“We have no alternative. We must break the sacred rule and question these rules because unless we talk about them, there is no way out. We must evaluate them in the light of our newfound knowledge of families as systems.””― John Bradshaw
Bradshaw On: The Family may be the most famous and popular book the late (2016) John Bradshaw ever wrote. Why then, did I write about other Bradshaw books before this one? I even mentioned this very book in another post and *still* didn’t write about it! In short: If this guy is “all that”… then why wait? Well, lemme tell ya.
Once upon a time, I was a 30-something-year-old heading back to college and this was a textbook used in one of my classes. But I have to go back before that…
In the late 1970s, I went to (what was called) Jr. College for two years – give or take (a day, week, month or even a year or two off). I changed my major, over and over again. I collected a few credits but no degree. My heart just wasn’t in it.
In 1980, I married and promptly changed my trajectory by immediately having three babies in four years. By 1987, we were grappling with my (then) husband’s infidelities and moved 100 miles away from all the other women (as has been discussed here before). We moved from Southern California to the High Desert and I was left alone with the children while he tied up loose ends with his job, which took several months. He stayed with his parents and came home on weekends.
In the meantime, I had a miscarriage. No car, three kids and a miscarriage in the dusty desert (that I grew to love – but not in the beginning!) was almost more than I could take. But, I survived. The marriage survived. Ever onward.
In 1990, I found the job of a lifetime at the local community college. There is a lot to be said about it – and in fact, much has already been said. All that matters in the discussion today is that being on campus gave me the drive (and frankly, the courage) to finish up that two-year degree I started a decade before. I knew it would take time – and it did – because I took one or two classes at a time. I graduated with that darned degree in 2000. Go me!
One of the classes I took was a psychology class about dysfunctional families. Bradshaw On: The Family was the textbook for the class. It is based on a PBS series <<< which you can buy on DVD by following the link. Or, if you’re patient, you can watch it on YouTube.
Okay, now that we’re all on the same page (ha! pun!)…
At that first reading of Bradshaw On: The Family for the class, all I could see was my Family of Origin (FOO) and myself. I didn’t *want* to deal with any of it but I had to, if I wanted to graduate. And so, I wrote papers and had imaginary discussions with family members, living or dead, but only on paper.
I resonated – DEEPLY – with the chapter on The “Bad” Child… because, duh… I was her. <<< Why and how I became that way was hashed out through the pages of this book and the assignments in class.
It was an exciting and scary experience, as it would be (I think) for any newbie trying to make her way through a complicated life that was as tangled and twisted as mine.
It was a Win/ Win because I got an A in the class… and also figured everything out. (Insert rolly-eye emoticon here, because… uh. Read on!)
I worked it and understood everything! All of it! Look at me being my own guru! Nice and tidy. Because of this book!
Um, here’s the thing. The book is excellent. It is! And Lord knows it’s thorough. It’s so jam-packed with stuff it nearly breaks through the binding. It’s an awesome book, truly.
It’s only as “healing” as the person reading it (or working it) will allow. And, like I say, I was a newbie and felt like I’d caught the world on a string. But it was only the beginning of a journey (sorry to use that word but it is so apropos here!) that is still ongoing. And, I had no desire – literally ZERO – to go back and revisit all that family stuff. <<< Which is why I gave the book away years and years ago and never looked back. That is, until I began writing this blog.
And, here we are, full circle.
As I collected more and more of Bradshaw’s work, this book kept creeping back into my consciousness. It had changed my life, for sure! Did I want to even look at it again? What would I find? Let me tell you.
As a parent of adult children, I now see them in the pages. Occasionally, I do see myself and my FOO… but more often… way more often… I see the mistakes that my late-ex-husband and I made in raising our kids.
There was / is a new “bad child” in town and it isn’t me. My heart aches for her. It wasn’t her fault. And, as I cry for her, I realize I am also crying for myself… neither of us was actually “bad”… it’s just how many (most) families shake out, especially if there is dysfunction – and damn, almost every family seems to have it! The labels just fall into place… good and bad. And, oh yes, I had a “good child”, too, who felt like she carried the weight of the family on her shoulders. I know, because she told me. Funny… my only sibling, the “good child” in our FOO, once said something very similar. Therefore, in my experience as both the child and adult in a family, the bad child feels like they’re breaking up the family and the good child feels like they’re holding it together. Got it. No pressure.
The youngest, my guy with disabilities, got by on a freebie pass to do whatever he wanted. Understandable, but oh-so-damaging! An argument could also be made that he was the scapegoat because his disability was the reason he or we could or couldn’t do this or that or the other thing – even if it could actually be done. So complicated.
I’m know for a fact that each kid felt responsible, at least somewhat, when their dad and I got divorced. Their dad and I argued about how to handle the problems of the “bad child”, the “good child” couldn’t keep us together no matter how good she was, and the scapegoat took it all on himself, because just by virtue of his disabilities he was always “causing problems”. I see it now so clearly. It breaks my heart. And yeah, I learned about it all in this book.
It is, as I said in the beginning, one of the best books you’ll ever find on the subject.
But, be prepared… it just may break your heart, too.
FINAL IMPORTANT NOTE: I would be remiss not to say that the kind of work this book provokes might best be done with the guidance of a therapist – especially if there was (or is) sexual abuse in your family.