All families have a unique history comprised of milestone events and peopled by a diverse cast of characters. This history of a family is passed on in the telling of its stories. The richest families are those in which the stories have been remembered, treasured, and incorporated into the spirit of the family.
Grandparents, more than anyone else, are the keepers of the family stories. They are a living bridge between the past and the future of a family. Their intimate connection with the two generations that preceded them and the two that follow gives them a remarkable knowledge and view of the landscape of five generations.
When grandchildren hear the family’s stories they learn who they are and from where they came. Research has shown that children who know something of their roots and the history of their family have stronger self-esteem. Through the family stories, children are given a sense of belonging and they develop a family pride. Stories about the family ancestors tend to build confidence in children and empower them.
Along with self-confidence and family pride, the family stories teach the faith, ethics and values of a family. Our faith stories help us to see how God has worked in the family story and brought us to where we are today. They link us to the good and saintly people who have been part of the family chain, and these people provide models for newer generations. Children need heroes with whom to identify and they are greatly enriched if they can find people in their own families to inspire and give them direction.
Children love long-ago and far-away stories. To them 50 years is long ago and another town, state, or part of the country can be far away. They are captivated by the adventure and excitement of times past and are fans of books like Little House on the Prairie, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. Yet, if they could peer into their own family history, they might find stories that would equal any of those they read about. Unfortunately, most of those long-ago and far-away tales have disappeared from family memory.
Few families have held on to more than a couple generations of the family stories. Unless someone in the family tells the stories, they are lost, and when the family stories are lost a piece of the family’s soul and identity is lost. Maintaining and passing on the family stories is a precious gift that grandparents can give to their grandchildren.
Here are some ways that grandparents can share family stories with their grandchildren:
• Compose and frame a collage of the previous generations of your family.
• Compile an electonic photo album of past generations for your grandchildren.
• Write a history of your family.
• Buy a grandparent book and record your story for your family.
• Frame your ancestoral pictures and create a gallery wall in your home.
• Tell stories of what life was like when you were a child. Tell your grandchildren about your parents and grandparents.
• Create a family cookbook with favorite family recipes and the stories that go with them.
• Take your grandchildren to visit the ancestoral home and church of your family.
• Create a family time-line of births, deaths, significant events. Have your grandchildren add their births and discuss how they are part of the larger on-going family.
• Create a family tree. Include as many generations as you can.
• Recover the stories – talk to other family members: cousins, aunts, uncles, parents to try to learn more of the family stories.
• Join an on-line genealogy service such as Ancestory.com to explore more about your family.
• Tell your grandchild the story of their parent’s childhood.
This article is based on a chapter from the Aitchisons’ small-group discussion-program, “The Grand Adventure – A New Call to Grandparenting.” More information about this 6-session program, published electronically by the Christian Family Movement, is availble on the CFM website.