Dealing with Our Pasts as Dads

We are talking today about the problem that so many people face when they hear the word, multi generational. They think about their upstream family, and they’re like, “Wait a minute. Was that … There was a lot of dysfunction in my family growing up. Do I really want to build a multi-generational family? If that means actually involving and bringing all that dysfunction into my family that is just starting, and I really want to start fresh.” 

This is a question we get all the time because so many people do, they are trying to be the first generation to establish really a healthy family culture. And so it becomes really challenging to figure out, “What do you do with extended family?”

The first thing just to keep in mind, you guys, is that when we talk about multi-generational family, there are certainly scenarios where upstream generations are at a level of dysfunction and abuse where it’s healthy and important to create some strong, clear boundaries with that generation. By the way, that does not mean that you cannot build a multi-generational family because you can focus your attention on the downstream generations. 

Our model for this entire conversation around being a multi-generational fathers is Abraham. He had a very dysfunctional upstream generation. If you want to read about it, it’s in the last … Right at the end of Joshua. Joshua actually confronts Israel and says, “Guys, you don’t want to be … We’re sons of Abraham, not sons of Terah.” That was Abraham’s dad. He was an idol worshiper. Abraham left that dysfunction behind.

Sometimes we oftentimes ask people, “Are you an Isaac and Rebekah generation, or an Abraham and Sarah generation?” Isaac and Rebekah generations are really second, third, fourth or in a multi-generational stream, and they are really building on the foundation that was laid by generations in the past. If you’re an Isaac and Rebekah generation, you’re constantly thinking about, “Well, how do we enfold and how do we engage the upstream generations?”

But if you’re an Abraham and Sarah generation, really, God says, “Leave your father’s house and establish a new family.” Hey, that happens and that is part of building a multi-generational family. You guys are just as much a part of this project of what it means to be a multi-generational family as in Isaac and Rebekah generation. And so that is something we want to encourage you guys to understand. That is part of what a lot of people are dealing with. 

But I’d love to ask you, Jeff, that’s all really high level, big picture. But the reality is grandparents come around and they want to spend time with their kids. We want to figure out ways to honor them and not resent them. But there was maybe some really tough stuff that happened. And so how do you talk or think about how to deal with that?

Yeah. When I feel like everyone approaches with these kind of questions, what I try to tell them and encourage them with is everyone has a different story. But you also, no matter where your family falls, aunts, uncles, grandparents, some other people from out of … That lives states away that you barely know in your family. Don’t run from your story. That has to be core. Don’t run from your story. 

I think nine times out of ten, people sometimes use the, “Oh, we’re Christians and we’re starting a new legacy,” sometimes as an excuse to run from their story. Now that’s different than maybe just saying you need to live in health, saying you need to do, maybe, sever some ties for relational health. But I feel like that’s such a more red panic button that doesn’t need to usually be used. Only one out of ten times does that need to be used. The severing.

A lot of times, everyone’s right in the middle. We’re all sinful. We’re all messed up and some of us are … We have a vision that we do believe God has put us on, so we want to carve that path and chase that path. But I also think like, be honest with your kids is another way to say, “Don’t run from your story.” That’s a thing, I think it’s important to all of us. I love asking my side of the family and Alyssa’s side of the family like, “Go farther back. Tell us stories. Tell us where the hard parts were. Tell us where maybe there was some dysfunction,” because I actually want to know that and we want to know that. I think it is helpful to know then know what to look out for. There’s a lot of different angles and a lot of different realms here. But I would say, “Don’t run from your story,” is a huge part. 

And then maybe, Jeremy, I love what you put in the notes. Those couple of bullets. If you want to say, I think that first one is one I hit on. Is be honest with your kids. Not try to hide the story, pretend the story didn’t happen. But then find ways to honor and resolve resentment. I love those. What would you say about those? 

Yeah. If you can find even small ways to honor the upstream generations, I mean we’re talking about in … We’re going to talk about when there is an opportunity. There’s a lot of opportunity. Like Jeff said, most of us live in this middle space, which is, “There was dysfunction, but it wasn’t to the level that we want to create hard boundaries between our generation and a previous generation.” 

That’s a very difficult thing to do. It should be something that you should only do in extreme circumstances. But there are circumstances that warrant it. We want to be sensitive to those of you guys who are in those circumstances. We’re really speaking directly just to those families. I do think it’s a fairly small percentage, but we know you’re there and we know this is really hard. 

And so, resolving that resentment is really critical. I like what Jeff is saying, “Tell the full story to your kids as they’re getting older.” Obviously you want to do it at an age appropriate time. But it’s important that they understand, “Hey, what … Like, this isn’t what we want for our relationship going forward. That kind of hard boundary that you see between our family and a different upstream generation of our family. We really want to be a family team from this point forward. And so, let me be honest with you about what happened back there. And part of what we’re doing is in this generational attempt at growth and health is we’re trying to restore our family line. And so part of what that looks like is for us to start a new sort of chapter in the family story.”

I like what you’re saying Jeff. We don’t erase the previous chapters, that’s a really boring story, right? The story you want to see is a story where we did go through as a family, really, really tough times. But that’s the legacy that you guys are trying to build by saying, “We want a new chapter.” You want to involve your kids and help them see where they fit in the family line and in the restoration that is happening in your family line. 

And so, talking about that, casting that vision, bringing your kids into that. And then if God were to open doors to those upstream generations as you’re growing, get more mature, get healthier, get more healing, then that obviously is even a better story to see that restoration really happened there. We always want to encourage any movement in that direction. 

But we understand those hard lines and this is maybe one way to think about how to continue to really be motivated in the progress of your multi-generational family when you’re trying to absorb or be the first generation coming out of a really, really tough and potentially destructive chapter in the family story. 

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