I’ve debated sharing this story. But I think it’s an issue for many families, and for much of society. And I think the discussion has to happen. So I’m starting it. My Grandfather unintentionally hurt my children. He never met them. He’s been dead for 20 years, but his actions and poor choices are still affecting us, many generations later. Let me illustrate.
He was a traveling salesman back when there weren’t cell phones or reliable vehicles. No, he didn’t drive a horse and buggy, but it wasn’t too far off. He was the kind of guy they’d call a ‘player’. Like all salesmen, he loved people and loved to visit. I’m told he was charismatic and funny, a real guy’s guy.
But he had a girlfriend in every town. His first wife had three darling children when he met my Grandmother in another state. The rumor is that he got her pregnant. So he left his first wife and he and Grandma got married. By the time he had three beautiful children with my Grandma he was on the road so much that it was fully six months before my dad figured out his father wasn’t coming home. Dad was five.
What they didn’t know was that he was already married to another woman in another state — without divorcing my Grandma. This is a story that I tell with humor at times. But it always makes me sick and sad at the level of betrayal these women all had to endure. My Grandpa managed to stay married to this third woman because she became his watchdog. She traveled with him, and never let him get her pregnant. She saw him for what he was, and for that, I really respect her… and feel sorry for her.
So why should my Grandparent’s story matter? Why should it bother me? Because it is still affecting our family. I went to my cousin’s wedding a few weeks ago. He and I are close in age, and despite our different life choices, we are still close. This was his fourth wedding. He has three ex-wives and one child with each. He’s not even forty yet, and he has had more heartache than I care to imagine.
While visiting with family at the wedding reception, I found out that two more of my cousins have gotten divorced in the last few months. One of them had only been married a few months!. I started counting, and I realized that out of all my cousins and siblings (and there are quite a few), I am one of 4 who hasn’t gotten divorced. Everyone else is divorced, remarried, and sometimes divorced again.
More than a few of my cousins are on their third marriages. Now, I’m not condemning or looking down on my family for their relationships. And if you’ve experienced divorce, I’m so sorry. It’s horribly painful! I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. But the reason I bring it up is to show you that my Grandpa’s choices have affected generations. Most of my Grandpa’s kids suffered through bad marriages, and most have gotten divorced. Most of his grandchildren have suffered the same. I pray his great-grandchildren won’t suffer also, but statistics aren’t on their side.
In Exodus 34:7 the Lord warns:
“[I will keep] mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children’s children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”
Deuteronomy, Numbers, Mosiah, and another place in Exodus all repeat the warning. The Doctrine and Covenants says it 3 separate times! Why would God tell us so many times that our iniquity (sins) will be visited upon our children, and upon our children’s children unto the third and fourth generation? Because it’s true!
It’s sobering and majorly important to remember. What we choose to do matters. It affects our lives, our families, and their families after them. I remember hearing many times in my life the phrase “I’m not hurting anyone” as a friend or family member made poor decisions. But I beg to differ. They are hurting someone — themselves and their families — for generations.
By stating over and over again that the third and fourth generations will be affected, the Lord is trying to warn us. He wants us to be happy. He doesn’t send His children to earth to be miserable. And He is doing His best to warn us about our actions without taking away our agency.
So now that we grasp that our choices are going to affect the next generation, or more importantly if our generation is the one affected by another’s poor choices; what can we do? Is there hope? Of course, there is! Our loving Heavenly Father doesn’t want these cycles of pain to continue. He has given us the gift of repentance, or in other words, He has provided the chance to change. And in many cases, you are the answer to your family’s problems.
You are meant to heal
In the Ensign, 1997 article “The Journey to Healing” it says:
God actively intervenes in some destructive lineages, assigning a valiant spirit to break the chain of destructiveness in such families.
Although these children may suffer innocently as victims of violence, neglect, and exploitation, through the grace of God some find the strength to ‘metabolize’ the poison within themselves, refusing to pass it on to future generations.
Before them were generations of destructive pain; after them, the line flows clear and pure. Their children and children’s children will call them blessed.
Do you hear your family story in these words? Are you also from a family hurt by the poor choices of the generations who came before you?
I remember the first time I heard this quote I was in college. The words sank deep into my heart. I knew in that moment that they were talking about me! That my parents had tried with all their strength to wipe out the painful cycles of our family for the sake of their children. But some cycles are very hard to break. And it was my responsibility to absorb, to “metabolize” the remaining poison and be sure it wasn’t passed along to my children.
I went to many years of therapy to learn what it was to deal with things in a healthy way. I wanted to know how to have a happy marriage. And I worked very hard to overcome my past and make myself stable so my future family could benefit. The very cool thing is that several of my siblings and now my parents have turned and followed in my footsteps.
I used to be the squeaky “weird” wheel. But I became a trailblazer, and our family is far happier and healthier for seeking help and ending destructive patterns. I can’t see the future. But I can tell you that my marriage is happy and getting better by the day. My children are very young, but I know they will be blessed to grow up in a home with loving parents.
They won’t have to worry that their daddy is never coming home like my father did. And I pray that when they are grown and attend a family function, that they will see relationships that are strengthening instead of falling apart. And I pray they will never experience the pain I’ve felt, and that the generations before me have endured.
The beauty of the Gospel is that we can all change; we can all become better people if we will turn to the Savior. His warning can become our call to action, and we can spare the future generations. It’s not too late. And as we heed His call we will become Saviors on Mount Zion for our families by ending these destructive patterns, and let the love of the Lord shine more fully into their lives.
(This article was previously published on Abby’s blog at Patheos.com.)
Abby is capable and caring. She is learning more about Autism and parenthood every day. Having completed training to be an RBT (Registered Behavior Technician) for ABA therapy she is beginning to understand her son. And even though she is the first to admit she makes a lot of mistakes, she is so grateful to be on this journey. She comes from a family with many autistic members. She invites us to join her, as she shares her adventures. She wishes to emphasize that Autism is a difference not a defect. If you or a family member have autism, Abby wants you to know that the challenges can be overcome, and there are blessings in autism. You or your loved one are not sick or broken. Together we will teach the world this new language.