longer influence them. This mentality is far from reality.
Even our grandparents (living or dead) influence who we are and we, of course, influence our grandchildren (living or yet to be born). Like most everything in life, this is both good and bad.
Families can have positive influences that become stronger and stronger across generations or they can have negative influences that also can become stronger and stronger across generations.
For this reason, it is very important that families look carefully at themselves and make any changes needed that might help not only the present generations to live a better quality life, but also future generations.
The best predictors that families will remain healthy generation after generation are two characteristics that at first glance appear to oppose one another — separateness and togetherness.
Separateness implies that each family member has a good understanding of his autonomy — or one’s sense of self. In other words, each individual within the family has a firm and realistic grasp of who he is as a person, his beliefs, his values, his talents, his abilities.
Because there is separateness within the family system, there is mutual respect and appreciation for individuality. This means that family members don’t feel any pressure to believe or act like any other family members.
Especially important, there is emotional freedom where family members do not become overwhelmed or swayed by the emotions of other family members.
Ownership of feelings not only significantly contributes to a sense of self, but also affords the best climate for becoming a mature individual. This can only happen if each person within the family is okay with being an autonomous self.
Being OK with who you are as an individual doesn’t have to come at the expense of togetherness. Families need to feel a strong sense of togetherness in order to remain healthy. Such families know who they are and there is good feeling that comes from being part of one’s family.
Whether times are good or bad, the family members know they can count on their families to be there for them. Support and love come without condition even when family members disagree with the particular actions or thoughts of other family members. Such families become a primary support system that affords an awareness that they need not face life alone.
Separateness. Togetherness. Not only are they not opposed to each other, they compliment one another and provide the basis for heathy family functioning.