Family Stories that Bind

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The following is by contributor Amanda Morgan of Not Just Cute.

Iremember the first time I really became personally interested in the stories of my ancestors.  I was a newly minted teenager when a family friend pointed out how much I resembled my great grandmother.  She was referring to a picture I had seen on a shelf my whole life.  I had noticed her, and probably even been interested from time to time, but it wasn’t until after that comment that I suddenly became interested in her as a part of myself.  From that moment on I didn’t just look at her picture, I looked for myself there. Her long, dark hair, the shape of her lips, the outline of her face.  It was suddenly not about features, but about connections.

My great -grandmother died when my grandpa was just a toddler, so my family didn’t have much in the way of memories to rely on, but what we did have were her stories.  These were handed down verbally through the family, and also recorded in a journal that she kept.  And just as with her picture, I began to look for myself in her stories as well.

Whether it was sharing her drive to learn as she wrote about begging for permission to leave the farm to attend college or the correlation of our tom-boy reputations, I began to have a personal connection to her stories.  They became part of my personal narrative.

Strengthening Families with Stories

Researchers like Dr. Robyn Fivush are studying family narratives and the effects they have on children.  What they’re finding is that the sharing of family stories and memories help as the children begin to build a sense of self and construct their own identities, and promote social and emotional well-being.

From inspiring stories about great -grandparents finding their way through the Great Depression to the familiar tale of how Dad broke his collarbone while on his paper route, the act of sharing family stories shape who we are, our personal identities, and our connections.  They help us bond with our families and find our place in the grander scheme of life.

As Dr. Fivush talks about shared family narratives, she outlines two types of stories.  There are the “Today I” stories as we talk about the ordinary experiences that happen every day, and also the intergenerational stories that pass verbal histories all along the family line.  Both types build strong families and a healthy sense of self.

Photo by Paul Schultz

Just as the types of family narratives can vary from the ordinary to the exceptional, the ways we invite the sharing of these stories varies as well.  Here are a few ideas to help you be more intentional in building and communicating your family narrative.

Share a meal.

The simple act of eating meals together encourages your family to share many of those “Today I” narratives Dr. Fivush speaks of.  Perhaps this is just part of why family meal time has been correlated to so many positive outcomes for children and adolescents.

Talk.

My husband’s parents instituted the practice of nightly talks when their children were very young.  Each child (all eight!) would get one-on-one time with a parent to talk about the ups and downs of their day.  It’s a tradition that has been carried down to their children’s own families, though the grandkids still revel at the chance to have Grammy “do talks” where she spins tales of their parents’ childhoods or her own.  Create spaces in the day for individual connection and conversation.

Gather.

Any time my dad and his brothers got together we could be sure of one thing:  they would break out the pinochle cards and laugh raucously as they playfully argued over the correct details of family lore.  A gathering can be a formal family reunion, or a casual family barbecue.  Whatever the original purpose, it seems to be a sure thing that when families gather, stories will be shared.

Look to the past.

Connect your children to those family members who have already passed on.  Having pictures of your ancestors in your home can spark conversations about their legacies and narratives.  Celebrate their birthdays by sharing their stories, eating their favorite foods, or giving service to others as a way to honor them.  These traditions will become like your family’s own special holidays.

Create your story.

Last summer, I read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller.  It really struck me that just as a writer carefully crafts the components of a good story, we can be just as intentional in creating the story of our lives.  The book is a wonderful read and prompted me to write the post, The Power of the Memorable Scene.  Over at Simple Mom, Tsh has been reading the same book and has written inspiring posts here and here about living a good story.  Remember that sharing the stories of your family’s past is powerful, but also realize that you are in the middle of creating the stories you will share tomorrow.

What do you do to consciously create and share your family’s story?

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About Amanda

Amanda Morgan is a full time mom to three busy boys and a part-time trainer and consultant for a non-profit children's organization. She also writes at Not Just Cute, a blog full of ideas that are more than just cute, for preschoolers who are much more than cute too.

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Comments

  1. i recently connected with a 5th cousin who still lives in poland, where my great-grandmother was born.

  2. I recently read about my Great Grandmother and a lot of my ancestors before her. I stumbled across a random family website that told about them and I was sucked in for a couple of hours one late night! It’s kind of a comforting feeling to know your roots. I also recently posted on my blog about writing down your love story. …It’s great to have special stories of family member and also yourself for your children to read and have in the future. I love to read about my grandparents, I wish I had more stories about them.

    I use Heritage Makers (heritagemakers.com/284471) which is a company that specializes in recording family stories and photos that go along with them. You might be interested in something like that for recording stories of parents and grandparents for your children (bedtime stories, etc.)

  3. Thank you so? much for sharing. It will help many people.
    Children need freedom to just be and enjoy their childhoods unlabeled.
    If everyone is tested then it most likely there are very few without some genetic flaw!
    Robet´s latest post: Olive Garden Restaurants – Delicious Authentic Italian-American Food

  4. My children are just beginning to discover the joy of family stories… and I am just beginning to discover how much I wish my grandmother had written down her stories before she died. I am now on my my mum’s back to write down hers… I think she needs to start a blog!
    katepickle´s latest post: Face Biscuits

  5. Amanda — you look so much like your great-grandmother! It’s striking!! I’ve been planning to pull a family history together for my children, and your post is just the inspiration I need to get this project going!

  6. This is such a thoughtful post and really struck a cord with me. I lost my dad last year and gave birth to my daughter the following November. I have such a deep desire for my baby to “know” her grandpa through stories. I want her to have fond recollections of him through the way I tell stories about him. Actually, my dad did this for me when I was a kid, as I never knew his parents. I heard so many fantastic stories about them, I still to this day, feel like I know them.

    So, our baby is only about 7 months old, but I want to start thinking now about this. I don’t know that I have any creative ideas yet, besides to start sharing stories early and often! Maybe a good habit to cultivate is the art of listening, as well. I want to be an active listener to my husband’s stories from his life, background, and family.
    Rachel @ The Travel Pen´s latest post: The Secret to Raising Culturally-Sensitive Kids

    • Rachel – Your point about listening is so valuable. There are stories all around us if we’re listening for them. Your desire to connect your child to your father through stories is so touching to me. My husband’s sister passed away a few years ago, and in a desire to have her story to share with her son (who was just a baby) as well as with our own families, one of my brothers-in-law compiled a beautiful book including pictures from throughout her life, notes from her mom recorded during her childhood, personal journal entries, and memories from friends and family members. He created it using Blurb so that each family could have their own copy. It’s a beautiful and inspirational book that will preserve her story for our families forever.
      Amanda Morgan´s latest post: Panel Discussion: Rewards, Positive Reinforcement or Just Plain Bribery?

  7. As both sets of my grandparents are gone, and all but my mother-in-law in the next generation, I feel we have lost the chance for so many of the stories. I am now a grandmother (albeit a young one) of 7, and I want to be sure to pass my stories on to my grandchildren. Thank you for sharing this and getting me to thinking about how I can do this!
    Bernice
    Living the Balanced Life´s latest post: Wonder Woman doesn’t live here anymore

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