Lately there has been something pressing on my mind, something that I feel I need to do for my children. I feel this way because I am understanding more and more the importance of family storytelling, both good bedtime storytelling and the telling of family history stories. There is power is in stories, especially true stories, and magic in their telling.
The thing about stories are that they are memorable. You can read a textbook all day, but won’t remember much of the facts, because they aren’t particularly remarkable or engaging. Just as doing something physically, hands-on, is more memorable than reading about or seeing someone else doing it. There are just certain things that are easier to recall later, even if all you can remember are the feelings you had in those moments, the memory of the story being told, how it made you feel, or what experiencing something firsthand taught you about yourself or something.
Do you tell family history stories?
I have been rereading the Bible this year. And do you know what the Bible is full of? Family history stories. Over and over again the people are taught about their ancestors, about how God played a miraculous role in the lives of their progenitors. They also bring up stories, promises, and covenants that God gave to their predecessors and what happened when the people chose wickedness over righteousness. Often in scripture people are called to remembrance of better times and of worse times. All of these are to give perspective to their current lives, to give depths, to move them to repentance, and to remind them of the mercies of God throughout the ages.
How often today do we share with our children stories of their family history? Of their grandfather who fought in the war or of their grandmother who struggled for years as a single mom, or of their uncle who overcame his disabilities to earn a degree and become a profitable business man? How often do we remind them that we are of Pioneer stock, are descendants from Pilgrims who zealously left home and country in pursuit of religious freedom?
And what lessons do we teach them about their great-great grandfather who was a grumpy drunk and abandoned the family?
I know that some of our family histories may be marred by less-than-stellar individuals who were criminals, bigots, adulteries, murderers, drunks, slave owners, racists, liars, cheats, absent parents, or child abusers. It can be hard to want to share these people with your children. What can they gain from knowing the sad truths of some of their progenitors?
I like to think that knowing where our family has come from, even those darker histories, helps us realize how blessed we are now to be living a better life, to have escaped from the traps of ignorance, cruelty, and bondage, because someone along the way made the change, and broke the cycle of alcoholism, racism, lying, or abuse.
For as awful as someone might have been, there is likely someone who shone amidst the darkness in your family, who broke those destructive cycles and cleaved unto a better way. At the same time, knowing that your family is marred by these less-than-perfect individuals can help you better understand others in your family. It’s easier to understand why your parents raised you the way they did, when you understand more about how your grandparents raised them, and your great-grandparents raised your grandparents.
I feel knowing your family has a history of fill-in-the-blank makes it easier to understand yourself, and why somethings may be harder for you to overcome or why you may have a tendency toward certain things. Knowing is half the battle. Once you know your past, your family history, you can do more to actively address those issues in yourself, and work toward overcoming them.
What Research Says about the Value of Family History for Your Kids
Plus, according to research, sharing your family history is proven to be one of the ways to have a happier family. In fact “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem, and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.” It was also said that “The most healthful narrative… is called the oscillating family narrative. ‘Dear, let me tell you, we’ve had ups and downs in our family. We built a family business. Your grandfather was a pillar of the community. Your mother was on the board of the hospital. But we also had setbacks. You had an uncle who was once arrested. We had a house burn down. Your father lost a job. But no matter what happened, we always stuck together as a family.’ ” (Source)
Children who have the most balance and self-confidence in their lives do so because a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves. It’s the same principle that great business build themselves with.
Plus, “Understanding that people have natural ups and downs allows kids to know that they too will have ups and downs. It gives them the confidence to believe that they can push through them. It gives them role models that show your family’s values in practice.” (Source)
Knowing and Sharing Your Own Story with Your Kids
Knowing all of this has led me to this point where I really want to know my own family history, not just the dates and names of it, but the real stories. What was my grandmother like? Was she excited to immigrate to America from England or sad to leave many of her family members and friends behind? Why did my grandfather choose to be a farmer? Why did my own parents really move from the West to Wisconsin and are they glad they made that choice so many years ago?
Despite not knowing everything about my own siblings, parents, and grandparents, I’m determined to at least share my story with my own children, and the few stories I know of my own progenitors.
The more stories I tell my children, the more they ask for more. They want to know about my life as a little girl. They want to know about their grandparents. And I’m sure someday they’ll want to hear the story of how their dad and I met (because I know I always wanted to know my parent’s love story too as a young girl!).
Several of the stories I’ve shared don’t really seem to have a point or moral of the story. But, they are just the story of my life, some of my earliest memories. I’ve told them stories about when I broke my ankle, danced in the elementary talent show with my best friend Sherry to the song “Black or White” by Michael Jackson, knocked my front tooth out while biking, and also how I biked into a park car. I told them my father would tell me bedtime stories when he was home, that I shared a bed with my sister Brittany for years, just like they are sharing a bed, and that Britt was the bed hog, and I the blanket hog. I told them stories of a raccoon stealing marshmallows off our picnic table when I was camping once and how I once almost wrestled an alligator in Florida as a little girl.
