How We’ve Messed up Family Legacy
How does family legacy relate to the cherished American value of individualism? Don’t we want our children to become strong, independent individuals who make their own mark on the world? I want to answer that question in the context of history: how have expectations for families and children have changed over our nation’s short history?
There was a time in this country when family was front and center. At America’s founding, the family was the place where values and economic livelihood met. There was no distinction between family as a place of values creation and family as sustainability.
But eventually our country grew out of that notion. By the time of the Industrial Revolution, families became separated. Children became something to support. Life was hard and tough, and over time families have been increasingly smaller. It costs money to raise kids.
In many cases, values creation and values teaching became outsourced to public schools and church—if one attended. The goal became to raise our children to independence so that they could stand on their own two feet. I call it the “up and out” theory: raise them up and move them out so I can retire and play golf.
Independence vs. interdependence
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that our children shouldn’t be independent, but I think we’ve gone off-track here. The idea of raising our children and moving them out sends the message that when they are 18 that they are to go off and start their own story. It is somehow as if they are starting over—brand new stories disconnected from the past.
And it’s just not true. Their stories are connected to our stories. They will always be. Our kids are not just their own independent novels. Indeed, they are part and parcel of the larger story of our own family and the families we’ve come from. They are not independent from our story.
That’s where I think we’ve gone wrong. We should raise our children to be interdependent. We raise them to realize they are part of a bigger story. They should draw value from that story, appreciate it, and learn from its imperfections.
When we learn this lesson—the idea of interdependence—we gain the most powerful insight. Family legacy is not just about what I’ve created but about the story that I’m a part of and share.