When my eldest son was in 8th grade, his history teacher assigned the class an oral history project: they were to interview a person who was engaged in World War Two. My son chose my father.
My dad escaped the Nazis with his parents; the majority of his family was not so fortunate. He arrived in this country as a teen and the minute he turned 18 my dad enlisted in the artillery and went back to fight in the Battle of the Bulge. He would talk a little about his army experience, but rarely about the Holocaust – until Matt, my son, interviewed him.
I stood silent with my video camera as they talked for hours, I heard stories of horror and honor, violence and love, sadness and resilience. The impact on my son was intense with life-long results. In his paper, he reflected how he was inspired by his grandfather’s story to make every day count, to live his best possible life. Each of my other children followed Matt and interviewed my dad when they were in 8th grade. Each asking different questions based on their interests. Each increasing their connection to our family’s story.
Stories help us build and deepen connection within our families. The stories we share teach lessons and pass on values without lecturing. The stories we live together create common history and weave our lives together.
Think about the stories your parents or grandparents shared with you, stories from their lives and from yours, stories that show you what’s important and who you are.
Think about the stories you share with your kids. Some are cute or funny, perhaps, but the stories we tell again and again tend to mean something. They show resilience, self-sacrifice, humility or pride. They highlight a sense of adventure in you or the joy of learning or what happens when you follow your passion. Whether or not you’ve thought about it, the stories you share pass on the ideals your family cherishes.
Your stories build connection beyond family. Think about when you meet somebody new. You may share some chit-chat about what you do and how old your kids are, but it is when you start sharing your stories that you begin to build lasting relationships. And then as you begin spending time together, you create new stories through adventures and mishaps and shared experience. These stories continue deepening the connections we build by sharing stories in the first place.
Your stories don’t have to be about escaping Nazis or fighting in war to be powerful. The stories of everyday experiences of making mistakes, helping a friend or a stranger, trying and failing and getting back up, receiving support, struggling to learn something new, having an adventure all add up to the rich fabric of our lives and the way we are interwoven with others.
Here are three quick ways to bring sharing stories into your life today:
- Just tell a story at dinnertime (or breakfast or in the car driving to soccer practice). Or ask your kids to tell you one about their favorite stories of a family vacation.
- Play Remember the Time … This is also a great one to do over a family dinner or when hanging out together on vacation or another gathering, but you can play over the phone or by emailing stories back and forth. In our family these stories are often funny — remembering some mishap that we can now all laugh about.
- Write a letter from the heart. Sit down with a piece of paper and share a bit of love and some stories with a child, your spouse, a parent or a friend. You can write a letter about why you are proud of your child or reminding your husband about his strengths when he is doubting himself. You can write a letter of appreciation to a teacher or a gratitude letter to a friend. Story is the key to the power of these letters.
Start writing and sharing your stories and deepen connections with the important people in your life.
Write your stories down. Save them. You’ll be surprised how much it means — to you the writer and to those who read it. Often the first step in saving family stories is learning them, and that means asking questions, and I’m giving you 5 free questions to get you started.
Sharing your story begins with digging into it yourself.