Most families have that sentence. The sentence that when one member of the family starts it, all the other members of the family finish it in unison. For us one of those sentences was "49¢ ?! That's cheaper than 59¢ !" I won't share the back-story, but I could ask any of my siblings and they would be able to relate the story almost word for word to each other. The story that we lived together has now turned into a piece of family lore. A tale that the grand-children and soon to be great-grand-children can all relay with ease.
Stories. Every family has them. The ones we have lived together and laugh about it over and over again. The stories passed down from generation to generation. The triumphs, the trials. The joys, the sorrows. Family stories matter. They influence how we view ourselves and others, our ability to succeed and our ability to bounce back.
Two decades ago, in a longitudinal research study Robyn Fivush Ph.D. and Marshall Duke concluded that family storytelling had a host benefits for both listener and the storyteller. Their work demonstrated that:
"If adolescents knew more about their family history, where their grandparents went to school, how their parents met, and even difficult events such as a terrible illness that a family member suffered, they showed more positive outcomes: lower anxiety, higher self-esteem, a higher sense of family cohesion."
Our family stories are like beautiful pieces of yarn intertwined in complex patterns and designs. Our familial tapestry of culture history and traditions is added onto by each generation. Dr. Fivush goes on to explain that while open and honest communication is important storytelling is the key and it is the stories about families that is the highest predictor of well-being.
So talk to your kids about the people you grew up with and the stories about your family and your culture. Share the highs and lows. Pass on your stories and the stories you know from your parents and past generations. If the idea of family storytelling is new to you, Fivush and Duke have a list of 20 questions that tap into different kinds of family stories. The questions are not meant as some sort of quiz to see if your kids have specific knowledge of your family. They are rather meant as a process to help families begin to share stories and ideals, a way to begin a tradition of telling stories that bind your family together.
Do you know how your parents met?
Do you know where your mother grew up?
Do you know where your father grew up?
Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?
Do you know where some of your grandparents met?
Do you know where your parents were married?
Do you know what went on when you were being born?
Do you know the source of your name?
Do you know some things about what happened when your brothers or sisters were being born?
Do you know which person in your family you look most like?
Do you know which person in the family you act most like?
Do you know some of the illnesses and injuries that your parents experienced when they were younger?
Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences?
Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?
Do you know the national background of your family (such as English, German, Russian, etc.)?
Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?
Do you know some awards that your parents received when they were young?
Do you know the names of the schools that your mom went to?
Do you know the names of the schools that your dad went to?
Do you know about a relative whose face “froze” in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?
So go ahead and say to your kids, "You know when I was your age…" It turns out talking about yourself and your parents and their parents can have positive benefits for generations to come.