Do you have to drag your kids kicking and screaming over to grandma's house? Is there any value to promoting this intergenerational relationship? The answer is a strong YES!
Referring to a book, Life is in the Transitions, by Bruce Feiler, we find some interesting information. A couple of teachers observed that kids that knew their family history seemed to do better than those that didn't. They asked the kids some simple questions:
Do you know where your grandparents met?
Do you know an illness or injury your parents experienced when they were younger?
Do you know what went on when you were being born?
Children that could answer more of these questions had a greater belief that they could control the world around them. It was the number one predictor of a child's emotional well-being!
How does knowing family history benefit children so much? Not sure I have an answer for that, but maybe this explains why some adopted children have such an overwhelming desire to find their birth family and learn their family story. Maybe this knowledge is an essential element of mental health, and some people crave it just like others crave certain foods when they are deficient on the nutrients that particular food supplies.
The type of family story also seems to make a difference. Kids reports of their family history generally fall into 3 different categories:
The ascending narrative: We came from nothing, we worked hard, we made it big.
The descending narrative: We used to have it all. Then we lost everything."
The oscillating family narrative: We've had our ups and downs.
These oscillating family stories tell about the successes and the failures, including the setbacks. Your grandfather was vice president at the bank, but his house burned down. Your aunt that survived breast cancer was the first person in her family to go to college. Family history, warts and all.
"Children who know that lives take all different shapes are much better equipped to face life's inevitable disruptions."
With depression and mental health issues so prevalent, why would we not get involved in something that could help the younger generation? Here are some suggestions.
Try to go high and wide. Reach out to cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.
Spend some time together regularly.
Plan time for talk and for the kids to hang out with the older relatives.
At one of our family reunions we played Family Jeopardy, with questions about our own family. Some questions related to experiences some of us had actually participated in and some dealt with things we had only heard about from the more distant past. It was great fun, and we still talk about it 6 years later. Another approach is to get together with a bunch of grandkids and a grandparent and a written list of questions to ask. If the grandkids help formulate the questions, they will have more interest in the answers.
Getting to know your family history is a fun way to strengthen your family. Please use the comments below to let us know what you have done in your family to promote intergenerational family awareness.