I am sure you can remember as a child being told certain ‘family stories’ and loving them. I know I was told numerous things about ancestors and other family members as a child. In fact those stories spurred me into researching my family history as soon as I was old enough and able to.
Family stories are lovely to tell our children, but in this fast-paced Internet world we are losing track of the simple things such as basic story telling. We read books to our children, and encourage them to read their own books, but we don’t tell our children stories from our family ‘memory archives’. We don’t often tell them about their other family members and their ancestors. Partly this is due to the fact that most people just don’t even know their ancestry or a lot about their family these days. Many of us have moved away from our families and where we grew up. In the past families all lived nearer to each other and interacted constantly.
So how can we keep family stories alive, and why are they important? Numerous studies have been done that show that when parents share family stories with children the children benefit from better verbal skills and learn to better understand others emotions. Families who frequently share family stories and talk to their children have children with better coping skills and a much lower incidence of depression and anxiety.
But what if you don’t know any or many family stories to tell your children? Ask around family members to find out if anyone has any stories they recall being told. Every family has family stories. Sometimes they don’t come easily to mind, but if we sit and think about them we can amaze ourselves with stories that we just have in us, that we heard through the years.
It is so easy to tell a child family stories. When you are snuggled up in bed with your child at night about to read a book, tell them a story instead. On a long car journey tell your children stories, or when they are taking a bath. Family dinner time is also a great opportunity to share stories. Children love stories and are likely to be only too happy to hear about your crazy aunt who kept a snake in the bathtub or your grandfather who was lost at sea. Even if you don’t have really exciting family stories to tell such as those examples, sometimes everyday life is far more interesting to tell them stories about.
There is no family who does not have some kind of story to tell. If I think about all the stories that I heard constantly as a child, some of which I could later prove were nonsense, and some which actually were true, it makes me smile. My family seems to have been always obsessed with ghosts, and we certainly had a good smattering of ghost stories to constantly entertain us. I lapped up those stories as a child, and I have found myself telling my own children those stories! One very memorable story is that one of the cottages that my ancestors lived in had a ghost who lived there who would come in the front door, walk up the stairs, and roll potatoes across the floor of the bedroom above. The family member who lived there (a great aunt or something) would knock on the ceiling with a fire poker and tell him to be quiet! I even remember my own grandfather elaborating on the story when I asked him about it, and he told me that he had been at the house when there had been a knock on the door, but when the family went to the door nobody was there! There were many other ghost stories and tall tales.
But it isn’t only the ‘tall’ stories that I remember. I remember hearing about how my parents met, how I would climb into the cage with my rabbits aged 2, about the day my grandmother fell off the back of my grandfather’s motorcycle, the country house my grandmother worked at, my father’s sister who died as a child, the dog my mother had when she was growing up. I heard about villages my ancestors had lived in, major news events that happened in my ancestors lives, my father and his family taking cover in an air raid during the war. I heard so many stories and tales.
How sad would it be if I had never been told those stories? If I didn’t have those stories still in my mind to think about and chuckle about or wonder about? Many family members are now gone, but I still have those stories about them, and I feel that I know family members I have never met through hearing about them through various stories.
So tell your children family stories! Fill their lives with rich details about family members and things that happened in the past. There are always opportunities to tell a story.