The complicated arrangements in our extended families has come up at our weekly small group several times in the past two months. Those arrangements are even more on my mind with the arrival of our nephew Kyle this weekend. We are now thinking we would like to have him here on an extended or even permanent basis. Tracking down who is connected to who and who is living with who just now has become an issue, so I thought it might be fun to make out a genogram. Well, fun is hardly the right word, is it? I was driven by curiosity.
I use a modified system for my own needs, but it is a rule of thumb that complexity in your section of the genogram is a red flag for problems. You want to have a nice boring section around you. Few people do. There are second marriages, hostilities, and whatnot in every family. You will often see shining, responsible individuals rising up in the diagram in the worst spots - people who decided to transcend their circumstances by effort.
But the life complications of "six children, four fathers," or unstable households are reflected on the page. They are difficult to diagram. You keep running out of space in a section and have to start over with a fresh sheet, symbolically moving some people out of the way to make room for others. There is software you can buy to map things out for you, but doing it by hand often illuminates issues dramatically. If it's this hard on paper, what must it be like to live in? Patterns show up. Some people have surprising green lines of closeness extending into many corners of the family. Others seem to have red lines of difficulty emanating from them like rays of the sun.