Why Family Stories Are More Important Than You Think
I’ve always loved hearing stories. The made up ones my daddy told my sister and me at bedtime, the ones my mom read from books of myths, fairytales and fables, and the ones told to me by parents, my uncle, my grandparents, or other relatives about the past.
But here’s my true confession.
As much as I loved listening and learning, I rarely asked questions. I was shy. I didn’t feel entitled to ask (it felt like prying) beyond what my parents or grandparents shared. Maybe I knew at some level that not all the stories were easy for them to tell. But for whatever reason, I just didn’t ask.
Fortunately my kids asked.
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 II. My son chose my father.
My dad escaped Vienna and 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. Matt is now almost 30 years old, but he still remembers that day and how it changed him.
Each of my other children followed Matt and interviewed my dad when they were in 8th grade. Each asked different questions based on their interests. Each increased their connection to our family’s story.
The impact on all my children from knowing these stories (and then exploring the stories of their other three grandparents) was tremendous.
They understood that life is not a linear path, that you can have setbacks or struggle and then grow and move forward, then struggle again. That the struggles, although hard and maybe painful, let you discover your strengths and what you value at your core. They also learned that asking questions, in a respectful and curious way, is not just ok, it honors that person, shows them you want to know them more deeply.
Your Stories Are Important
My stories are not so dramatic, yet each of us have stories that would pique interest or show how we followed what we value or what we love, or how we were brave or found resilience after a stumble.
Stories help you build and deepen connection within your family and with friends as well. 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, what you love and who you are.
Think about the stories you share with others. Some are cute or funny, perhaps, but the stories we tell again and again tend to mean something. They show resilience, self-sacrifice, joy, awe, what we love. Whether or not you’ve thought about it, the stories you share pass on what you value.
And maybe you’re like I was, hesitant to ask questions, to go deeper into family stories. I encourage you to both ask and model asking for the younger generations, so they ask and learn and connect. And if you are asked, I encourage you to share stories thoughtfully and openly.
We are heading towards the holidays, a great time to ask family and close friends questions to learn more about them and share the connections that result from hearing each other’s stories.
You get to define what family means to you. “Family” can mean anything from you and your partner to a large blended group of relatives or even a chosen family of close friends.
I have a fabulous resource to help you ask questions: my eBook Family Stories: Questions to Ask Your Loved Ones.
Stories are at the heart of great letters. If you want to share stories with a loved one this holiday season join me for a special Write into Joy to write a Letter to Connect. We meet November 17. Limited to 6 participants.
- Use journaling as a tool to unlock wisdom from your life
- Experience more gratitude, awe, and wonder through reflection
- Discover your own resilience and create a roadmap for future challenges
Click below for pricing and upcoming dates.
Hi, I’m Melanie!
I’m a Journaling and Joy Coach and I believe your story is the key to the life you want.
I guide my clients through intentional processes to find the answers waiting for you in your stories, bringing compassion, deep listening — and fun — to the process.
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