Rose Osborne, 67, was a registered nurse for 45 years before retiring to become a personal historian, owner and creator of Write My Journey, a life story writing service that turns memories into a beautiful hardcover book. Read Rose’s past columns on memoir writing here, here, here, here and here.
The little one snuggles into her bed of soft, plump covers and pillows that secure her voyage into the magic of slumber and dreams. The warm smell that the closeness of sleep generates is hypnotic in itself. The happy hours of the day are giving way to the sandman’s visit.
“Tell me what it was like when you were my age,” the little one softly whispers into her parent’s loving face.
“I will tomorrow,” the parent reflects. “I want to catch the final of The Voice tonight. You’ve had a book and now it’s off to sleep.”
So, when is the right time to tell your child family stories and if you don’t do it, who will?
Family stories live within memories, and if not told and retold, they die and are as if they never happened. But they did happen and were integral to families’ lives and internal culture. It is everyone’s responsibility to share family knowledge. If they are not retold, essential elements of people’s lives are lost.
Stories are traditional communication
Stories are a traditional method of communication throughout all cultures and have been used for centuries to transmit wisdom, inspiration and life lessons.
The perception is that storytelling belongs to older generations and is relevant only to the olden days. The fact is storytelling is for everyone and every age. Life stories are accumulative and dynamic and will provide much more than appreciating family heritage. Understanding the DNA of your personality, character and relationships may be crucial to a family member at some important point in their life.
Being known as the family storyteller is a powerful position to remind families of their values and strengths.
Child development and life lessons partner neatly with family stories
Engaging children in storytelling is an excellent way to promote language and empathy skills, as well as ensuring children have an understanding of being part of something that is larger than them. Many life lessons can be passed on through stories and making them interactive increases the benefits that will flow.
My young granddaughter loves to start her dreams with a story. She was having a particularly rough trot at one time – always in trouble with her Daddy. I thought it may be timely to tell stories of Daddy at her age and his escapades that landed him in a bit of trouble.
Her big eyes engaged with my mouth as if she didn’t want to miss a word. She listened intently and asked many questions as she learned about Daddy breaking two windows in one afternoon. She agreed that he had to own up to what he did to cause the windows to break.
A powerful resilience builder in children is the knowledge that grown-ups were once children and had similar experiences and the theme of parents not always being right is a popular one.
My husband is always the one to interrupt and say “that’s not quite right”. However, I challenge the view that it is not the facts that are most important, but the sense of engaging children in the past they share with their family.
Right story, right context, right moment
The key is picking the right story for the right moment and the right context. Car rides and walks are always great opportunities to stimulate interesting conversation with young people, as well as night-time chats and quiet times.
Some things I bear in mind when picking family stories for my grandchildren:
- Keep the child in focus – what is happening with them, what is their present joy or woe, current fears or curiosities and, of course, their developmental age?
- Are there any photos or family news items that could be engaging through storytelling?
- Are there any celebrations or successes that could be related to previous generations?
- Children love animal stories, and a story of past generations and their animals is always fun.
Teach your children to be storytellers
People are remembered for one generation only, but stories can be remembered indefinitely. Oral stories can change each time they are retold, but I feel that adds complexity and richness and perhaps keeps them contemporary. A comment that always comes up in my Life Writing business when a client is relating ancestors’ stories, ‘Well, I think it is true’.
Best of all, family storytelling is a free resource that can happen anywhere. The rewards are immeasurable and the outcomes amazing. If you are not a family storyteller, start today, and you could be teaching a skill that will last for generations.
Alternatively, call me and let’s document some of your family stories.
Contact Rose on 0407 487 495 or visit the website at, www.writemyjourney.com.