Sometimes social education is easier to digest when swallowed with a spoonful of comedy. The writer’s of the CBS sit-com “Mom,” (Thursday’s 8:30/7:30 central) are doing it again tomorrow night when a family therapy session provokes the spilling of a big-fat family secret. Hint: Allison Janney’s character lets the cat out of the bag and her daughter, played by Anna Feris, has to do some serious soul searching.
This isn’t the first time that “Mom” has tackled sensitive topics. The show has earned an Emmy a Golden Globe and the Television Academy honored them for “programming that creates awareness, enlightens, educates and/or positively motivates audiences.” “Mom’s” risk-taking, humorous look at mental illness and substance abuse were only the beginning. Tomorrow evening’s episode looks at a topic close to my heart: the life of a family secret in relationships.
Perhaps the biggest lesson in the episode is the fact that a secret in intimate relationships is never really a secret. The reactions to hidden historic events take on lives of their own and create intergenerational relationship patterns. In other words, the elephant in the living room forces all family members to sashay around the outskirts of the problem without ever confronting it. Subsequent generations just emulate the reactionary behavior, never knowing why. This is how trauma weaves it’s way through multiple generations.
My favorite way to illustrate intergeneration psychology involves a Holiday ham. A mother is teaching her young daughter how to prepare the family ham. The little girls asks why her mother cuts the end off the ham before roasting it. Her response is “that’s how I watched my mother do it.”
“But why?” says the little girl.
The two decide to call the grand-mother. “Grandma, why do you cut the end of the ham off before roasting it,” they ask. The grandmother, thinks for a bit and then says, “That’s how my mother did it.”
Still not satisfied, the little girl and her mother decide to call the very old great-grandmother. She is living in an assisted living facility but still has a good memory.
“Great-grandma,” says the little girl, “Why do you cut the end of the ham off before roasting it?”
The great-grandmother laughs out loud. “Because I only had one small pan and it wouldn’t fit.”