By Eric Peterschmidt
March 11, 2019
Every family has a narrative, a story, which holds it together. Just think of your family narrative as the living breathing history of your family, all the memories and milestones passed from one generation to the next. And it binds families together tighter than you think.
So, what is the value of a family narrative?
- It’s great for your kids sense of self. Knowledge of a family narrative is directly tied to a children’s well-being. It’s true. A 2001 study by Dr. Duke demonstrated that “the more kids knew about their family history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believe their families functioned.” Using a test called the Did You Know? scale, researchers asked children 20 questions, like “do you know where your grandparents grew up?”, “do you know where your parents met?” and “do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family?” The answers to these questions became the leading indicator of how well-adjusted and resilient these children were. These kids have a strong sense that they are part of something bigger than themselves, and that results in a healthier child.
- It’s great for your sense of self. Studies in a whole host of other fields talk about “sense-making”; when you define a core to an entity – company, community, family – and work to preserve that core, it leads to a better sense of self. Understanding how one’s ancestors made it through not only good times, but the bad ones, provides an amazing reference for all of us to call on when we are challenged. It can contribute to a sense of pride about our family. As noted by the Family Narratives Project research team “Creating a shared history by reminiscing helps to maintain emotional bonds within a family.” (https://scholarblogs.emory.edu/familynarrativeslab/family-narratives/)
- It can be really fun to build. Dr. Duke team’s research has shown that it is the process of learning that is the key. That’s where things get fun, because the researchers found that the time and place where this “process of learning” occurred, was at the dinner table, on family vacations and other family gatherings. These conversations provide a wonderful “means” to a family narrative “end”. More enjoyable and enriching than watching TV together or scrolling through phones!
I have been blessed for having a life surrounded by a very close family. From my youngest days, I remember hearing the stories with multi-generational visiting family, and after I went to bed, hearing laughter emanating from downstairs. It created a very warm and comforting feeling in me – I just thought “this is what family is”. And it was not like we didn’t have family issues. We did. However, the family narrative and love for each other superseded that, and to this day, that culture lives on. I see it with my children, nephews and nieces who love hearing the stories – in fact, often want to hear the same ones over and over! It is this cross-generational process that is magic, and that is the family narrative.
So go ahead, and build your family narrative now. It’s fun to do, and has many proven emotional benefits that might just make you and your family happier, healthier and more, well, tightknit.
References and Related Topics