Looking back at past family habits

By Joshua Lockhart, PHEc

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

Some items that can be uncovered by looking back are parent-to-child relationships. For example, in some families dad may not have been emotionally present for the children, and mom may get along only with the daughters, leaving the sons alienated. In other example families it could be the opposite. When looking back, 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.

I encourage you to 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, that you may not know the answers too.

Some 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 that nuclear 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.

Now it is your turn to go out and discover 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!

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Josh Lockhart works for the College of the Rockies in Kimberley BC. He is also a columnist with the Battleford’s News Optimist and a Co-Author with Notes On Parenting. Josh is currently a counselling graduate student atGonzaga University.