When it comes to sharing family history, Southerners tend to be in one of two camps -- the "Prince of Tides/move along there's nothing to see here" folks, or the "You're never going to believe what your grand-daddy did" crew. My parents were strictly in the latter group. Instead of telling me bedtime stories about bears and porridge, I heard the one about the time my father was driving my mother and newly born sister home from the hospital and ended up in a high-speed chase with the police. Evidently, someone was screaming on the front seat of that '54 Ford and it wasn't the baby!
So, should you air your laundry, dirty and all, with your children? Here are three reasons why I say yes!
1. Sharing Increases Family Bonding
A recent study by Emory University found that sharing family stories increases a child's emotional well-being.
"Family stories provide a sense of identity through time, and help children understand who they are in the world," the researchers said in the paper "Do You Know? The power of family history in adolescent identity and well-being."
The study went on to say that the teens who knew more family stories showed, "higher levels of identity achievement."
I agree. My parent's stories helped me realize a sense of who I was - the child of Southern crazy people, but I loved it! I've happily passed those stories on to my own daughter. I'd rather have her identity be that she's a part of a loud, boisterous family than in something she's given by her middle-school peers.
2. Bad Things Can Be Used for Good
When I wrote my upcoming middle-grade novel, I included a character that's ashamed to learn that her family owned slaves. Her first instinct is to hide it. I think Ben Affleck can relate! But when we hide things from our children, we lose the opportunity to use it for good. My great-great-great grandfather fought for the Confederacy, and I've used that history to talk to my daughter about the Confederate Flag, the Civil War, and racism. Yes, we could have had similar discussions without revealing the family skeletons, but by providing familial context, we also have a benchmark.
In four generations we've gone from a person fighting for the right to own slaves, to a 13-year old whose best friend is African American and wouldn't dream of flying a Confederate flag. By talking about the past honestly, we're able to discuss what we can do now to make a difference, and to ensure that future generations of our family won't look back on us in scorn.
3. Family Stories Can Lead To Lifelong Interests in Reading and History
Is there anyone who doesn't enjoy a good story? I think it must be written in our DNA. Children aren't necessarily interested in The Hero's Journey, but they are interested in hearing about how grandpa taught you to fight one afternoon so you could stand up to the neighborhood bully. Want your child to love books? Teach them to love stories.
A love of reading seems like a natural result of good story telling, but history? Yes! When I tell my daughter that her grandmother screamed herself hoarse at a drive-in because Elvis Presley walked across the screen, she wants to know more. Like who was Elvis Presley and what's a drive-in. My dad, the family story-teller can hold my daughter's attention in ways her history teacher can only dream of. Family stories bring the places and things our children hear about in school to life. And unlike books, when you reach the end of a family story, there's always more.
Help your children and their emotional well-being. Share your dirty laundry today!