Three Family Lessons from Greenleaf

A powerful and prominent family, and the religious institution they run. That was more than enough to pique my interest, and after rapidly working our way through three seasons of the outstanding Netflix series Greenleaf, it reinforced so much I already know about family business, succession, and intergenerational transition.

When telling people about this series, I delay mentioning the setting – a African-American mega-church in Memphis. While that aspect adds a wonderful dimension, the intersecting themes of family, succession and religion occur everywhere. The family doesn’t need to be the ones running the church for religion to have an impact.

Here are three things you will notice and learn while watching Greenleaf (and I will do this without having to resort to spoilers):

  • Children need to individuate. Being part of a high-profile family with larger-than-life parents presents a challenge for the children. Everyone needs to develop an identity that is uniquely theirs. They don’t want to be “the pastor’s son”, even if they choose to follow a similar career. If they feel stifled, they may do go to great lengths (and with serious consequences within their own family) just to become “themselves”.
  • Families are riddled with conflicts-of-interest. These may take many forms. It might be a conflict between the needs of the individual and those of the family (or more widely the community), between religious beliefs or obligations and realities of the contemporary world, or a clash between protecting some family members at the expense of others. In all cases, these conflicts arise because family members wear “multiple hats”: they have family relationships, friendships, business relationships, religious obligations, and much more.
  • Secrets hurt. A healthy family is one where information flows freely, and people can share their feelings. Secrets, whether about misdeeds or about family matters that “you don’t need to know about”, eventually are revealed. Life a festering sore, the longer things stay secret, the more they hurt when the truth comes out.

This series is highly “binge-able”. I hope you enjoy watching it and would love to hear about what it meant to your own family.

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