I asked about her childhood and her relationship with her parents, and she responded angrily. “I’m not here to talk about myself! I’m here to talk about my son and why we don’t get along!”

That “childhood” question often touches a nerve. It’s a cliché you’ll see when TV shows and movies portray counseling. The studious-looking therapist says, “Now, tell me about your childhood.”

We don’t ask that question just to perpetuate any clichés. It comes up because it provides a tremendous amount of insight into relationships. In fact, research says that the single most predictive factor in your relationship with your spouse and children is your relationship with your parents (particularly your mother) before the age of 12.

When you think about it, that makes a lot of sense. Those are your formative years, when you’re learning what’s right and wrong, who you can trust, how to get your needs met, and most of all, how to relate to other people. The things you learned as a child still impact your relationships today, whether that’s with your own children, your spouse, your friends, or other people.

Counselors sometimes use a tool called a genogram to help people record family relationships. It’s like a family tree, but it also includes information about the nature of those relationships. When tracked across a few generations, patterns start to emerge. Whether it’s divorce, alcoholism, abuse, or even just strained relationships between parents and children, we often see that the problems people experience today can be traced back for generations. It may be that the reason your relationship with your child is strained is because your relationship with your mother was strained. And when you look back, she and her mother never got along, either.

Once you recognize those patterns, you can go to work to change them. If you are able to improve your relationship with your children, they’ll have a better chance of having positive relationships with their children, and so on. But if you aren’t intentional about making those changes, those familiar patterns are likely to re-emerge.

So when a counselor asks about your childhood, it’s not just to kill time. You may discover that the challenge you face today is actually a family tradition … and with some help from one of our counselors, you can replace that tradition with a much happier and more promising one. Contact us today if you’d like to learn more.

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