A Generous Grace

ideas on practical spirituality and loving each other

Questions to Better Understand your Family’s Subculture: #1-12

Dad and Mom with Corinne“Honey, I don’t know how to tell you this, but—I’m not your dad.”

Well. True.

And yet–that was my husband to me, a few months ago. For the record, it’s been 15 years this week (woot!) since we cooed “I do.” But it seems I was still giving him reason to remind me who I married. And who I didn’t.

Yet this post, and what I hope will be an ongoing series, isn’t just for the hitched folks out there. Our family of origin—or the culture in our own homes—has a considerable impact on our work, our rest, the lens through which we interpret relationships, our kids, our conversation, our spirituality, even our sex life (betcha didn’t think you’d find them in there!).

Plus, I just think it’s plain interesting to understand where we came from—as someone who lives in a different culture that’s helped me better understand the strengths, weaknesses, and nuances of my own. It’s helped me to be more gracious, more wise, more self-knowledgeable (which helps me be more aware in my relationship with God), and hopefully more holy.

Ideas for use:

  • These might be valuable discussion questions with your spouse; a close, interested friend; or even your kids (pick and choose which you think are appropriate). Their insight may help take you to places you haven’t been before.
  • Perhaps they’re even journal prompts, as they hopefully lead to more understanding of where we came from.
  • You can use them to explore your family of origin or your current home—or even in an attempt to understand a family you frequently interact with, like your in-laws. You can also choose to look at these in past and/or present tense.
  • I haven’t put this on every question, but these are intended to form a toolbox of sorts to take your own answers deeper, i.e. What can I learn from this? Just imagine tacking on the end of every question, Why? And How did this affect you and/or your family? For example, not to get all shrinky on you, but from question #1, if your family often speaks of its accomplishments, why do you think that is? What kind of accomplishments do they talk about, and which ones do they leave out? Why is this valuable to them?
  • In the Bible and in life, much of what happens is related in stories. An astute college professor of mine required a paper my freshman year that helped us unpack the ethos of our family via its stories. Stories often don’t have a spoken moral, but we sure tend to learn a lot quite quickly from what happens. I may refer in these questions to your family’s timeline—the events in the “book” that is your family, a line which stretches before you were born and into the future.
  • Disclaimer 1: I realize that “family” is broadly defined, and can be a particularly sensitive or painful topic! I also should acknowledge that in my experience every family has at least a little baggage (if you don’t think so, perhaps you can benefit from these questions…) and is kind of wacky all on its own. You may not know your mom or your dad. You may have alternated back and forth between different homes with very different subcultures, as my husband did. You may not have any siblings, or may have spent time in foster care. Someone in your past may have caused you exquisite suffering. Please know that my intent is not to rub salt in familial wounds, or create some false or exclusive idea of “normal.” (Inclusivity is a significant value in American culture, but I tend to unknowingly stink at it.) I encourage you to look into ways that you divert from these questions—which reflect my family of origin and subculture and its influence on my thinking!—just as you’d look into them if they better applied to you. I blog to a fairly niche audience, but if you’re not in that niche, know that you (and your unique family) are welcome here.
  • Disclaimer #2: I’m not a professional. I’ve simply done a fair amount of study into culture, and I’m a constant student of relationships. If you think I’m wrong or missing something, feel free to (kindly) comment (remember, bloggers are people, too!).

Just make sure you leave some thoughts or questions of your own in the comment section below so we can all grow a little! Ready?

  1. What topics does/did your family commonly talk about? (Some talk about sports, politics, relationships, academics, their accomplishments, spirituality, work…)
  2. What was the religion of your family, and how devout were they? If you could describe your place of worship in, say, five words, what would they be? Were there any major events from your spirituality that would make its way to your family’s timeline? How did your family communicate what they considered the place of religion?
  3. Where did your family vacation, if at all? Why did they go there? Who came along? What are some of your best, and worst, vacation memories?
  4. What was the occupation of your parents? Did one of them stay home with you? How did their approach to their occupation shape your home?
  5. Describe a typical family meal. What types of food were served, and prepared by whom? Did you eat together? Where? What were topics of discussion?
  6. How did your parents each relax? What were the unspoken guidelines for the time when they were recreating, or how often they would do so? Did they recreate as a family? With each other?
  7. How did your parents meet, and what do you imagine attracted them to each other? How did their marriage change, and what events are key to understanding the evolution of their relationship?
  8. How did your parents each view and treat children? What would you say were their top five traits that were goals or marks of success for their parenting—spoken, and unspoken?
  9. What did your parents do particularly well? In what key areas would you like to parent differently?
  10. Of your parents, who was the more dominant personality? How was this expressed, and how did the other partner respond to this dominance?
  11. Of your siblings, who is/are the most dominant personality? Which personality is most likely to be minimized or overlooked?
  12. Describe a few times when you remember having fun with your family. Who were you with, and what were you doing? How frequent were times like this?


Set 1Set 2Set 3Set 4Set 5Set 6Set 7, Set 8Set 9, and Set 10.

I’d love to know if this is as fascinating, and even devotional, to you as it is to me. Please post your comments below!

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  1. Hey Janel – One question that totally piqued my interest was the dominant personality one – While my Dad definately has the more dominant personality between my parents, I honestly can’t say the same for the kids – Dinner table “discussions” almost get ruled by who can speak the loudest (at their most heated) and my parents, who through the year probably do the most talking, end up sitting back with intrigued/amused expressions on their faces. It’s all good-natured and boisterous and it’s even greater when the boys do the dishes for a change. In fact, debate pretty much defines my larger family – with which, one christmas, we managed to have a great debate (from the 13yrs olds all the way to the 60yr olds) on education and Uganda and etcetera. It lasted till 3am. 🙂 #opinionated

    • This is fascinating to me, Valerie–and I think you bring up a great point. Dominance, I think, can alternate persons based on the situation and area of “expertise”, so I love that you picked up on this. I imagine that, for example, if a marriage partner was typically dominating but didn’t want a thing to do with finances or disciplining the kids or whatever, he or she might recede in those circumstances. But I love the image of this happening in lively family debates! Great food for thought.

  2. Hello Janel,
    these are thought provoking questions. For my family its got to be disciplining children. This is one area where each of my parents’ dominance was always hilighted. My mum always came up on top because her disciplinary actions where corrective with love whereas my dad’s where reactive(sort of reflex) at times fuelled with rage. For that reason my mom asked him to stop administering punishements, and she took over that aspect of the family.

  3. Hello Janel,
    these are thought provoking questions. For my family its discplining us the children (especially when we were much younger than now). This is one area where each of my parents’ dominance was always hilighted. My mum always came up on top because her disciplinary actions where corrective with love whereas my dad’s where reactive(sort of reflex) at times fuelled with rage. For that reason my mom asked him to stop administering punishements, and she took over that aspect of the family to date.

    • Brian, I have so much respect for a family that can recognize and respond and maneuver with its strengths and weaknesses. Great example of how a family recognized the own subculture it was creating and opted for a different one. As always, so grateful for your thoughts.

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