The Good Enough Family
The Good Enough Family
By J. Bailey Molineux, Ph.D.
What's the fact that your grandfather was an alcoholic when your father was
growing up have to do with you, your marriage and your children today? Or that
your mother was depressed when you were a child? Or even the secret that your
great Aunt Tilly had to be institutionalized?
To a family therapist like me, plenty.
The family is the crucible in which are personalities
are formed. A tremendous amount of learning takes place from birth through our
childhood years, much of which is now unconscious. We learn about love, self-esteem,
emotions, conflict, sex, marriage and everything else that is important in human
relations. By examining our family experiences, we can learn more about ourselves
and so become better spouses and parents.
This will be a new column on families. I want to
call it The Good Enough Family from a phrase coined by the British psychiatrist,
Donald Winicott, who wrote about the good enough parent.
You've probably heard or read about dysfunctional
families lately and may have wondered what this is about. John Friel, author
of several books on dysfunction in families, gave a talk in Helena a few years
ago in which he argued that only five percent of families are optimally healthy.
That leaves ninety-five percent of the rest of us, myself included, as coming
from dysfunctional families!
But this still doesn't tell you what the term means.
I'm a multi-generational, family systems therapist.
That's a long description but it simply means two things:
To understand a person, and to help her understand
herself better, I examine the family system of which she is a member. To do
this, I look at three generations and possibly four, if there is enough information.
When we're not aware of them, or don't deal with them, psychological patterns
and problems pass from generation to generation. As I told one patient, "I
suspect your mistrust of men which is affecting your marriage today bean with
your great grandmother."
This doesn't mean I'm in the parent-bashing business
or in the business of absolving people from responsibility for their present
behavior because of childhood experiences. Most parents tried their best and
all adults are responsible for their behavior regardless of what happened to
them as children.
Most families have some emotional pain in their
histories - depression, alcoholism, untimely deaths, divorce, shame, secrets,
business failures, etc. It's built into the fabric of life. To live is to suffer
If dysfunction is the same as emotional suffering,
I can easily accept that ninety-five percent of us came from dysfunctional families.
In my own family, the death of my grandfather in 1912 when my mother was eight
had a profound impact on her and, through her, on me. Similarly, the fact that
my great Uncle Roland was convicted but later acquitted of murder was a major
source of secret shame in my father's family.
So the good enough family has dysfunction in its
background. Most families do. But it is a family that cares. The parents make
mistakes but keep trying. They're not perfect, and never will be, but they're
In the years ahead, I want to write about many
topics - marriage, parenting, codependence, shame, the wounded inner child,
depression, anxiety, spirituality and joy - but the column will mostly be about
love. That's because my profession is about love, or more exactly its lack.
People hurt when they didn't receive enough unconditional love growing up, don't
now give it sufficiently to themselves and struggle in their present relationships
with love. Through this column, I hope you can first learn to be more loving
with yourself, and then learn to improve your marriage and relations with your
About the Author: J. Bailey Molineux, a psychologist with
Adult and Child Counseling, has incorporated many of his articles in a book,
Loving Isn't Easy, Isbn 1587410419, sold through bookstores everywhere or available
directly from Selfhelpbooks.com. Copyright 2002, J. Bailey Molineux and Selfhelpbooks.com,
all rights reserved. This article may be reprinted but must include authors
copyright and website hyperlinks.