Family Systems

Family Systems

Duncan Macleod

Families have systems of their own � sometimes systems that go unnoticed by family members. The chart below presents us with two ways of looking at family systems.

The adaptability line helps us to examine the way in which our family copies with the contributions of each member. The transition from child to teenager presents the family with a need for more flexibility. The move from control to guidance. When the family doesn’t adapt, ouch!

The cohesion line points to the various ways in which we value our ties together. This can range from neglect or mere tolerance (disengaged) to warm links through to abusive control, (enmeshed). Once again, teenagers present their caregivers with a cry for freedom, while hanging on to their need for emotional and physical support.

Under the Influence of Parents

The ways in which we have experienced family will inevitably affect our approach to ministry with children, young people and families.

Take for example, the styles of parenting you experienced as you grew up. Some families operate with a system in which role and expectations are defined by the parents, either openly or implicitly. These are the rules and you will keep them. End of conversation.

Others operate with very few guidelines for the children. Everyone is left to find their own boundaries. Some families make the happiness of the family more important than the wellbeing of the individual members. Some families stress individual freedom and responsibility before looking at being a family unit. Of course there’s a lot of family styles in between these extremes.

So how do these parenting styles affect your youth ministry?

The chances are that your attitudes to discipline and support were formed long before you started thinking about them. That’s not just the way in which you guide the young people you work with. It’s also about how you respond to people that you see as holding authority and power.

Your confidence in working with the parents of young people may well be affected by your relationship with the people who raised you.

We all have cultural assumptions about family that come from our own experience of family, no matter how positive or negative that experience my have been.

We can use our insights to strengthen our approach to youth ministry. And yet we have some hard thinking to do about our blind spots and the aspects of youth ministry we are missing.

Young people are each important to God, as unique individuals. Yet God recognises us a people in the context of our family relationships. Let’s do likewise.