Thursday, March 21, 2013

Phew, I'm (Already) Doing Something Right

"The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative." ("The Stories That Bind Us", NY Times, March 15, 2013)

Isn't it rare to find an article that tells you the benefits of doing something that you already do? Pure joy. Usually these sociology/ psychology pieces are chock full of criticism: if only we would get more exercise, or more sleep, or work less, or laugh more, or play board games, or unplug, or get rid of all our stuff, then we and our kids would be oh-so-much-better-off. 

Obviously, any article that tells you how to best live your life must be taken with extra shakes of salt when it appears in the Sunday Styles section. You know, with the celebrity profiles and the fancy-shmancy wedding announcements. (While we're on the topic, ever wonder why the NYT parenting blog, Motherlode, is part of the Style section? I guess because parenting is all about what's trendy?) 

But this piece I can get behind. Because my kids love family stories. They can't get enough of them. Anything to do with me or their dad when we were kids, or their aunts and uncles, their grandparents, even great-grandparents. Not only do they love these stories, but they really listen to them. They can tell them back to us. 

A favorite is about my brother Jeremy. Here's how the story goes:
Jeremy, age four, was play-driving in the family car, which was parked in the driveway beside our house. He somehow released the break. The car rolled down the driveway and half-way down the street where it stopped against a curb. Either I, or Ben, alerted our mother. And we all went running down the hill to find little Jeremy the car-enthusiast and trouble-seeker, still behind the wheel, still pretending to drive. 
Oh, do my kids love this story. They want to hear all the details. Where were you? Where was Ben? How old was everyone? What did Savta do? 

I have to embellish when I tell it since I can't check the details on Wikipedia. I have no doubt that my little synopsis is all wrong. But that's essentially how I remember it, so that's how it gets told.

Ruby's favorite stalling tactic at bedtime, along with "get me a drink" and "what are we doing tomorrow?" and "what should I think about?" is: "Tell me three stories about the family." She and Bella have an endless thirst for stories like that Uncle Jeremy ditty. And so I tell them: about the professions of our relatives, and where they lived, and about trips I took when I was a kid, and things that Josh and I did together before they were born, and on and on. 

But here's the awesome part: according to the article, all that story telling that we do is great for kids. Telling family stories and sustaining a family mythology helps children build self-confidence and resilience, because children learn that they belong to a unit that is bigger than themselves. The best thing you can do for your kids is to "create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones."

This warms my heart, both as a writer who already believes in the power of a good story, and as a mom who can now, for once, pat myself on the back. 


  1. Thank you for this story, Rachel! We have the same experience in our family - my kids love stories about how my family came from Russia, what Russia was like, what was it like to have been born in another country, their requests for these stories always amaze me, but I'm so happy to know that I'm actually helping them; usually I just worry that they're going to bed too late listening to my stories; now I'll remember that it's worth it.

    1. It's good to know, right? And so great that your kids love hearing your's so important that they hear from you how far you've come, and where you've been, especially with a dramatic immigration story like yours. My suburban childhood stories are comparably ordinary. And yet my kids still love them.

    2. Another voice of thanks for this story!
      Also, I find it very appropriate for Passover. I'm heading out to my family seder to tell a similar kind of story over family dinner, and just printed out your article and the NYTimes article to which you referred so I can share it over dinner. Thank you & Happy Passover! - Shayna

    3. I'm so glad that you chose to share this with your family. Love it.

  2. Nice piece.

    In our house, we tell "Little Daniel" and "Little Tasha" stories - short anecdotes from our childhoods, told more-or-less in the third person (unless and until we slip and start using "I" instead "she" or "he"). Sometimes they have a moral ("...and that's how Little Daniel learned that we don't juggle chicken bones."), but often, they're just little snippets of our personal histories. What's amazing to both of us is how different our lives were then from how our kids live now. And how interesting they find those differences to be...

    1. Thanks, Dan. I would love to be a fly on the wall for a "Little Daniel or Tasha" story. What a great tradition, and starts putting things in perspective for the kids.


Thank you for your comments!