Once upon a time, youngsters gathered round their elders to hear stories; tales of lives long lived and lessons learned through life’s trials and tribulations. But in today’s fast-moving tech-driven world, how often do you think that happens?
We’re always in a rush, we move in repetitive circles, the day sinks into night and we wake up to do it all over again, harboring just a dim awareness that the time we have left with our cherished loved ones will inevitably fade one day.
I wish I had known more about her life…I wish I could have asked him what he would have done in my situation…I never got a chance to ask her how she got through all those tough times—times like I’m going through now.
Have you ever heard anyone say that? I know I’ve heard these words uttered when it’s too late; after a loved one is gone and all that’s left are faded photos, a few favorite pieces of jewelry, familiar furniture, and memories.
But what a legacy of love we could have with a book of their lives—to read pages filled with the moments that meant something special to them, to really get to know who they are. Grandchildren and great-grandchildren, alike, and generations who would never get to meet their elders, would have a stronger link to the past, to their ancestors, and the journey through life lessons they learned—lessons that could carry on through future generations.
The secret sauce
This wonderful piece by Bruce Feiler in The New York Times speaks powerfully to the importance of sharing family stories. Feiler, best-selling author of The Secrets of Happy Families , questioned in “The Family Stories That Bind Us,” what’s “the secret sauce that holds a family together” and what are the “ingredients that make some families effective, resilient, happy”?
Turns out, he learned through the findings of a pair of psychologists, that “the single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”
Psychology professor Marshall Duke of Emory University, and colleague Robyn Fivush, asked four dozen families 20 “Do You Know?” questions such as:
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?
Feiler writes, “They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. 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. The ‘Do You Know?’ scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”
Courage and resilience
But it’s not just about learning facts, it’s about learning what courage is and what being resilient means within the scope of one’s own family. Duke offers a fictional narrative as example in Feiler’s article: “ …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.”
In Telling the Stories of Life through Guided Autobiography Groups, James E Birren, a leader in gerontology studies and the former associate director of the UCLA Center on Aging, and co-author Kathryn N Cochran concur. “Most families groan at the superficial stories that have been told time and time again or that have leaden, overworked morals. The stories we really want to hear reveal to us through the events and details of life something about the characters of the storytellers and their worlds. We want to know what went into the choices they made, what things mattered to them, how they learned, and what they wanted from life.”
Listening with a grateful heart
Although grandparents may sometimes think that the younger generation isn’t interested in what they have to say or worry that they won’t find it valuable, on this Grandparents Day, what better time to show them how important they are and just how much they mean to us. Have the younger generation gather round to hear their stories; tales of lives long lived and lessons learned—and to say thank you, thank you, thank you for sharing their special gift of wisdom.