Several weeks ago, I had a call with a man who has become inundated with too much information. “I have boxes and boxes of memories,” he said. “My mom saved everything when I was growing up—tests from grade school, yearbooks, certificates, art projects, soccer trophies—I’ve got it all.” He sighed. “My wife says I should just throw it all away, but what if I get rid of something that’s really important?”
“Here’s the thing,” I told him, “future generations need the most important parts of you. You don’t want your kids to have to dig through eighteen boxes of memorabilia to try to figure out what matters.” Sure, we could take pictures of all his stuff and archive it, which is what I recommended. But in order for this man to have a purposeful legacy, he needs to highlight the essential pieces of his life that will most help his children and grandchildren.
In his book, The Secrets of Happy Families, Bruce Feiler writes about the “Do You Know Scale.” The Do You Know Scale is a list of twenty questions asked of children in over four dozen families in a study conducted by Dr. Duke and Dr. Fivush at Emory University. What they found is that children who have an idea about their family’s past have higher levels of self-esteem, an internal locust of control, better family functioning, lower anxiety, fewer behavioral problems and better resiliency.
It’s extremely important to document your roots to give you an anchor. Where did you come from? What are key family stories throughout the years? What is your family lineage? What are significant events that shaped your heritage?
There are ways to document and archive this information that is engaging for your family. Ongoing family milestones—such as births, marriages, and graduations— should also be documented to give a sense of time and place to future generations.
Doing this correctly can be a little tricky because you can become bogged down with too much inconsequential information like the man who called me. Does anyone care that he earned a B+ on one of his many spelling tests in fourth grade? It’s similar to saving a newspaper from last year. When you look back at the stock market fluctuations, who cares Apple was down 1.45%?
Essential Stories Your Kids Need To Know
So, what should you pass on? Photos and mementos are fantastic – especially if you’ve found the best ones and compiled them into a book or some sort of slideshow and then given those images further meaning by explaining who is in the photos, when they were taken, etc. But what’s really going to enhance the lives of your children are stories that give them a foundation of self value. The following are the top five stories your children need to know in order to build their self-esteem. Your goal should always be to create a positive continuing dialog with your children and these stories will get the conversation started.
Story 1: Life Before Them.
Your children need to know how their parents met, what it was like for you as a child growing up and early memories you have about your childhood, teen years, what school you went to, etc.
Story 2: Their History
Your children need to know about each side of their family tree—their grandparents, great grandparents and anything you can tell them about where they came from. Why did you pick their name? What significance does it have? What was it like in the hospital when they were born?
Story 3: The Tough Times
Explain to your children about difficult times members of your family have gotten through. For example, how their great grandfather made it through the depression and started a business. Tell them about your personal struggles and how you persevered. This will give them a sense that they can preserver as well.
Story 4: The Happy Times
Tell your children about what makes you happy—your greatest loves, your passions, people you’ve loved and goals you’ve striven for and accomplished.
Story 5: Lessons to Live By
If you could only give your children 2 to 3 main principles to guide their lives, what would those be in short, concise statements? Now, think of a story to illustrate each principle and tell the story to reinforce it.
Make It Fun
If you encounter above-average resistance (i.e. extreme eye rolling, whining or anger), don’t force your stories on your family. Wait until the time is right. Otherwise, you run the risk of your family associating your stories with drudgery.
Allow for Feedback
The idea of telling your stories is to create open communication. If your kids have questions or would like to make comments, be open and accepting. Never make them feel like they’ve said a dumb thing or shouldn’t be allowed to respond.
Don’t Act Like a Dictator
Your kids will have their own ideas and want to develop into their own people. The idea of telling these stories is not to force your kids to follow your principles to the letter, but to give them a solid foundation upon which to base their growth. One hopes that if they are taught right and grow up in a home with parents of high character, they will follow those footsteps, but they must be trusted to act independently as they grow and mature.
Questions from the “Do You Know Scale” study:
1. Do you know how your parents met?
2. Do you know where your mother grew up?
3. Do you know where your father grew up?
4. Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?
5. Do you know where some of your grandparents met?
6. Do you know where your parents were married?
7. Do you know what went on when you were being born?
8. Do you know the source of your name?
9. Do you know some things about what happened when your brothers or sisters were being born?
10. Do you know which person in your family you look most like?
11. Do you know which person in the family you act most like?
12. Do you know some illnesses and injuries your parents experienced when they were younger?
13. Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences?
14. Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?
15. Do you know the national background of your family (such as English, German, Russian, etc)?
16. Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?
17. Do you know some awards that your parents received when they were young?
18. Do you know the names of the schools that your mom went to?
19. Do you know the names of the schools that your dad went to?
20. Do you know about a relative whose face “froze” in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?
Source: Huffington Post: http://www. huffingtonpost.com/marshall-p-duke/ the-stories-that-bind-us-_b_2918975.html
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