Secret To Success? Know You Family Story!
Know your family story–Help your grandchildren succeed.
Family– we’ve all got ’em, the pills and the pearls. Each family has their version of Uncle Jerry, who tells bad jokes and has a unibrow, Aunt Minnie who tipples in secret and pinches your cheeks, Gammy Jo who makes the best raspberry jam in the county, or Grandpa Harold who teaches all the kids how to ride a bike. You don’t need a perfect family, you need a great family story.
What’s a Family Story?
Knowing your family story, your family “narrative” it’s called, gives you a stable foundation in turbulent times. A New York Times article from March 2013, cites study results that children who knew their family stories, had more resiliency in times of distress. Sara, a psychologist who worked with learning disabled children observed, “kids who knew their family history faced challenges better.” Her husband, Dr. Marshal Duke (Emory, Psychology Professor) and Dr.Robyn Fivush, set out to test Sara’s hypothesis. They developed a measure called the “Do You Know?” scale that asked children to answer 20 questions. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html
They asked things like: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-stories-our-lives/201611/the-do-you-know-20-questions-about-family-stories
Obviously, there was more to the study, but a conclusion was “children who knew more about their family history had a stronger sense of control over their lives.” Knowing their family history, made children feel part of a larger family, giving them a sense of community.
Family Inter-generationnal Knowledge,
One Large Dose = Wellness
There are three types of family narratives, according to Dr. Duke.
- Ascending, where the family started with nothing and became successful.
- Descending, a family who had success and lost everything.
- Oscillating family narratives, those who had ups and downs but stuck it out and stuck together.
Oscillating family narratives helped kids the most, they say. So, what does any of this have to do with your family Thanksgiving? Times when family get together is the time to tell, build and communicate your family narrative. Tell your family stories. Let kids see the negative and the positive and talk about it. As my husband likes to say, “never underestimate the power of a bad example.” You can talk about family skeletons. How did bad things affect your family? How did you overcome it? Ask questions of older family members. Draw out their stories.
The Example of My In-laws
My husband’s (Tom) family was particularly successful at this, I think. They have lots of stories of family suffering loss and overcoming, stories of family successes that sound like folk-lore. Before we got married, Tom had a “serious talk” with me about the honor of taking his family name. They have a history, a family narrative, that bearing their name is a privilege, and so it is. Like a private club, it’s special to be a member–ergo you’re special. I know one of my daughters-in-law got the same “talk” so the narrative continues. They must have been in love because she didn’t punch him, and she did take his name.
Papa and “Mom”
My husband’s grandfather, Papa, died when Tom was young. Papa was in a car accident. Everyone thought he’d escaped injury, though his chest hit the steering wheel. He died suddenly. a few days later, of a cardiac contusion.
He was one of those “larger than life people”. He was a WWI bi-plane pilot, who set an altitude record. He came home, started a successful business, was a pillar in the community, and well-liked by everyone. His death was a blow to the family. His business partner, so the family story goes, took an inequitable part of the joint business assets. Some in the family wanted to sue him but “Mom”(Papa’s wife) didn’t want any additional trouble for the partner’s wife. I guess being married to him was enough of a trial. It’s a story of “how our family responds to adversity”–we rise above it, and how we treat others–as we want to be treated. In one story you share your family response to adversity and your family’s moral code.
Papa’s widow never remarried. She was the grandma who never forgot a great-grandchild’s birthday. Everyone got a card, a handwritten note, and a five dollar bill. She was cheerful, funny, and told great stories. She lived life to the full. I remember my husband telling me with pride how well his grandma could “drop-kick” a football. She and her sister loaded the kids in a car in 1929 and drove from Georgia to California. She was fearless. What a great example for the younger generation.
Stories and Traditions
Those are the kinds of stories that make kids feel a part of something more than themselves, they have a legacy and the legacy includes sticking together. Working things out as a family–even bad things.
Family traditions, no matter how corny, are a part of that. Being part of a tradition builds strong bonds. They needn’t be fancy, or pricey, just consistent. Maybe your family plays board games, maybe your family plays football every Thanksgiving. Maybe you go for a walk, bake cookies or decorate Grandma’s Christmas tree that day.
My grandchildren have just announced we are starting a new tradition this Thanksgiving–a pie baking contest. They have appointed themselves the judges–because they have the “most sensitive taste receptors.” Their uncle suspects it is a ploy to ensure an abundance of pies, but it doesn’t matter. It will be more family fun and new family stories.
Here is a TED talk by Dr. Duke. He talks about family narrative and what gives people resiliency.
Have a Great Family Holiday and Caregiving Time,
P.S. My husband just told me a great family story of great-great grandpa Moore Moore (not a typo, same first and middle name) Rayburn in Missouri, who in 1867, met Frances Elizabeth Akes. They wanted to marry but wanted to be married by a “minister of the Gospel” so the entire wedding party forded the river on horseback to get to the preacher, who was in Arkansas. She had nine children, dying during the birth of number nine. Moral: eight is enough.