What disappoints you most about parents

psychology: The family's silent assignments


Read on one side

Most parents wish their children the best. That they will be happy, stay healthy, maybe even be successful. That they find a place in the world that they like. That's good, and that's nice. But that can also be dangerous. When it's actually about the parents hoping for the best - but for themselves.

When the deeply felt wishes for the daughters or sons turn into high expectations and expectations finally turn into assignments that the children have to fulfill. So that they belong, so that they are loved. When it gets dangerous, the parents have already booked the place in the world that their children should like - they are no longer allowed to look for it themselves, but only to occupy it. The girls and boys sense early on that father and mother want something from them. And they try as best they can to fulfill their respective assignments. After all, the family has power. It creates security and exclusion. Inside and outside. We and the others. And the children imitate. Or they break out. And yet, as adults, their life is often still reflected in that of their parents: Mother, am I lovable the way I am? Or: Father, what do I have to do for it?

With Franz Kafka, for example, it was like this: his father had worked his way up from the poorest of backgrounds and expected his son to lead his life in such a way that the family would not fall into poverty again. His mission was: Live civilly, always earn good money - look for security and not writing. Franz Kafka was caught in the conflict between his own pursuit and his father's mission. The family was for him until the end of his life "a dungeon specially installed for me, which is all the harder since it resembles a bourgeois apartment and is not recognized as a prison by anyone - except me. This also means that all attempts to escape." David Garrett knows this well too. His father actually wanted to be a violinist. But his dream remained unfulfilled - he passed the job on to his son. Mission: child prodigy. When he was four years old, little David got a violin. He later had to practice eight hours a day instead of playing outside with friends. "It was a life in a golden cage," he recalls, "it was always just: You have to!" You have to live my dream. You are the tool with which I complete myself. You have to prove to everyone what's in our family. "Nothing has a stronger psychological influence on the children than the unlived life of the parents", summarizes the psychologist C. G. Jung the family drama.



Be there live online when our podcasts are created and meet your favorite hosts at the first ZEIT ONLINE podcast festival on Sunday, June 20, 2021.

With your registration you take note of the data protection regulations.

Many Thanks! We have sent you an email.

Check your mailbox and confirm the newsletter subscription.

Many jobs sound harmless at first, as if they can be accomplished with just a little effort. But: "Even the parental mandate to 'bring good grades home' can change in the course of time into the mandate 'Be successful, otherwise you will not be loved!'", Says the psychologist Sandra Konrad, author of the book That stays in the family. What family assignments are really about is seldom explicitly stated. In very few cases does the family council sit together like in an evening series and demand that the son be the only regular owner to take over the father's company. Much more often, orders are given through behavior - rather through example and demonstration than through regulations. Because small children in particular quickly learn which behavior secures the attention and affection of their parents for them - and for which they reap rejection or disregard. When are they hugged: when they have done something well or when they have not done something so well and they need consolation? When are they very close to their parents: when they have achieved something of their own accord or when they have exactly adhered to the ideas of their father and mother?

Emotional family assignments camouflage themselves well. You can even hide in first names. Perhaps the innocent name Friedrich carries the hope that the child will become as cosmopolitan as the grandfather. Or a Maren was once the mother's best friend until they fell out - and now this good feeling of solidarity is to be resurrected in the daughter Maren. After the Second World War, many children were given the first names of those killed or killed, and their traits were assigned to them.

The psychotherapist Dina Wardi called the children of Holocaust survivors "living memorial candles", her mission: to replace the lost people. A family tradition or an affiliation to a certain social class can also shine through in first names. Perhaps the first name should sound particularly well-educated or is based on a famous person and thus refers to an order. "Please be like this person" also often means: "Don't be what you want to be." It can get particularly bad if the parents have wanted a girl (and already have a few jobs in mind for them) - and it will be a boy. Then it can happen that his orders remain unfulfillable, no matter how hard the little guy may be.

Family assignments like to express themselves in mnemonics. Many families have their own motto that is passed down through the generations. "An indian knows no pain." - "You should feel better" (with the conclusion that you have failed if you are not doing better from the parents' point of view - after all, you had everything yourself, "we had nothing"). "What should people think of us?" Or: "Whoever stands in the first row will be shot." That sounds like grandfather's experiences in the world war, but it still has a very clear meaning today: Better to stay in the background, because those who dare to go too far forward live risky. Don't go too high, my little friend. Those who aim so high are in danger. "Better stay invisible" is a more modern version of this mandate. Don't attract attention. Make yourself small A related mandate to keep things small is: "Do not become bigger than me", "Do not outstrip me". It can shape life, as the fulfillment leads to even adults torpedoing their own careers again and again in order not to surpass their father or mother professionally. They follow a secret wish of their parents that would probably never be expressed verbally. But it is popular with the children. And then leads to a fear that hinders their advancement - the fear of losing their ties to the family as a punishment, of "falling out of style".

It can also be about advancement in a figurative sense: Family assignments can be binding. If, for example, they are supposed to prevent the children from going their own way - after all, it usually leads away from mother and father. And they stay behind. Little Hans went out into the wide world alone, his cane and hat look good on him, he is very happy. But mother cries a lot, now she doesn't have a baby anymore! "Take care of us!" could be such a binding order. "Without you everything will collapse here!" In the worst case: "Save the family, don't go away." Then the child thinks about it and quickly runs home. And perhaps never learns to formulate its own needs - after all, it has to take care of the others. Such binding assignments are ideal for the strongly bound child to later pass them on to their own offspring.

Silence is just as effective. When something is not allowed to be talked about. That mother drinks. That grandpa was in the SS. That father has a secret lover. That the company is insolvent. There are several messages in family secrets, both formal and substantive. What it is about is often ashamed, the mandate is: don't tell anyone about it! And the fact that it is not allowed to be talked about is contained in the teaching that openness to the outside world is bad and internal communication is not desired. In this way the child becomes the guardian of the integrity of his family and a keeper of secrets to his feelings. Because what is not allowed to be talked about must remain as intact as possible inside.