7 Tips to Building Your Family Narrative

Now that you know why a family narrative matters, what can you do to build it?

By Eric Peterschmidt

Now that you know why a family narrative matters, what can you do to build it? Here are a simple 7 tips to creating or expanding upon your family narrative.

  1. Start by asking your children or grandchildren to take the “Do You Know” test. In fact, take it yourself!
  2. Use the results of the test to start talking about things. Review and discuss the questions. Even on the questions they answered “yes” to, probe them. How did they know that? What did they hear happen? Would that happen the same way today? Do others have different stories? If so, why? On the questions they said “no” to, you may not know the answer either. Who would know and how can you ask them.
  3. As with any good interview, use open ended questions like “how do you think…” or “why would this ….” versus yes and no, to get a conversation going.
  4. Don’t wait for big moments to have these conversations (like a family vacation.) There are few places better than your own kitchen table or car. The goal is to have more vs. fewer conversations around your family narrative, so make it a natural part of meals or running errands together.
  5. Look for things might be of shared interest with your kids to limit the “eye rolling” response, e.g. sports, hobbies, etc. that their relatives shared too.
  6. Use props. A photograph or two so your children can see what the people in question looked like, wore, where they lived, etc. A good friend of mine periodically finds an item in the house (that the kids have probably seen forever, but did not know what it was) and puts it on the table. Remember, that it is not the photo or object that are necessarily interesting – it is the story behind it.
  7. Include broader family in the conversation. While you shouldn’t wait for big events (#4), holidays often provide great opportunities to include extended family in this conversation. Share what you are doing with those visitors so they are prepared. Make sure they all know to not just talk about themselves and other family members they knew, but do so knowing these children may not know any of the back-story. Often when adults are telling stories with each other, they come with a high-level of knowledge already and don’t explain the background – for example “who Uncle Max was”. Don’t talk down, but with them — just educate to make sure things are explained in a way that a family narrative foundation is established. And, offer to have visiting family stay with you! While this was common when I grew up, it seems to be less so today. There is something special about mornings and the other informal moments and watching your kids and their grandparents (or aunts, uncles and cousins) casually get to know each other!

Building a family narrative doesn’t have to be daunting. Hopefully, the above tips will help it become second nature for you and your family, and that your kids (and grandkids) begin asking for the same great stories again and again!



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