Watering the Family Tree

Doris Hines-Brunson

By Doris Hines-Brunson

The celebration of Black History Month reminds me of a family reunion gathering, a time when the family comes together to celebrate the heritage and hope of the generations. It is a celebration of the Family Tree. The family tree is a teaching tool to assure that all family members understand and know their origin. In order for growth and survival to occur a tree needs water. Some trees need less water than others, yet all need some water. How does this translate to the family tree, a tree that is metaphorical as a tree?

The term family tree refers to the generational order. A family tree provides the roots of the family, those who are the beginning members of a given family, and transcends upward to branches and leaves. So, what does watering have to do with people as in a family tree? Let’s look at that.

I love house plants and had several in our home until I developed an allergy to most trees and plants. Some I had to water a lot while others thrived on very little water. It was often confusing to me as to which ones needed more water and which needed less water. I would often get that mixed up. In all the confusion on which plants to water I discovered that most of them simply needed a balance of the proper amounts of water, sunshine, and pruning.

People are like those plants. We need a balance of love, attention and care. Some need more care than others while all need to know and feel loved.  The first experiences of love come from family. A family with several generations to share in giving love is indeed blessed.

However, family members must have more than love to survive. Family members must be nurtured and cared for. The amount of nurturing and caring needed would also vary with the individual person’s own strength and resolve. Some people need the hands on hand holding type nurture while others want and need only to know they are loved and let them soar in life as the eagle soars with confidence and pride.

When we speak of watering the family tree we are speaking of the process of nurturing. Nurturing is the training and care given to someone that is growing or developing. Children thrive when they are the recipients of loving nurturing. As families we rejoice at the birth of children and take pride in seeing them grow into wonderful well-rounded adults. We also know that it takes attention and guidance to make this happen and sometimes even with all the care we give some children go astray. So why don’t all children thrive in a family?


Just as I had to learn that not all my plants needed the same amount of watering, we have to realize that some children will need more attention than others in order to thrive. All children need the care and nurturing of loving family, yet some will need more intense training in order to grow and develop. This is why it is so important for families to come together as in a reunion, so each generation will learn from the others. Children and adults alike need to experience the wisdom of the elders in the family while the elders need to experience the energy and vitality of the youth. In other words, each generation needs each other in order to have a healthy balance of family nurturing, enough watering, if you will.

Let us look at the word WATER as it relates to the family tree.

W (Wisdom): the wisdom of the elders influence and shape the direction of the family.

A (Attention): the nurturing and care of family members is essential; must be attentive to the needs of all family members.

T (Training): training is so important and does not stop once a child enters school. Training must be a constant part of a family in order for the family to thrive. That training must include spiritual development, for God is the source of all that is good and viable.

E (Encouragement): family members all need and want to be encouraged. It’s such a wonderful thing to be encouraged, especially by one’s own family.

R (Respect): all members of a family need and must have respect. When respect is given in one’s family, it becomes a learned behavior and is given then to others outside the family.

Thus WATER: (Wisdom, Attention, Training, Encouragement, Respect) provide the right balance of nurture needed in order for the family tree to thrive and continue to grow and be blessed by God. Every aspect of true nurture will include introducing family members to Jesus Christ, for without a strong faith system there is a lack of balance.  Remember earlier when I mentioned the plants needing a balance of water, proper soil, and sunlight? Well, families need and must have roots grounded in (balanced) the love of God and WATER.

Each generation is important in the shared heritage of family. Consider first the elders in your family, those aged 60 and above. These are the ones who have nurtured you, taught you, supported you and given you encouragement. They have cried with you, they have cried for you, they have prayed with you, they have prayed for you. These are your roots. They are strong and they are stronger each time another branch or leaf is added to the family tree.

Then you have those who are age 40 to 59, the middle-agers. This group is often sandwiched between the elders and their grown-up children. They are the direct recipients of the upbringing of the elders and passing it forward to their children and even grandchildren. They are often stressed themselves when it comes to caring for family, for they are the in-betweens, (like a sandwich) having to provide nurture and support for elders and the young members. This group has developed survival skills and learned to thrive on less WATER, yet they still need to have WATER to survive.

Those members age 18-39 are the young adults in the family. This group needs lots of WATER, even though sometimes they will reject it. They will sometimes not want to hear the wisdom and instruction of the elders. Give it anyway, for they will need it. This is the group finding their place in the family while experiencing their own development as young adults. They seek to be heard, listen to them. They seek to be understood, be open minded with them, allow them to have a secure place on the family tree.

Finally, there are the children ages birth to 17 years. This is the group yet to be in the place of the others, but wanting to learn how to be there. They need lots of WATER and on a daily basis; for they cannot grow without WATER.

This year as we close out celebrating Black History Month, consider the family. Look at your own family tree. Is that tree thriving or is it dying? The survival of a people depends upon the strength of the families in its community. As a people that share a common heritage we must WATER the family tree, love one another, love God and trust our faith enough to love our neighbors. All of our neighbors. Those like us, and those different from us.

Doris Hines Brunson grew up on a farm in Rowland, a community in Robeson County, North Carolina. She is the wife of a United Methodist pastor; mother of a son and a daughter; grandmother of one granddaughter and two grandsons. She is a retired counselor.