Last year Bruce Feiler published a blog in The New York Times that hit a chord in many families. In it he described research by Drs. Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush that found the more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives and the higher their self-esteem. Of course, as anyone who has ever taken a research course can tell you, “correlation does not mean causation,” that is, just because two things are related, doesn’t necessarily mean one caused the other. In fact, Dr. Duke explained that and gave more details about the research in a later blog. The important thing is not the details of the family stories, but the times for family talk that allow children to know the stories. He said,
In order to hear family stories, people need to sit down with one another and not be distracted. Some people have to talk and some have to listen. The stories need to be told over and over and the times of sitting together need to be multiple and occur over many years. The most convenient times traditionally have been family dinners, family trips in the car, vacations, birthday gatherings, etc. …[G]iven the complexities of modern family life, families can also sit and talk over a snack after school or before everyone goes off to work, or at any other time that they can focus on each other. These gatherings — short or long — are at the heart of the process … through which children can grow stronger and healthier. No quick fix.
Summer is the perfect time for storytelling. While it takes a little planning, think about the options for a family “story scavenger hunt” to get the conversation rolling. Where did Grandma grow up? What did she like to do when she was your children’s age? How did Uncle Jim meet Aunt Anne? What’s the craziest thing Grandpa ever did? The hardest? What music did mom and dad listen to when they were teens? Encourage children to write their own interview questions to quiz you at dinner. Family Search has other suggestions for involving young people in their family stories.
If relatives don’t live nearby, technology can be your friend. Investigate Skype, Facetime, or other communication platforms. While telling family stories long distance is not quite as simple as my other less-is-more suggestions, the payoff in family relationships can be substantial. And if you don’t know the stories yourself, well, then you have a two-generation benefit.
So stop and sit a while. Whether it be at the dinner table, on the front stoop, or in front of a computer linked to Skype, gather your family and tell your stories. What could be better for a summer evening?