By Michelle Scheu
November is Family Stories Month. What is a family story? A family story is one that has been handed down through the generations documenting the history of your family. I am very lucky that the religious heritage on my mother’s side puts a high priority on not only telling family stories but documenting and thus maintaining them for generations to come. This tradition has produced a wealth of information about what it was like to come to America in the third class section of an ocean liner; to want religious freedom so badly that you would indenture yourself to someone to get here; to walk across North America over several months to get to your new home, to find joy in the simple pleasures of life despite financial poverty and the importance of family and friends. Family stories not only give us a glimpse into our heritage but also into history. Not the history that is in history books we study at school, but what life was really like for individuals living during different periods of time. My children still haven’t figured out how I managed to grow up without the internet or a myriad of fast food and convenience stores to make life easier! The significance of family events can change over time – sometimes for the positive. When we were kids, my father was always in such a hurry to get us to our destination on vacation that he would pull through the drive through window at McDonald’s and order everyone in the family the same thing. I found this totally annoying as a teenager. When he died and my brother and I traveled to his funeral, we purposefully stopped at McDonald’s, ordered whatever we wanted and laughed, fondly remembering our father’s idiosyncrasies.
I believe that growing up in an environment rich in family stories contributed in many ways to who I am today, personally and professionally. I value the simple gifts life offers, family relationships and when things get tough, knowing that my experience is just a small part of a much larger picture (which somehow helps). And what does a therapist do? Listen to family stories. Some joyful but many ugly and painful. After all, people don’t generally come to therapy because they are happy with their life. Family stories can help us figure out who we are, how we want to live our lives in the face of adversity and how to view hurtful events in different ways.
How can you enrich your life through family stories?
- Write them down or record them.
Talk to your older relatives about what life was like for them growing up. What made them happy and what made them sad. There are several commercial products available to record family stories but you can use but a notebook and pen or recorder on your phone work just as well.
- Keep a journal.
You don’t have to always record deep thoughts. Generations to come will be fascinated by your daily life, however boring it seems to you.
- Take pictures or video.
Even if the pictures never make it into an organized album, they can still be fun to look through and reminisce about.
- Take time to remember events experienced together.
You might be surprised by others’ responses. Recently, my children and I talked about a family vacation we had taken several years ago. What I remember is that my son’s negative attitude made everything on that trip a chore. He said it was the best vacation he ever went on. Go figure. We keep family stories alive by talking about them, not only on special occasions like Thanksgiving, Christmas and birthdays, but also on a day to day basis when nothing special is going on.
Create some new family stories today. It will enrich your life!