Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Importance Of A Family Narrative

I was captivated by an article in last Sunday's New York Times: The Family Stories That Bind Us. The author, Bruce Feiler, contends that children who know a lot about their family history, both the good times and the bad, fair better emotionally than children who don't.  

Our relatives live hundreds, even thousands of miles away from where we are in the South, so this startling information had my neck hair dancing. Ever the drama queen, I insisted that my husband halt his current activity of playing ball with our youngest to read the article right now - we needed to form an action plan to save our children from a miserable adulthood.

I'd like to take a moment to confess I married a good man. He reminded me that we share family history with our children all the time. In fact, he said my reading with the kids opens up memories of past events and people - that it acts as a door for family dialogue. Isn't he dreamy? Okay, I may have romanticized his words a little, but that was the message.

The New York Times article describes three different types of family narratives: the ascending, the descending and the most healthy - the oscillating. The oscillating family narrative gives children a big picture view - the more they know about their family, sharing the failures and the successes, the wrecked dreams and the thrill of victory - the easier time they'll have when faced with tragedy as well as more joy during triumphant times.

Looking for some books that will unlock family treasures to share with your children? The list is endless, but here are four of my favorites. I chose them because I could readily think of examples of how they motivated family history sharing. I'm way too lazy to research all we have read.

Arielle relished The Hundred Dresses, but vividly remembers my own issue with bullies on a bus and how her grandmother (my mom) helped resolve the problem. 

Life of Pi created opportunities to talk about our faith while respecting and loving others that may not believe what we do. And so much more. I swoony heart this book.

The Summer My Father Was Ten was a perfect catalyst for sharing some of my own childhood failures and regrets, as well as successes.

Anything, and I mean anything, by Beverly Cleary. Sometimes we read them twice. She is a family sharing aficionado.

When we are with family, the children are blessed to be surrounded with relatives that enjoy talking about themselves with very few filters - I learn just as much as my kids. 

I rarely feel like I'm doing enough of the right things as a parent, and many times I wish our family narrative was different. Better. But I'm convinced this is why the Bible tells the good, the bad, and the very, very ugly - they really are the absolute best stories for sharing our own family history, because they deal with the heart.  

What if you're more of a quiet, reserved parent? Carl and I are both talkers, but what if opening up is difficult for you? Make friends with a librarian. Books are a comforting way to discuss values with your children, and librarians will help you find great reads for your family.

Do you have favorite books that lead to family-story sharing? Any tips on cultivating a family narrative? I want to hear from you.

xoxo Michele

Why buy happiness when your library shares it. Free music downloads through Freegal E-books, audio-books, and digital downloads are at your local library, just visit here or your local library website for complete information.


Anonymous said...

I love the idea of sharing your family's story with your children. I am not a "talker" and am not good with words. I find it very difficult to come up with conversation starters. But your post and the article really have me excited to move out of my comfort zone and begin this journey with my family.

My dad is always recounting childhood stories to me and no matter how many times I hear them I crave hearing them again. I have told him that I would love for him to capture these stories on a recorder so that some day when he is not with us anymore we will have these stories of his in his voice. His oral history! I love oral history.

So now I am going to go and start reading a book that I have passed by many times (for what reasons...I really don't have any). The book is "The Beechers" as in Harriet Beecher Stowe and her family which is actually my family. She was my great great great (not 100% sure how many "greats" are in there) aunt on my mothers side. What a great way to start sharing our family with my boys! Thank you for the inspiration. I wish you well on your journey!

Michele said...

How thrilling to have Harriet Beecher Stowe as a relative!! Thank you for taking the time to post a comment - so glad you also are inspired to share stories with your children. My children - just like us - love to hear stories about the family as well. And I love how certain books can bring back memories of past events or people from our family that encourage us to share with our children.