Family of Origin or Family of Procreation

Family of Origin or Family of Procreation

Looking Up or Looking Down

Sailing up (sailing up), sailing down (sailing down)
Up (down), down (up!) – up and down the river
Sailing on – stopping all along the way
The river may be dirty now
but it’s getting cleaner every day
— Sailing Up, Sailing Down
— Wyatt & Reed
Performed With Pete Seeger on the Clearwater

In response to several previous blog posts, Marilyn Halls, MA of Counseling Associates of Sarasota, LLC wondered “how you would help parents differentiate from their children and at what age,” to which I would respond that:

The best way to help parents differentiate from their children
is to help parents differentiate from their children’s grandparents.

The best age would be during adolescence and young adulthood, that is when the parents are that age in their families of origin, and working through the launching and becoming an adult stages of the family life-cycle.

One way Bowen described the work of self differentiation is a “process of partially freeing oneself from the emotional entrapment of one’s family of origin.” If you haven’t done this work, unresolved emotional cut-offs will lead to fusion with either one’s spouse or children or all combined in a collection of interlocking triangles. The greater the amount of unresolved family emotional attachments the more difficult it is to function at a high level.

Of course one does not “differentiate from” anybody. One works to increase one’s functional level of differentiation of self and develop a more solid self. This is a solitary task. You are doing it for yourself, and not to change anybody else. Your goal is to change your part in old, repetitive, emotional patterns of behavior, not to agree or disagree with anyone else.

The process of self-differentiation involves proactively defining yourself in relationship to your extended historical family. To engage in this process is to provide a platform for maximum growth and development. The goal is to get a clearer picture of who you are, how you became who you are, and what the family influences are, both immediate and multi-generational. Becoming more ‘responsible’ for one’s self allows one to act more ‘responsibly’ toward others.

Family of Origin or Family of Procreation By Ronald B. CohenWe need be very cautious about the fusion, triangles and loss of self in child-focused families. How often do we as parents make projects out of our children when we’d be better off making projects of our relationships and ourselves? Transferring parental anxiety to children helps perpetuate the primary parental triangle.

The normative crises of parenthood are an opportunity to advance the process of differentiation, giving both parents a second chance to do their own family of origin and relationship work that might have been skipped or neglected the first time around.

So the answer to the question (drum roll & envelope please) is (ta-da) working on differentiation of self in your family of origin will make life better for you, your children, your grandchildren and future generations. Getting unstuck from one’s parents is the most productive way to resolve relationship difficulties with one’s children.

When caught in three generation triangles (parents, children and grandparents) consultation with a well-trained Bowen Family Systems Theory Relationship Coach and Consultant is far superior to a spoonful of sugar, and can help you stay focused on yourself in the most delightful (and productive) way.

Best of luck on your unfolding journey of a lifetime.

Please share your thoughts and experiences about moving forward and backwards before starting over in the “Leave a Reply” box below. To request more information and/or schedule an initial consultation, click here. If you found this post helpful, please don’t keep it a secret. You are encouraged to click on the buttons at the bottom of the page and share this article with your own networks. Looking forward to continuing the conversation.

Ronald B Cohen, MD, PC Ronald B. Cohen, MD
Bowen Family Systems Coach
1 Barstow Road, Suite P-10
Great Neck, NY 11021
(516) 466-7530

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  1. Sherry Wright on April 16, 2015 at 5:10 am said:

    I’m wondering about the “ten year” shift that is happening more and more in families these days. Children remain much more financially (and consequently emotionally) dependent on their parents for much longer (in comparison to Bowen’s era). They are at school longer…go to University for longer…. and are often not working in a chosen career until they are in their late 20′s/30′s. This has the potential to make “differentiation” begin a lot later for both children and parents.

    The other wondering that I’ve been having is about children with health/disability issues and the impact that their health struggles have on all members of the family. I am working with a family where one of the children (now 50) has been/still is physically/emotionally and financially dependent on her parents…. and the rest of the family.

    The family dynamics is these circumstances have the child with the struggle always at the forefront of consideration.

    • Ronald B Cohen, MD on April 16, 2015 at 6:42 pm said:

      Hi Sherry

      Absolutely! A young adult’s tasks in this launching phase transition are primarily focused on the development of autonomy and healthy interdependence. The goals of this process of differentiation include:

      • Development of financial self-sufficiency
      • “Learning how to work”, finding something you are passionate about that others are willing to pay you for doing
      • Becoming responsible for one’s own emotional well-being
      • Staying meaningfully connected to one’s family of origin in the transition from adolescent child to co-equal adult
      • Developing intimate peer relationships

      It is difficult, if not impossible, to develop emotional self-differentiation when one is still financially dependent for an extended period of time. Some have called this a prolonged “economic adolescence”.

      Families with a child with special needs can become overwhelmed and experience shame, guilt, anger and blame leading to conflict with the child in a repetitive cycle of attack-defend, criticize-avoid. There are also multi-generational consequences such as marital stress and divorce, grandparent stress, financial stress and bankruptcy, and decreased social and extended family interactions. It is helpful to remember that child focused triangles are ubiquitous and contribute to every situation.


      — Ron

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