I thought it would be interesting to add a different element to our newsletter. As a bit of background, I am a practicing psychotherapist and I teach and provide clinical case consultation in a small clinical psychology masters program. In the program, I teach a year-long theory sequence, and in the second semester I ask the students to write a paper which includes a ‘genogram’ (essentially a family tree). Students can choose to write about their own family, or a case. They are asked to consider three generations and to consider a number of factors that have impacted the family. Things to consider include family history, immigration, acculturation, the impact of prejudice, events such as marriages, births and deaths. Other things to consider include historical events (such as WWII, economic depressions, natural disasters, etc).

In psychology, we believe a person is strongly influenced by their past. We also recognize that parents both limit overstimulation of the young children, by the outside world(as best they can), and they bring culture into the home. In some ways, it might be more accurate to say that culture flows through the parents, is somewhat interpreted by them and comes into the home and family. Certainly, once children reach school age, they bring culture into the home in their own ways.

When a family immigrates, we see a number of different issues arise. One issue is there are usually different rates of accommodating to the new culture. Often, adults have a harder time than children learning to accommodate to the new culture. Sometimes, the children can seem a bit ‘foreign’ to the parents, as they adopt (for example) American ‘ways.’ Parents can seem ‘old school’ or out of touch to the children. Each person has to work out his or her own ‘cultural amalgam.’ Dropping an “S” from the last name (Larsson becomes Larson) is a small measure. How much does a person adopt American idioms? What/which language(s) are spoken in the home? Which holidays and events are celebrated? Is Christmas celebrated on the 24th or the 25th? (“Why does that family down the street always celebrate the night before?!”).

We all have influences running through us, which we cannot identify. How does tolerating the hard work of agrarian life in Sweden (for at least some families) affect our relationship to hardship or hard work? How does the concept of ‘lagom’ passed through the generations, affect which car we buy or how we serve our dinner guests? Sometimes, by learning more about our family’s past, we learn more about ourselves. This can be a very grounding experience.

It is always amazing to me when I meet people and they know nothing about their family. My thought was to use this family tree concept as a way to encourage families to sit with their elders and learn more about the family’s history and to share stories of the family’s past.

I hope this is an enjoyable and rewarding activity for you. Even if you don’t actually do the activity, I hope you will spend a minute or two thinking about your family’s history.