When I encounter a new, compelling parenting concept for the early childhood years, I often feel disappointed. My youngest is a teenager and I realize there are no opportunities for me to turn back the clock and try motherhood from the get go. But as I read bestselling author Bruce Feiler’s column in The New York Times, The Stories that Bind Us, I wondered if his ideas about family history might be as applicable to those who parent a 7 year old as those whose “baby” is 17.
In his book, The Secrets of Happy Families: Improve Your Mornings, Tell Your Family History, Fight Smarter, Go Out and Play, and Much More, Feiler poses a fundamental question: “What are the ingredients that make some families effective, resilient, happy?” The answer, he found, is in creating a “strong family narrative.”
In this article, Feiler draws on research by Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush of Emory University who discovered that children who knew more about their families showed greater resiliency than those who knew little. Drs. Duke and Fivush believe that the “oscillating” family history, including both successes and setbacks, gives kids the strongest self-confidence.
Feiler also offers a supporting theory by Jim Collins, a management expert and author of Good to Great. Collins believes in the power of organizations and families alike in identifying core values and urges families to adopt a “mission statement,” much like corporations.
Feiler summarizes his beliefs:
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.
Clearly, instilling core values such as kindness, honesty, or a strong work ethic cannot begin too early. Telling the story of grandparents overcoming financial disaster or an aunt courageously battling health issues can provide kids with positive examples from which to draw.
It strikes me, though, that there are other stories best revealed to older kids, when they can understand that life is streaked with grey and not exclusively colored black or white. If a family history includes chapters with complicated storylines, our older kids may take heart in knowing that challenges they experience have already been faced, and, one hopes, overcome, by those they know and trust the most.
The opportunity for us to weave our family history into the present never ends. Fortunately, this is one parenting concept that has no expiration date.