In a recent session with a psychotherapy client, we were discussing communication patterns in his family. He is one of three sons raised by parents who are not particularly forthcoming in terms of emotional excavation. His father is able to express anger easily but does not put himself in a vulnerable position to speak of the underlying causes. There was a blow up a week earlier that my client attempted to quell by talking to his father. It didn’t go in the direction he had hoped, so he intended to have a peaceful talk before our next appointment. When he came back in the following week, he said that things had “calmed down,” and “gone back to normal.” He decided to refrain from discussing the original situation, wanting to “leave well enough alone.” When I asked about whether he had ever had a deep conversation with his dad, his response was “We’re not that kind of family.” I asked if that meant, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it?” “Pretty much,” was what he said.
Words To Live By
It got me to thinking what mottos other families live by. In my four person family of origin, which consisted of my parents and my 2 1/2 year younger sister and me, we had many. I think of them as ‘Mom-isms and Dad-wisdom’. Some were helpful, others I recognize as the root of some of my co-dependent beliefs and behaviors.
- If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. (Attributed to Thumper’s mother in Bambi)
- What will be, will be.
- Your life is in the hands of anyone who makes you lose your temper.
- Walk in like you own the joint.
- When we would make funny faces, my mother would query: “What if there was a sudden freeze and your face got stuck like that?
- What hurts you hurts me.
- If that’s the worst thing that ever happens to you, you’ll be okay.
- Charity begins at home (although my parents were generous in terms of financial donations as they could afford it and most certainly in terms of volunteering time)
- As long as we love each other.
When my son lived at home, I attempted to instill a sense of responsibility with the instructions:
- If you open it, close it.
- If you drop it, pick it up.
- If you make a mess, clean it up.
- If you take it out, put it back.
It took awhile, but those seeds seem to have taken root, since the home he shares with his fiancee’ is far tidier than our home when he was here.
In 1981, I attended a 10 day Outward Bound training. It took place in the winter, in New England when it was 40 below at night. We slept in tents as we hiked, did cross country skiing and snowshoeing. We didn’t shower for 10 days but had no worries about offending anyone with an unpleasant stench since it was too cold for bacteria to grow. If perchance any stink snuck past the freeze, we all would have smelled the same anyway.
One of the instructors taught a concept that I use to this day. I call it Make A Positive Change.
He said, “Instead of complaining about what isn’t working in your life, make a positive change. If your socks are wet, change them, or you could lose toes. If you are hot, take off a layer of clothes, if you are cold, add a layer. If you are hungry, eat, if you are tired, sleep.” Pretty simple rules for the road.
Make Your Own Motto
Creating a meaningful motto will provide your family the opportunity to assess your values and give each member a say. Think about what you stand for and what you want to pass on to the next generations. Make it something inspirational so that when you repeat it, it reinforces the attitudes and actions you want to exhibit.
When I put out feelers among my friends, they shared their family wisdom that ranged from the poignant and profound to the silly and absurd.
- My mother always said (and still says) “Don’t cry that you have no shoes when there are those with no feet.”
- Dad said, “A diamond in the gutter will always still shine, sweetheart and you can put a pig in a palace and all they’ll ever be able to do is grunt and shit on the floor.” One of Mam’s was ” If you don’t want to hear the answer, you shouldn’t have asked the question.”
- My mother loved to say, “I’ll give you something to cry about.”
- Do unto others as you’d have them do unto you. If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. You can get more with honey..sie la vie…whatever will be will be.”
- “If there’s a will, there’s a way.”
- “You think I’m going to wipe your ass till you’re 21, you’ve got another think coming.”
- “About taking a coat, umbrella etc… “Better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it”. I live by those words still today.”
- “Don’t do that with your eyes, they might stick that way”. “If everyone jumped off a bridge, would you?” ” Sometimes you need to be better than everyone else, just for them to think you’re as good.”
- “Hope for the best, and prepare for the worst.”
- My mother always told me I must have a job and a savings account. I have both! My father liked to say “If you are happy, I am happy”. He also liked to say “You need a man like your father.”
- My Dad: “Everyone does the best they can with what they have to work with.” My corollary: If our best is causing suffering for ourselves or others, we need to get more to work with- we need to ask for help.”
- “You get more flies with honey. And another doozy. If you happen to be talking and you sneeze, “you sneezed on the truth.”
- “Don’t set yourself on fire to keep others warm.”
- “If you can’t laugh, you’re already dead.”
- My dad would say “Better to have and not need than need and not have.” He also said, “It’s easier to get forgiveness than permission.” My grandfather would say “Live fast die young and leave a nice corpse, ha!” And then my mom mom would yell at him”
- “Something my father passed down from his mother which has always stayed with me is: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” I am grateful this is still part of my thinking since it helps me control unnecessary spending and makes me a religious recycler. Sometimes I have to remind myself it’s okay to spend money, though.”
- ‘My mom said “East Jabip” to mean a place ridiculously far away.”
- “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” and “Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill,” both of which my dad liked to say.”
- “Sticks and stones will break your bones but words will never hurt you. But it was a lie, words did really hurt, a lot.”
- “When mad and I was playing the ‘if’ game mom would reply, “If my aunt had balls she’d be my uncle”! When she said it I knew I needed to disappear for a while, go have dinner at a friend’s house.”
- “Wear clean underwear in case you’re in an accident. 1) why wouldn’t I wear clean underwear? and 2) I don’t want to be in an accident!”
- “My favorite one of my Mom’s ( who raised 4 kids close in age through the 60s and 70s was “Anything that doesn’t spurt blood above eye level I don’t pay attention to!” Considering what she had to handle, that saying was definitely a stress reduction strategy!”
What’s your family motto?