STrong family roots and ugly treeA strong family root system doesn’t always lead to a pretty tree.

It happens in nature too. Take my backyard willow tree for example. Its root system supposedly can spread over an acre. Despite its ability to efficiently retrieve nutrients and water from the soil, its limbs break off in every storm.

When that happens in families, it’s downright scary. There are times when love, faith, resources, and parents trying their absolute best aren’t enough. Children rebel and run away. Siblings become estranged. Mental illness or emotional scars reign over nurturing. Family members choose (or end up on) paths abhorrent to the rest of the clan—and society.

Usually we think of an imperfect family tree in terms of missing family members. It’s important to write about the parent that you never knew or cousins you never knew existed. Sharing how tangled roots lead to dysfunctional trees can jumpstart meaningful dialogues and conversations.

Unfortunately, dysfunction can also grow out of symmetrical, strong family roots.

Telling and Sharing Stories of When Strong Family Roots Weren’t Enough

How do you know if you want to tell and share? How much should you tell?

Do you want to share?

Writing about your situation can help you process your feelings. Sharing them is a different matter.

If sharing will prevent you from mending relationships, you might want to share only with those closest to you. On the other hand, if understanding your experience will help others support your family, there’s a strong case for sharing. (A good example of this is Tina Traster’s Rescuing Julia Twice.) Sharing can also help others come to grips with their own situation or their own feelings.

In my book, I address how to evaluate whether or not you want to share “ugly” episodes in more depth. There is no “right” or “wrong” answer. Your decision will be what’s right for you.

What happened?

Was there an event or series of events that changed everything? Is there an on-going process of healing or repairing relationships? Some of us (I’m raising my hand here), process things better when we have facts. It’s not that we don’t trust the reporters. It’s how we process things. It’s hard to wrap your brain around a conceptual truth. Facts help us cope. Moreover, understanding can lead to support.

Telling the simple, unembellished fact of your story can put rumors and gossip to rest. It can also serve to protect future generations. For instance, many mental illnesses have a high rate of inheritability. Knowing what happened can help other family members understand what the warning signs are. In some situations, making the facts available can protect potential future victims.

Brainstorming about the situation will help you separate facts from emotions and judgments. It will also help you hone in on the most salient facts and outcomes.

How did strong family roots fail?

What were the contributing causes? Do you have an opinion on what trumped love and upbringing? Was there a critical combination of factors? Did personalities clash? Once again, your insight can help future generations as well as people facing similar situations.


Don’t leave your readers hanging. Such “ugly” episodes beg for a summation, even if it’s your outlook of the day.

Is there hope? Was there a reconciliation? Forgiveness? Does your family now face a new “normal”? Do you have strong family roots to help you cope together? Do you still hope for repaired relationships? If a family member has done something illegal, is there hope for rehabilitation? If another family member was a victim, where do you go from here?

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