Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Take the Genogram Challenge: Looking back at past family habits

A family therapist, Murray Bowen, believes that you can understand a family and a person within that family unit when you investigate and analyze their past three generations.  While not everything is biologically inherited, nor is everything a learned behaviour, it is interesting to see patterns that can be found while looking three generations back.

Some items that can be uncovered by looking back are parent-to-child relationships. In some families dad wasn’t emotionally present for the children, and mom may have only got along with the daughters, leaving the sons alienated. In other families it could be the opposite. One can also find life expectancy, educational levels, career choices, and other habits, patterns, and rituals among past family members.

Besides patterns, key life experiences, such as births, marriages, trauma, and so on can be tracked and traced.

You should take the genogram challenge and create a three generational genogram. It may be uncomfortable to do, let alone to contact a relative and ask questions about family history, but it is well worth the experience to understand your history.
To start, grab a large piece of paper and start drawing your family tree going three generations back. As you collect information you can write or draw it beside individual’s names. Fill in as much information as you can.

After that, you should contact a family member who will be able to answer some questions about dates of birth, and how relatives died.

Some other sample questions to ask when you are investigating besides asking about birth, marriage, divorce and death dates are: Who passed away and of what? What jobs did family members have? Where did family members live? What is the religious background? How did people get along in the family? And so on.

As you do this, you will begin to see patterns that exist in your family, whether that is relationships, health, vocation, or something else.  Now, if you see a negative pattern, such as divorce or abuse, do not panic, you are fully capable of change. As I did on my family genogram, I drew a bubble around my family because my wife and I are trying to start fresh, not ignoring our past, but being aware of it so we don’t repeat history. It is possible to break family cycles and replace the negative patterns with positive patterns. 

There were some interesting themes I learned about my family. One is that barely anyone lived past 77, let alone 80. Only two have lived past 80 to reach 82, both female. Another that I saw was that marriages occurred at a young age. The oldest first marriage was 22. Along with that is a high divorce rate, only two family members are currently on their first marriage.

It is now your turn to go out and discover those family patterns, so that you can know them and keep them, or know them and break the cycle. So go grab a pencil and a large piece of paper and contact a family member! Good luck!

Written by:
Josh Lockhart Locking Hearts Together

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