Intergenerational Coalitions

INTERGENERATIONAL COALITIONS

 

In an emotionally healthy, well-functioning family there

are invisible boundaries that separate the generations.  The

adults have their functions such as work, financial

decisions, marital sexuality, leadership and other executive

roles.  The kids have roles appropriate to their ages like

play, school, peer socializing, perhaps some simple tasks.

In a healthy family there will be some cross-over.  The

adults will play with the kids sometimes or help with school

work.  A child might help with menu planning, shopping or

care of younger children.  Everyone knows the role reversals

and role sharing are temporary, informal and all in the

context of the real family structure where the parents are in

charge and the kids are the kids, sheltered from certain

adult concerns.

In some families, however, intergenerational boundaries

are not so clear.  This can be a problem for both adults and

kids.  One of the most outrageous examples of this is an

incest situation, where a child is involved in an adult’s sex

life.  This is always extremely harmful to the child and to

the marriage.

Other types of intergenerational coalitions are more

prevalent, more subtle, yet harmful to healthy family

functioning and development.  Imagine a parental couple who

do not get along well, aren’t close, can’t resolve conflicts

and don’t really like each other.  It’s not uncommon for one

of the parents to enter into a coalition with a child against

the other parent.  Often, the outside parent colludes in this

arrangement since it allows him or her to avoid the heavy

stress involved in dealing with their mate.  The inside

parent has a substitute “partner” or emotional confidante.

The child colludes with that parent as this allows him or her

more power and prestige in the family.

If this becomes a rigid or permanent arrangement it

spells trouble for the family but may also allow a

incompatible couple to stay “together” while ignoring the

problems in their marriage.  The outside parent is disabled

as an executive and isolated.  The inside parent loses power,

prestige and a peer partner.  The child loses the carefree

irresponsibility of normal childhood and a strong parental

unit to contain and guide development.

 

 

 

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