The family story: 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? Are you familiar with how you were born? Are you aware of any diseases or tragedies that have affected your family?
“I remember as a twelve-year-old boy, living in my grandparents’ apartment in a walk-up building in the Bronx, my grandparents, with all of us gathered around an open window hoping to catch a warm breeze on those hot August, would tell their stories of how they grew up in Russia and the Lower East Side of Manhattan of long ago. The stories were sometimes funny, sad, and other times, warmly nostalgic as they talked about long passed away great and great-great grandparents, uncles and aunts. Those stories still linger in my mind.
Stories and storytelling are an important part of our lives. We read stories written in novels, watch reality television in which other people’s stories are depicted, and watch stories on the big screen in the movies and on television screens. Many people have personal stories, but all come from families with a family narrative.
Psychologists state that every family has a story or narrative that unifies everyone within the structure of that family. Some psychologists state that family narratives take one of three shapes:
Studies show that children with the most self-confidence have a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.
Decades of research have shown that most happy families communicate effectively. These families are talking through problems. However, talking also means telling a positive story about the family. When faced with a challenge, happy families, like fortunate people, add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming that challenge. It’s important for children who need this family narrative or lore during adolescence when identity is being solidified.
The oral tradition is how stories, tales, myths, and adventures have been handed down from generation to generation. It doesn’t matter whether the narrative is factually accurate. After all, memory distorts events from the past. Rather, the narrative becomes part of the family theme that takes on almost mythical dimensions.
One of the wonderful things about family stories is that they are told and retold and, in my experience, get better with each telling. The second wonderful thing is that they are funny and allow family members to laugh and have a good time. Last, there is never a time planned for the retelling. In my experience, these stories would be spontaneous, with the extended family gathering together at dinner, perhaps during a holiday or weekend. I was mesmerized by the accounts of life in the old country.
I hope the readers of this blog encourage their families to do this unless it’s already happening.
If any of you would like to, please submit your family myths of legends and I will post them.
Your comments are encouraged.
Allan N. Schwartz, PhD