The Multigenerational Pattern on the Maternal Side
Yesterday I traced the transmission process of the paternal side of my father’s family, with a nod toward his maternal side and a wink toward my mother’s side. Although I know less about my mother’s side, I can make some general comments about that transmission process that I hope will be helpful as you consider how you and your relationships may have been impacted by the multigenerational transmission process in your own family.
The stories on my mother’s side don’t go back nearly as many generations as those on my father’s side, but there are enough to trace some patterns through a few generations. For example, my grandmother and grandfather were as disparate in their capacities as two people can be. So were my mom and dad, and so were my ex-husband and me. I’m still trying to figure out how that pattern got transmitted.
The best I can figure so far is that the particular insecurity of the females bred in our specific fundamentalist religious system led us women to marry the first insecure man who paid us attention, and the first insecure man who paid us attention was a man who found our moral and intellectual capacities to be a way to fill in his gaps. My grandmother, my mother and I all followed this pattern. Of course, this whole emotional process took place outside of the consciousness of any one of us.
If you read yesterday’s post, you know that my grandparents on my father’s side were also disparate in their moral and intellectual capacities. My grandfather was a brilliant businessman, but apparently sociopathic: charming, unethical, manipulative and without conscience. (What drew my grandmother to him?) He and my grandmother eventually produced a son, my father, who was also charming, but deeply insecure and ethically flimsy. (What drew my mother to him?) Then I married a man who was also deeply insecure, though not immoral. (What drew me to him?)
What compelled the women in our family to be interested in men who were insecure and who came into our religious system from the outside? Were we drawn to the bad-boy outsider? Did we feel some kind of self-righteous and noble superiority to fix him?
Certainly, the extreme religiosity in which we women were raised suggests low differentiation in and of itself. Dogmatic rules are adopted to navigate life, rather than one’s own internal sense of what is good and right. Critical thinking for oneself is forbidden in favor of a particular brand of separatist fundamentalism, which is the only brand believed to be endorsed by God.
Included in this religious dogma was the God-given mandate to favor males over females. After all, Eve led Adam astray, but she could redeem herself through child-rearing. This led to a common father-mother-child triangle in which the mothers drew their favored sons close to them, leaving the father on the outside–a pattern that left the sons emotionally (and sometimes physically) dependent on their mothers, sometimes for their entire lives.
The Father-Mother-Son Triangle Across Generations
To this day, for example, my 52-year-old brother believes that females have a special moral wisdom that he doesn’t have (given the family pattern, he may be onto something), a psychological construct that keeps him dependent on the women in his life. His vengeance toward my mother (for drawing him into a relationship for her own dependency needs rather than his real needs) keeps him stuck in an emotional process that he can’t seem to escape.
The relationship my mom has with my brother is very similar to the pattern her brother had with their parents. When my My Uncle Dan was middle-aged, he moved his family in with my grandparents, where he lived for a couple years, until they couldn’t stand each other anymore. This same thing happened over the past year with my brother and his new family. They moved in with our mother when my brother foreclosed on the home that had been in the family for 50 years, and now the relational damage of the last year of living together may be irreparable, as it was in the previous generation between my Uncle Dan and my grandparents. Although most of those family members are deceased, my mother loyally carries on the resentment in place of her parents. My, what a mess!
As you can see, these patterns go way back. They came over several generations of family systems that operate at a low level of differentiation. Instead of thinking for themselves, both sides of the family cling to a system of “shoulds”–rules that are supposed to be guaranteed to work because they’re supposedly Biblical. They don’t consider whether these shoulds actually do work, or whether they may have a faulty interpretation of the “Rule Book.” So when relationships fall apart, they don’t question their belief system–they only try to conform more closely to whatever they believe are God’s mandates.
Tomorrow, I’ll give an example of how this relates to dating, although I suspect you’re already connecting some dots of your own.