04 Dec Worried about the Future?
From the Desk of Laura Bunker:
December 25, 1877, Southeastern Nevada:
As the first year of settlement ended in the little town of Bunkerville, twenty-three people made up the community. It had been a struggling year, with no time for fun or recreation in the face of a serious effort for sheer survival. But the crops had been good, so it was decided to celebrate with a dance.
A few rude kerosene lamps gave some illumination, and music was supplied by accordion. Admission was paid in potatoes, pumpkins, squash, or other produce, which was piled near the musician’s stand.
The dancers tromped and stamped with huge work shoes on the rough planking, dancing with such enthusiasm that every few minutes the floor was cleared so the rough pine splinters could be swept away.
Dancing continued until daybreak when weary couples sorted out their own slumbering children from the heap in back of the musician and made their way to their homes out in the sagebrush.
This is one of the stories from our family’s past that we enjoy sharing. Every family has stories of hardship and achievement. What are yours?
The Christmas season is the perfect time to share a family story around the fireplace or the Christmas tree. As Dawn Frandsen writes in today’s alert, you’ll be giving your family the gift of perspective — “a solid invaluable sense of past, present and future.” May it bring your family comfort and joy!
United Families International, President
Worried about the Future? Share the Past
By Dawn Frandsen
Family narratives have always been important. The Bible is teeming with page after page delineating who was the father of whom. Wars have been fought; irrational antipathies preserved; alliances built or destroyed; and ancient promises kept and honored, all because of who was descended from whom.
Even though today’s intensely mobile world has contributed to most people’s general lack of knowledge about their family tree, the advances in technology have exponentially expanded our ability to research and discover some rather intimate details about our ancestral antecedents. In fact, it is becoming quite fashionable to be able to identify your roots. Genealogy is the second most popular hobby in the United States and comes in at second for overall use of the Internet.
There are several television shows (here, here, and here)devoted to the topic. Multiple websites with both free, and paid subscription services (here and here) to help anyone at any level research their roots. And if you hit a wall in your research, a growing number of professional genealogists can, for between $35 and $100 per hour, help break that wall down.
While your genealogical roots might not be as likely a predictor as it once was as to which side of a war you would align yourself, knowing and understanding your family narrative is still significant in how we approach other decisions in our lives. Knowing changes you. It reinforces what and who you are.
In fact, one of the best things a parent can do to increase their children’s sense of self-worth and dealing with stressors—both the everyday sort and the extreme variety—is to tell them family stories. Stories about what is was like to be a child thirty years ago; what it feels like to fall in love the first and the last time; what their grandparent’s achieved and the hardships they overcame.
A unique study done in the summer of 2001 showed a remarkable correlation between how much children know about their family history and how they react to life’s challenges. The study, conducted by Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush of Emory University, asked children a series of twenty “yes” or “no” questions that the authors began with “Do You Know….” They were relatively simple questions like:
Do you know how your parents met?
Do you know where your father grew up?
Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?
Do you know the source of your name?
Do you know which person in the family you act most like?
Do you know some of the things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?
The children also took several psychological tests that were compared with the answer scale from the twenty family narrative questions. The results were prodigious. The more a child answered “yes” to the questions about their immediate family history, the higher their self esteem, the more positive their view of their immediate family, and the stronger their individual sense of control over their circumstances was. In short, the study found that comprehending and understanding your family narrative was a high predictor of some of life’s most affirming character traits.
A tragic event (that was ironically fortuitous for the research) happened a few months after the study was completed. On September 11th terrorists destroyed the Twin Towers in New York City, throwing the country into a state of mourning, fear and confusion. Because of this appalling event, Fivush and Duke were able to test their results further because all the children experienced the momentously frightening event at the same time. The results held steady. Children who knew their family stories handled the effects of the catastrophe much better than those who did not.
Almost a decade later
The study included a mixof blended and original families and included several children who were adopted. The results were just as compelling. Older children who reported knowing more about of their family stories showed “higher levels of emotional well-being, and also higher levels of identity achievement.”
Identity achievement in teens is critical. It involves a teen’s ability to solidly adopt values and ideals and to determine for themselves a sense of life and vocational direction.
My daughter is an example of how this principle works. She is a drama queen. Not in the emotional sense, but in the literal sense that she LOVES all things that happen on and behind the stage. As a teen, she organized the neighborhood several times each summer to put on Shakespeare plays in the back yard. (One year, Richard the Third got a little out of hand during a particular battle scene—a little blood, but no stitches.) As an adult, she writes and publishes plays and runs her own children’s theater classes. This talent did not come from me. Theater is not on my top-50 list. However, the love and passion for the workings of the stage did come through me. My daughter’s great-great-great grandparents owned and operated a theater and a traveling Shakespeare company.
Knowing that she had a legitimate genetic predisposition to her talent and passion empowered her in her identity and helped both my husband (theater might not even make it to his top-100 list) and I support her in a way that went beyond regular parental encouragement—or what could have been even more tragic—dismissal of her gifts because she is a truly lone grasshopper in a family of ants.
The 2010 report on the teens taking the “Do You Know” test, concludes: “Stories of the familial past seem to provide a guide for adolescents’ developing sense of self and identity beyond everyday patterns of family interaction. Through sharing the past, families re-create themselves in the present, and project themselves into the future.”
As adults, we know from experience that good things do indeed emerge from bad events. Children and teens do not have the depth and breadth of life experiences to recognize and internalize this sort of hope and faith. But when parents and grandparents share stories of their own struggles, mistakes, triumphs and successes, children internalize those stories and can use them as ammunition against their own discouragement and anxiety.
Personally knowing the characters makes family stories more poignant than fictional or even true-life stories about strangers who find success after failure. Knowing family stories increases children’s ability to look at trials in perspective, focusing on the bigger picture of life and gives them a solid invaluable sense of past, present and future.
Here is a link to some of the work done by Dr. Fivush and Dr. Duke.
And here you can read more about their original study.