One of our four children has a personality and strengths that are different from his siblings and from my wife and me. Do you have any suggestions on how to turn family discussions away from picking on our son’s differences to, instead, focusing on his strengths?
Wanting to all be alike is a part of our human nature that seems to give us security and validates our thoughts and actions. The “shadow side” of all being alike is a sense of being “right,” a form of ego attachment that causes us to believe we are above others. It gives us a false sense of self-importance that has us fall into dualistic thinking: “I’m right; you’re wrong.” Or in the case of the family situation you describe: “We’re right; you’re wrong.” We must keep in mind that the person who disagrees with us knows a piece of the truth we just haven’t discovered yet.
In your family discussions never allow “personal attack” in which an individual’s shortcomings are put on the table for open critique. I sense that you desire true unity in your family based on mutuality, not “rightness” or “alikeness.” Mutual respect honors each person’s dignity as a child of God. This does not mean abdicating essential values, but it does mean listening respectfully to each person’s view and taking it into consideration as a legitimate perspective. Every one-sided discussion is not a real discussion. Your son helps you all to see another side to an issue, another way of feeling or acting.
Question for Christ may be sent to her at:
Catholic Herald Parenting, P.O. Box 070913, Milwaukee, 53207-0913 or by email: email@example.com.
Here are a few helpful questions to encourage authentic discussion: How do you see this issue (ask each)? What’s another way to think about this? Have we missed anything here? Does anyone have additional thoughts?
The use of the word “and” is a helpful antidote to dualistic thinking. For example: So, some feel strongly that there should be laws regulating harmful habits such as alcohol, drugs, and smoking and others see this legislation as too restrictive of a person’s right to make his/her own choices regarding personal health. “And” allows us to find truth and value in both sides and to intelligently critique both sides. “And” opens us to living in the mystery of a Kingdom that is “already but not yet.”
True harmony in families comes when each member is loved and valued for who he or she truly is: an imperfect human being in the process of becoming more and more who he or she truly is (inner divinity). Love is the necessary ingredient to have true unity in diversity.
We are God’s creatures. Total uniformity is not generally seen in God’s creation. Reality is often paradoxical, full of exceptions and contradictions. Why would our families be any different? Consider your son as the “secret ingredient” that gives your family its special uniqueness, and causes you all to grow.
We mistakenly think life would be easier if we were all alike, but life is certainly more interesting and richer because we aren’t. God has designed us to be each other’s teachers, so we may all grow into the fullness of who God created us to be. As Richard Rohr says in his book, “The Naked Now,” “We are all, without exception, a mixed blessing.”
(Christ is a consultant in ministry in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee. The married mother of four young adult children, she gives talks and workshops, leads retreats and is a spiritual director. Christ self-publishes materials for parishes, and is the author of “Journeying with Mark,” “Journeying with Luke” and “Journeying with Matthew.” Published by Paulist Press, the books are intended to be used by families in the car on the way to Mass.)