There was an article published in the New York Times entitled ‘The Stories that Bind Us‘. I read it last night and found myself nodding to many points mentioned in the insightful piece.
Living in this information overload age where one is constantly attuned to media updates (think news-feed from Fb, Twitter, Instagram etc); where addiction to information technology erodes the quality of family interactions (picture Daddy working on laptops, Kids playing on Ipads, Moms attempting the next level on Candy Crush on their smart phones), family relations are getting increasingly dissipated. The writer, Bruce Feiler suggests families may want to create a mission statement similar to the ones many companies use to identify their core values.
To give our kids a sense of rootedness and belonging, we have to ask ourselves what is the secret ‘sauce’ that would hold my family together? What are the ingredients that would make my kids effective, resilient, happy? Perhaps the single most important thing we can do for our family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong Family Narrative. We all have narratives to tell and our children love to hear our stories! They can be stories of how the family came to be: how Daddy met Mommy, what happened on our Wedding Day, stories of their births, stories of where the grandparents grew up, where Daddy and Mommy went to school, what kind of students we were, who are the friends we make, stories of how something terrible that happened to us and how we stuck together as a family despite these crises. Narratives are very powerful tools to pass on the family’s legacy to the next generation…
Since the Princess turned 4 last year, the hubs has started this Family Narrative exercise with the aim of imbuing gratefulness. He reminds Dana how both Mommy and Daddy are working hard in the office to pay for all the classes and activities which she enjoy and to bring her for nice holidays; we share with Dana the hardships we overcame in our growing up years – how Gong-gong (Daddy’s Father) passed away when he was a teen, leaving Penang Mama to raise Daddy and his 2 siblings single-handedly. How Mommy had a difficult childhood as I came from a home where we were constantly terrorized by loan sharks. We also constantly update Dana with stories of her distant aunties, uncles and cousins so she can feel a sense of connectedness with the extended family whom we hardly have chance to meet. One narrative which we will soon have reveal to Dana would be why we are unable to grant her birthday wish for a younger sibling and how God preserved Mommy’s life through the pregnancy losses before we finally had her as our miracle baby…
According to Dr. Marshall Duke, a psychologist at Emory University, “Kids who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges and setbacks….they proved to be more resilient, as we are building in them a strong ‘inter-generational self.’ They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.”
Besides telling Family Narratives, another meaningful act which goes a long way is to instill Family Traditions which give the children familiarity and empowerment. Traditions which are only unique to your family grow deep roots. For example, till this day, the hubs remembers with fondness how his late Father would bring him for Roti Prata breakfast on Sunday mornings before heading to Church. He also remembered the family vacations they went together before his Father passed away…I remembered fondly how my late maternal Grandfather always brought me for neighbourhood walks every evening which always ended in my favorite ice-cream cone treat. In our home, we have developed several little family traditions which are still evolving – making the annual sojourn back to Daddy’s hometown in Malaysia for reunion during Chinese New, praying together and giving thanks at the table before mealtimes, chatting with Penang Mama on the phone every Sunday night, Year, putting up the Christmas Tree together and giving Great Grandma a big hug and kiss each time we meet. Family Traditions need not be grand elaborate affairs yet when observed over time, they build that strong sense of identity which bind us as family.
The bottom line: 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.
Do you share Family Narratives with your children? What are some Family Traditions you keep? Do share with me.
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