Tell your story. Preserve your history. Solidify your family.
A Ruffled Mango Guest Post by Laurel Sewell
As a child, some of my favorite memories are of sitting around the table listening to family stories, stories of when my parents and grandparents were young, the stories of their school days, the pranks they played on their siblings, how they met and started their own families.
When I was married some 20 years ago one of the most treasured gifts I received was a partially filled-in family tree. It felt so momentous when just a few years later I was able to add new names and branches, new growth on a strong, tall oak with deep stories that ran all the way through its roots.
That is why I am so excited about today’s guest post by Laurel Sewell, generously being shared with us from The Ruffled Mango! When I read about the incredibly meaningful – and truly priceless – gift Laurel and her husband gave their adult children last year, I just knew this was something I just had to share with ASD readers right away!
“Tell me a story. Please?”
How well we remember hearing favorite stories about our own families or our grandparents growing up. Each generation before us lived in a unique place in history that we love to hear about – like reading a historical novel. Imagine that your children will one day think of your life today as being quaint and old-fashioned!
I loved to hear about my mother giving birth to me in the same house, and in the same bed where she herself had been born. Not only that, but we were delivered by the same doctor – who made house calls! My dad was in service during WWII, and my mother had gone to live with her parents for the duration.
Stories about our families can help define who we are. It helps us make sense of our lives. It provides a ‘glue’ that helps hold the members of a family together, without destroying their independence and individuality. Last week as a young man was checking my groceries, he asked about our holiday plans. Then he said, “My wife and I are staying as far away from our families as possible! They are all crazy and they make us crazy!” How sad a legacy those parents left!
A few years ago I read an article that quoted from Bruce Feiler’s book, The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Tell Your Family History, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More. Mr. Feiler said that he first realized the importance of telling our children stories about our families from Dr. Marshall Duke, a psychologist from Emory University. He, along with his wife Sara, a psychologist who works with children, were interested in what helps some families stay together while others were falling apart. She had noticed something about her students. “The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges,” she said. They decided to test this hypothesis, and developed a “Do you know?” questionnaire for children. They asked children twenty questions such as: Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know the story of your birth? They interviewed four dozen families in 2001, and taped several of their dinner table conversations.
Then they compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests that the children had taken. They found, overwhelmingly, that the children who knew more about their family’s history had a stronger sense of control over their lives, had a higher self-esteem, and enjoyed families that functioned well. They said the ‘Do You Know?’ scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness!
Interestingly, success as a family did not mean that they all had experienced perfect ‘Norman Rockwell painting’ lives. But just learning how to navigate the ups and downs that life brings can help when a child has a sense of family history. They suggest, “If you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.”
Two years ago for Christmas, my husband and I gave our children a notebook filled with family stories. I wrote about my growing-up years, and he wrote about his. We also wrote about our lives together, how we met, etc. We followed an outline in two little books that had been given to us by our son, Scott, the year before. These books, Mom, share your life with me… and Dad, share your life with me… by Kathleen Lashier, asked leading questions, one for each day of the year for us to answer. We filled these out, then typed them and compiled them, making a notebook of some 200 pages, along with copies of old family photos and even some eulogies of their grandparents. We presented these after breakfast on Christmas morning. These adult children sat and read without leaving the table for four hours, laughing, asking more questions, and sometimes shedding a tear or two. It may well be one of the best and most memorable gifts we have ever given.
Laurel lives in Henderson, Tennessee, with her husband of fifty-one years, Dr. Milton Sewell, former president and Chancellor of Freed-Hardeman University. She is the author of The Six Gifts of Hospitality and has contributed articles to several Christian publications. Laurel has traveled as a Christian education speaker, speaking at Ladies’ Days and lectureships, as well as entertained many a guest for Freed Hardeman University. Milton and Laurel have three children and six grandchildren. Laurel also enjoys crafts, watercolor, traveling, writing, and spending time with family.
Content and images republished with express permission from The Ruffled Mango.