“Grammie, tell me again about when you were little and your brother locked you in the chicken feed bin when you were visiting your Grandma Chubala’s farm, and he wouldn’t let you out.”
My brother really did do that to me… and it was pretty traumatic thing to happen to a city kid. Lance had talked me into crawling through the tiny square door near the top of the small, round-topped shed, insisting he would follow close behind me. I fell into the pale yellow feed on the floor and by the time I stood up and was brushing myself off, the door had closed and I heard the click of the hook being placed in its ring. It was dark and difficult to breathe with the feed dust floating in the air. I yelled and yelled, my fear rising and rising (I am claustrophobic, after all) and all I heard in response were the cows mooing near the barn. Finally, after what must have been 127 hours (hope you got that reference), the small door opened, the sunlight burst in, hurting my eyes, and there was my grandma. The only consolation was she gave me a cookie and my brother got the sharp point of her anger.
Retelling stories like these is not simply a way to entertain your grandchildren. Over the past 25 years, there has been a lot of research that shows that family stories shared with children help them in many ways. For instance, children of families who tell stories from the past demonstrate better understanding of other people’s thought and actions. When stories are told with lots of detail to young children, they learn to tell more detailed stories to other adults. Preteen kids whose families talk about everyday events and family history with them often have higher self-esteem and better concepts of themselves. Adolescents with a stronger knowledge of their family history have more developed identities, lower rates of depression, and better coping skills.
Those are amazing benefits!
Research shows that children and teenagers can learn from family stories about life’s harder moments, as long as those stories are told in a way that is sensitive to the understanding of the child, and as long as something good can be learned from the experience. Maybe share the story of how Uncle Brian’s house burned down one summer, but concentrate on how the community rallied around them, and how they came to make new lifelong friends going through that tough experience. You as a grandmother can tell stories about yourself as a girl in ways that will give you a chance to talk about sacrifice and perseverance.
As you and your grandchild are washing the dishes together or weeding the garden, tell them family stories about things like:
- When their mother or father were small and got into mischief.
- How your cousin practiced every day for a month, but still didn’t make the track team.
- About the day they were born and how their parents had to travel to the hospital in a snowstorm.
- The story of your wedding day and the crazy relatives who came to the reception.
- How great-grandpa used to own a dog who had no tongue and the dog always used to wipe dirty saliva on your pant legs and drink water like a bird (this is a true story).
- How when you were their age your dog was lost and how scared you were, and then thankfully he was found in a farmer’s barn.
- How their great great-grandparents arrived here from the Old Country and spoke not a word of English.
- How your grandpa could be heard yodeling across the farmers’ fields as he went to court your grandma (that is a true story that I always loved about my own Polish grandfather).
And what is wonderful is that, unlike books, the family stories that you tell are free and can be told anywhere, anytime..
There is a great article from the New York Times called, “The Stories That Bind Us”, which you will want to read. It suggests that the single most important thing you can do for your family is develop a strong family narrative. The article says, “The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.” Read this interesting article here: The Stories That Bind Us
Another great idea would be to compile the stories you tell into a book that your family can cherish and read long after you are gone. Stories can be forgotten or distorted as time passes, but having them recorded would ensure that future generations can enjoy hearing about the lives of people from their family tree. It is something that can be continually added to.
So gung ho grandma, share all those family stories with your grandchildren that you carry in all the corners of your memory. They will bring you all closer together, and strengthen and bind your family… and for me, they will help me remember what it was like to be locked in a chicken feed bin.
Leave a comment below and share family stories you have shared with your grandchildren. … I would love to hear about them!
And if you like the idea of sharing family stories with grandchildren, please share it with other grandmas!