Building a Family Identity

Todd & Beth Guckenberger, 2013 family photo

Todd & Beth Guckenberger, recent family photo

By Beth Guckenberger

‘If you can’t share it, you can’t have it.’ This is one of our family mottos and I only have to start the first two words when my kids chime in together to finish it. We have other family quotes ‘Do it right, or do it over.’ These sayings and the stories that accompany them are all apart of our family culture, our family lore. They reinforce over and over (as we laugh about it to ourselves or tell others) our particular values and cement our kids’ identity as a Guckenberger.

What are your family sayings? What would your children say are characteristics that are totally ‘Jones’ (or whatever your last name is?).  Is what they think it means to be a Jones what you are hoping for?

Identity and family identity can be a controversial subject. What do we stand for? How does it compare with the larger society? How does our calendar and spending reflect that?

I was speaking at an adoption conference and sitting in on a panel discussion about identity. In response to a question, “How do you help your child discover his identity?” there were moms answering with stories of valiant attempts to teach their children about their home culture, using a foreign language and ethnic food and native clothing. They said they wanted their adoptive children to know where they were from and went to extraordinary lengths to emphasize their heritage.

When the microphone got to me, I told them honestly that my foreign adoptive children are now older and in the long list of things that makes up their identity, they would say their gender, their faith, their love of a particular sport, and their last name rank higher than their nationality in who they are (“I am a boy. I am a Christian. I am a football player, I am a Guckenberger…”) If we are going to make a valiant effort in any regard, shouldn’t it be to teach our kids to be more than patriotic? Could we focus on listening to the messages our children are absorbing about our own family culture and not the larger one?

To this end, I have been trying to be more intentional. I have been saying the unspoken and pointing out when a Guckenberger acts in a way that tells the world his chief identity is as a child of God. That takes effort when what flows most freely are comments about athletics or looks or academics. Reflecting back to our children the identity they have in Christ is our greatest privilege. May our valiant attempts be to that end.

In the dedication of my first book, I wrote to my parents, “Before I knew what God thought of me, I knew what you did and it set me up to follow your reckless faith…”

As you form your family identity and culture, may it reflect the One who put us all together.

Beth Guckenberger is the mother of a bunch of biological, a bunch of adopted and a slew of foster children.  She and her husband, Todd, direct Back2Back Ministries.  Beth is the author of several books on the journey of their life abroad.