Maybe you feel responsible for passing along particular information about your family to your kids. Or maybe you want your kids to feel a greater connection to your parents and grandparents, to your family’s culture, traditions, and history. Maybe you also want an understanding of the story for yourself. Whatever the reason, likely it feels like an overwhelming task. Where do you begin?
Truth is, the work is not as overwhelming as you think, and what you think is actually the place to start. Here are the tiniest of tiny first steps to take if you’d like to create a family story legacy for your kids.
Step One: Recognize You Are Already Passing Along a Family Narrative.
You’ll live closely with only a handful of people throughout the course of your life. Your parents, siblings, spouse, children, perhaps a grandparent or other relative. And from these closely-lived experiences there comes an intricate, delicate, perplexing knowing about each other. You know feelings without anyone saying a word. You know what’s secretive, even if you don’t know all the secrets. You instinctively play the role you’ve been given in your multi-generational family story that’s long been unfolding.
Whether you are aware of it or not, you’ve been shaped by the generations that came before you and have inherited a narrative. Their stories are your stories and likely have played a significant role in creating who you are.
And, you are passing along a narrative to your kids, whether you know it or not. Your stories are their stories, too.
You can ignore this truth and carry on, passing family knowledge along implicitly, and hope for the best. Or you can take this opportunity to be conscious, to have agency in your family’s story that’s still unfolding, to contribute to the narrative you are passing along.
And by doing so, you have the ability to impact the trajectory of the way your children —and their children, and their children — understand themselves, your family, and their place in the world. That’s very powerful.
Step Two: Lean Into Your Role As Family Storykeeper
If you are the one who cares for the family keepsakes, makes the family photo albums, researches the genealogy, or creates the family gatherings where so often stories are told, you may be your family’s Storykeeper. Through the years of helping people write their family story I’ve noticed that most families have just one or two Storykeepers. Most don’t realize that they have this special role and get frustrated when others in the family don’t care about the family history in the same way that they do. Most also don’t realize just how impactful their work is for the family unit as a whole.
Because it turns out this Storykeeping work is a very worthwhile endeavor in terms of family health and wellness. Researchers at Emory University have found that kids who know multi-generational family stories have higher levels of emotional well-being, greater self-esteem, more resilience, and a sense of purpose and meaning. They have an “intergenerational self” which is rooted in something timeless and larger than themselves.
And when you find the words to create a narrative, your family story takes on a coherent meaning about the challenges and the joys. About experiences that had an impact and the character traits that were at play.
In a matter of pages you can create something physical to share with your children — that they can share with their children — providing all of you with a meaningful connection to the people and places from which you came. That’s the power of story.
So if you recognize yourself as the family Storykeeper, lean into your role. You are bringing connection, meaning, and wellness to your family, and your work is important.
Step Three: Take One Small Action Again and Again and Again
That’s how you get started on your family story project, and that’s how you continue. Stories come from consistent action, no matter how small. Not consistent writing, consistent action. You’ve already taken one small action today — you read this article.
And whenever you are ready, continue with another small action by finding a place to keep your family story writing, which can be either:
- Get a notebook and 2 pens. This can be a notebook you already own or you can buy something new. The pens should be different colors — the first will be your primary pen and for the second we suggest green, but any color is fine. OR
- Set up a folder on your computer. If the thought of writing in a notebook rather than a computer is making your skin crawl, pay attention to that and write on your computer. Set up a folder in Word or Google Docs called “Storykeeping Notebook” for your writing. While there are many benefits to writing with pen and paper, it’s more important to work the way that is comfortable for you.
Then, whenever you are ready, click here for your next small action.
As always, if you have a question, please reach out and I’ll get back to you!