Originally published in the July 2016 issue of Home Front magazine
Tyler, Travis, and Tori had an uphill climb regarding their family identity. Their dad was adopted, and didn’t know his biological origin. As a result he struggled with his identity. His relationship with his adoptive parents was strained, and then both of them passed away while the three kids were just toddlers.
Then their dad became emotionally uninvolved, and he drifted further out of their lives. A divorce followed. The three kids struggled with hurt and anger toward him and, frankly, didn’t want to have his name as theirs.
Tyler, Travis, and Tori are my daughter Andrea’s three children—my grandchildren.
Their grandmother and I wanted them to get identity from us. We talked to them about being part of our family; that while they didn’t bear our last name, they had our blood. We told them, “Being part of the ‘Fowler line’ is awesome!” We did what we could to create a strong sense of identity with our side of the family.
All kids need identity, don’t they? If they don’t find it in their family (the best scenario), they will create their own—in a group of their peers, or in unwise relationships. And as believers, we want our grandchildren to have double identity: as part of our family, and as part of God’s family. If you’re a grandparent, don’t you want the same for your grandchildren?
So what establishes family identity? (Think both of your family and your local church) Here are five elements:
- Unconditional love. In our families, we need to not only love one another deeply, but we need to express it to one another regularly. We’ve all been pretty unlovable at times, but we can count on our mothers loving us no matter what! But it shouldn’t just be moms: that is what families do—or ought to do. In your family, how do you do at expressing unconditional love?
- Incredible grace. Let’s face it; it’s often much easer to show grace to a stranger than it is to a family member. After all, we know one another, warts and all. But forgiveness (grace) endears us together because we all fail each other at times. In your family, do you need to extend grace to a family member?
- Unmatched closeness. Developing deep relationships through “doing life together” is a critical part of creating family identity in both the church and in our families. We have to laugh together, play together, and cry together to give our grandchildren a strong identity. That takes time and intentionality. In your family, how can you improve “doing life together?”
- Common bonds. A shared interest, like camping or baseball, a family business, or ministering together; a common goal, or even a common pain or obstacle provides “glue” and gives identity. You’ve probably said it, but for sure you’ve heard it: “A family that prays together stays together.” Whether it is praying together, attending church together, or another spiritual activity, the operative word is together. In your family, how would you describe the “glue” that holds you together?
- A family history. The Word of God is “His story.” It not only binds believers all over the world together but also gives us a sense of identity. In the same way, our family history helps grandkids know who they are. Passing on our family stories (even if our history includes some horse thieves and thugs) can greatly help our grandkids to “belong”. In fact, a few “horse thief stories” might very well help them to know that they will still have family identity when they fail—and they will. In your family, are you intentionally passing on your family history?
About Tyler, Travis, and Tori: they now have a new last name and a new family identity. Their mom eventually remarried, and their new dad, Paul, has become the father they never had. He has adopted them, loved them, guided them spiritually, and given them his name. Now they carry his identity. And more important: their identity as Christ-followers is set as well. Double identity. They’ve got it, and we are thrilled!