As we know, words have weight. Well it turns out the words we have about our family’s collective experiences may have the most weight of all. At Great Schools.org, Associate Editor, Connie Matthiessen put forward a blog titled ‘The Single Most Important Thing You Can Do For Your Family’. The focus of the entry was Bruce Feiller’s, the author of The Secret of Happy Families, recent article that appeared in “ The New York Times titled ‘The Family Stories’. . In it, she sums up his findings, namely that families that share their family narrative are doing a lot more than just telling stories around the table.
Stories, particularly stories about how our family members, both past and present, have overcome adversity, go far! They build, what Feiler calls a strong “intergenerational self.” He cites research that shows that children that hear stories about how family members overcame addictions, poverty, adjustments to new lands, new personal circumstances, etc. have a greater sense of personal resilience and happiness, then those that do not hear them. What matters is hearing that family members faced a challenge head-on and came out positively on the other side. (An idealized, glossed over yarn need not apply!) According to Feiler, stories build an incredibly strong reference point and sense of belonging to something larger than us. They are anchors and examples for our children navigating thru life.
I think of the stories we heard growing up that resonated the most. There are many that belong to my grandparents. My grandfather on my mother’s side was one of ten children. As the oldest, he left school after eight grade to help provide for his family, but was self-taught and one of the greatest consumers of books that I ever knew. He was also the man who lost his ear in a terrible accident. After a long recovery, he lived a normal , productive, proud, and long life, with us until 95 years old.
I also think of my grandmother on my father’s side. I think an incredible sense of humor, faith, and work ethic helped her overcome my grandfather’s ghosts of World War II, addiction, and ill-tempered ways, and lovingly raise four children on her own. Then there are my parents’ stories. My father prevailed under less than ideal childhood circumstances, becoming the first in his family to go to college and the most loving father one could have. My mother lost her mother, my grandmother, as a young woman. As she trail blazed a career and balanced having a family, she became and is one of the most dedicated and devoted mothers I know.
As these stories were mine, they have started to become our children’s. It seems they are often told during the holidays. But reading this article makes me try a little harder to weave them into our common days. It also makes me think of what stories my husband and I are leaving our children about our times as children and what we triumphed over and struggled through, coming out the other side. Yes there are many! Time to speak up and help our children see their bigger, collective selves! It’s time for some stories….