Tell Me a Story in the Dark – Book Review
I’m not the greatest story teller around, and I know many of them could be told with greater detail and a little more flair, so I’m working on it, thanks to a book I received from familius.com for free to review called “ Tell Me a Story in the Dark.” So, even if my family history stories are short, don’t have a point, or a given climax, I can tell them in a such a way to make them memorable!
Tell Me a Story in the Dark by John Olive is an excellent resource for parents. There are so many examples of stories to tell, how to set the mood for a good storytelling, how to come up with new stories and new ideas, including impromptu ones, and most importantly how to tell the stories to really engage and captivate your children’s full attention and imagination.
This book is a goldmine of storytelling genius. It’s pretty much the ultimate guide for knowing how to tell awesome stories to your kids with loads of examples from firsthand experience, and even simple stories you can share with your own children. While he emphasizes telling stories only at bedtime, and telling them so that they’ll fall asleep as you tell them, I think the tools he gives you helps you prepare for storytelling whenever and wherever you are. This is great for me, as my daughters lately have been asking for stories mostly in the morning, but also the afternoon, and dinner time. They really, really, like the telling of stories.
I really hope to use some of the tips to improve my storytelling, whether the story is only about my first dog, or about a fantasy world with talking dogs, will enrich the lives my children. And good storytelling really can. According to Tell Me a Story in the Dark stories counteract the pernicious influence of glowing screens with their fake stimulation, builds your child’s vocabulary as they are very language focused as you tell stories in the dark, create wonderful parenting moments as your child laughs at your jokes and hangs onto your every word, and allows for teaching moments as you explain motives behind some character’s actions in the stories.
So the big thing I feel a need to do in my life right now is to share the stories of my life and my family’s with my children, along with other made-up bedtime stories, and stories from the Bible and the Book of Mormon. Storytelling is fun, teach great lessons, are entertaining, and create wonderful memories. These are all things I want to do and to give to my children.
And luckily, sharing family history will apparently make for a stronger, happier, better adjusted family and children. That alone makes me want to share.
Do you tell your children family history stories? Do you think family storytelling is important?
I’ve started a new tradition where, every Christmas, I give the kids a book about one of my grandparents, and a little item that reminds me of that grandparent. If there is sadness in their story I acknowledge that too. Our ancestors were people. We like to think that most were doing the best they could given the circumstances; that’s probably true of most of them; but some of them were just not very nice people. We can admit that. We aren’t our ancestors, and we can learn from their short-comings.
We can also learn from their strengths. Last Christmas my mom gave us all a book she wrote about a man who had touched the lives of her father and his brother. There were four of them and they were very poor. Whenever they had a penny they’d go to the general store and buy stick candy, because it was 3 for a penny. This man would always give them an extra stick. You know, something so simple – but it really meant a lot to them. In our family this man’s name is repeated with reverence and respect. He couldn’t have known how an extra stick of candy went on to influence them. But it did. My grandpa and, to a much larger extent, his brothers all went on to be quite successful, financially. And they all took to heart the example of that shop-keeper. After that generation died several people approached my mother to tell how, through the years, they’d found themselves in trouble – the crops had failed, there was an illness, or an unexpected tax bill – and somehow her uncles or her father would hear about it, and suddenly there would be a check in the mail to cover their expenses – not a loan, but a gift; and for substantial amounts of money, generally $10,000. And I can’t say it’s all because this ne man would give them an extra stick of candy; but I think that was a big part of it. An extra stick of candy, a few times a year – and that grew into a blessing for an entire district. Now that’s a story that is worth repeating to my children.
Katelyn Fagan says
Awww, that is beautiful Becca!! What a powerful story and a great one to share with your children!
We do love to share family stories! I’ve also taken my kids to places where their ancestors lived, so they can better understand the stories they hear. Also, my mom has a lot of family history stuff–photos, mementos, etc. My oldest son, in particular, loves to look at them and ask questions. It’s the perfect way for him to bond with his grandma.
Katelyn Fagan says
Great ideas! I really need more pictures (and stories) about my ancestors.
When our children were young, we read or told them stories as we were tucking them into bed each night. They especially loved family stories. Now the kids are grown, but my husband sends them an email each Sunday, sometimes one email to all of the kids, and sometimes a separate email to each one. He includes family stories in that email. We are creating a family story book with family stories of faith, courage, honesty, love, service, sacrifice, and other things we value. We want our children and grandchildren to learn about, and love, their family and their family heritage
This is something I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. While we were on vacation, in trying to get my girls down I started telling them a ‘family’ story instead of reading them a story since we didn’t have books and they LOVED it!! They ask me to repeat them again and again and remember even the smallest details. I want to incorporate this tradition more regularly. Great post!