I can honestly tell you that while growing up in my family, there were times when we were the perfect “Leave It To Beaver,” Cleavers and other times we acted a lot like the Simpsons.
I know this is a little off my normal topic of reading books, writing books, reviewing books, and conducting blog hops, but this theme of family is one of the greatest importance to me. As a writer, I want to know where I got my writing gene.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed that the Ozzie and Harriet family dynamics of the 60s bear no resemblance to the families of today. It’s shocking and disheartening. What was important back then – family dinners, family vacations, family recreation – is no longer seen as essential to our home life, or even desired by some families today. As I kid, I loved being with my family. We always ate dinner together, went on family vacations and shared stories of ancestors. That strength is part of my soul.
Our lives are busy, stressed to the max. I know mine is. The busyness can draw us away from the family nest. It can make it easy for us to forget about the ties that should bind a family together. It keeps us from being strong enough to face outside influences that might tear our families apart. We need to hold our families together even though life gets crazy. How many people do you know, or maybe it’s right in your own family, where family ties slip from their knots and unravel casting us into the murky shoals and dark abyss known as divorce?
After a divorce, what happens to the love of our current family let alone the loss of knowing generations that preceded us?
Bruce Feiler who wrote the book, “The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Tell Your Family History, Fight Smarter, Got Out and Play, and Much More.” in his article in The New York Times suggests that the need for stronger, more cohesive family units is more important than ever. Children growing up in families today don’t seem to know anything about their parents, let alone grandparents and beyond. They didn’t know the simplest things like where did their parents grow up, go to high school, or meet. Mr. Feiler suggests that knowing these precious facts about their family history will create a stronger familial bond. He said, “the single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”[i]
A family narrative includes stories about one’s past that help us make sense of our present.
This idea of Mr. Feiler’s came from a psychology professor from Emory University, Dr. Marshall Duke. Dr. Duke spent years researching the myths and dynamics of the American family. He wondered why once a strong, proud unit of society had slipped its moorings. Dr. Duke said, “There was a lot of research … into the dissipation of the family … but we were more interested in what families could do to counteract those forces.”[ii]
What can we do today to solidify family bonds and keep family units intact?
Other amazing facts began to emerge during Dr. Duke’s research. “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.” Who wouldn’t want this great blessing in their families? We want our children to succeed in life. We want them to know who they are, to feel like they’re part of a greater whole. This gives them confidence and fortifies them against the crap that life can hurl at them.
“’The answers have to do with a child’s sense of being part of a larger family,’ Dr. Duke said.”
Many other countries, “go out of their way to capture their [citizen’s] core identity.” So says Jim Collins, a management expert and author of “Good to Great.”[iii] He believes that these other nations’ drive to “preserve core,” will actually stimulate progress and that the same will apply to strengthening and preserving the family. He recommends having a family “mission statement” much like large corporations do to help “identify their core values.” Families with rock solid foundations are not likely to wash away at the first sign of trouble.
According to CDR David G. Smith, Permanent Military Professor of Leadership, even the military has learned that the obsolete tactics taught by the military with the former “dehumanizing” of individuals depicted in movies such as “’Full Metal Jacket’ or ‘An Officer and a Gentleman,’” does NOT breed cohesion. “Incoming freshmen (or plebes) [are tutored] on history-building exercises like going to the cemetery to pay tribute to the first naval aviator…”[iv]
But … how do we build a strong sense of belonging and pride into our families?
It’s not easy and it’s not just talking with our children when stuff hits the fan. It’s more than that. It’s building those lasting memories in situations that require more than just a “don’t do that again,” sort of approach. Tell your children about a lesson you learned and how you overcame a bad time in your life. Share your triumphs, successes, happy times … and yes even the bad. Share stories of your parents and their lives, if you know any.
Can you and your children answer the 20 family history questions asked by Dr. Marshall P. Duke?
Please answer the following questions by circling “Y” for “yes” or “N” for “no.” Even if you know the information we are asking about, you don’t need to write it down. We just wish to know if you know the information.
1. Do you know how your parents met?Y N
2. Do you know where your mother grew up?Y N
3. Do you know where your father grew up?Y N
4. Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?Y N
5. Do you know where some of your grandparents met?Y N
6. Do you know where your parents were married?Y N
7. Do you know what went on when you were being born?Y N
8. Do you know the source of your name?Y N
9. Do you know some things about what happened when your brothers or sisters were being born?Y N
10. Do you know which person in your family you look most like?Y N
11. Do you know which person in the family you act most like?Y N
12. Do you know some of the illnesses and injuries that your parents experienced when they were younger?Y N
13. Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences?Y N
14. Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?Y N
15. Do you know the national background of your family (such as English, German, Russian, etc)?Y N
16. Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?Y N
17. Do you know some awards that your parents received when they were young?Y N
18. Do you know the names of the schools that your mom went to?Y N
19. Do you know the names of the schools that your dad went to?Y N
20. Do you know about a relative whose face “froze” in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?Y N
Score: Total number answered Y.
Important Note: About that last question! Fifteen percent of our sample actually answered “Yes!” This is because the stories that families tell are not always “true.” More often than not they are told in order to teach a lesson or help with a physical or emotional hurt. As such, they may be modified as needed. The accuracy of the stories is not really critical. In fact, there are often disagreements among family members about what really happened! These disagreements then become part of the family narrative. Not to worry! From “Teaching Your Children the Language of Social Success.” by Marshall P. Duke, Stephen Nowicki, Elisabeth A. Martin.
Though my son is thirty now, I can still share with him the stories I heard while sitting around my grandmother’s table on a lazy Sunday afternoon. How will you share your life with your children so they can find the cohesiveness to stay strong against the harshness of life?