September 7, 2015

Family Soup

This article was authored by Pat Jewell, Team Leader,
Parenting Education and Support Program, at the Australian Childhood Foundation.

In a Bringing Up Great Kids parent group, one father shared his idea that being in a family is like being part of a family soup, where each family soup will have its own ingredients that make it so special and individual. The analogy is a powerful one, with many possible applications.

Recently we discussed family stories and what they mean to the way we parent and the way we participate in life. When you bring your family story to a new family where there are other family stories then there is an art to creating a new family soup. You may not be aware of this, but some ingredients just do not go well with others.

When inventing your new recipe, there needs to be agreement on which ingredients from each need to stay, which ingredients can be left out and which new ingredients that were not in either soup or new versions of old ingredients that can be added to make this soup special and individual to this family.

If you’ve seen any of the current cooking oriented reality television shows, you’ll know that finding the right balance of tastes is everything in making a good dish, and good cooks taste as they go to correct the flavour combinations to achieve their best. With this in mind, how is your family soup? Determining the ingredients may or may not have happened intentionally , but there is still the opportunity to keep some ingredients, throw out others and add your own.

When exploring the Bringing Up Great Kids program concepts with families we often come across situations where families are “stuck” in a myth or belief about how the world was and should be that has come from family, school, community or through marketing or other media outlets. This place of being “stuck” can affect parent/caregivers relationship with their children, often without the family even realising what is going on. The BUGK material provides opportunities for families to identify the messages they grew up with, where they came from and to analyse their importance and relevance to their new family.

Messages are always mixed and some are more powerful than others, some are embracing and empowering and others are demoralising and hurtful.

Examples of messages in school could include:

  • “you’ll never amount to anything”
  • “girls can’t do maths”
  • “I think you write beautifully”
  • “you have the potential to do anything you want”

Examples of messages that can be received growing up in a family include:

  • “it is not OK to get angry”
  • “conflict is resolved through violence”
  • “Education is important to get on in life”
  • “children should be seen and not heard”
  • “we always love you”

These “messages from the past” influence who we become as adults and affects our adult relationships as well as our relationships with children. These messages become triggers and can affect how we communicate with our children, how we manage their feelings (and our own) and how we react or respond towards their behaviour.

By recognising and understanding that these messages are there parents/caregivers can make informed choices about them. As in the analogy of the family soup, which of your messages is essential to the family soup, which messages are you absolute must be passed on to your children? These will be the messages that empowered you and nurtured you. We can empower parents to decide which messages they might choose to leave out of the soup,. consider messages that hurt and damaged or messages that were not helpful. And to consider the new messages (ingredients) that you want to add to the new family soup to make it special for their family.