Newswise — During the holidays, Wake Forest University Professor of Counseling Samuel Gladding and his family will walk through the “halls of remembrance” at their home. Hanging on the walls are the picture collages Gladding and his wife, Claire, have created for every year since they’ve been married. The collages include highlights from each year: trips, soccer games, plays, family outings.
Why is sharing family history at this time of year so important?
Gladding, who has written several books on family counseling, says, “it strengthens individuals and it strengthens families. If you know the past, you are much more likely to benefit from it and be inspired or determined to make the future better or at least as good as the past.”
When families gather for the holidays, Gladding says it can be the perfect opportunity to share family stories that will benefit younger and older generations.
Benefits to younger generations:
“Knowing family stories can inspire children to ask ‘Can I do as well or better?’” Gladding says. “If you don’t have something to aspire to, you probably won’t grow.”
When a grandparent shares a story about becoming a Navy pilot after being turned down on his first try, it helps convey the importance of perseverance. Or, when a favorite aunt tells the story of how she moved to New York City to find a job at age 18, it shows how taking chances and courage can open doors.
Knowing something about the past creates a sense of appreciation for the challenges older relatives may have overcome. The stories can be useful reference points for handling difficulties in their own lives. Children can understand differences and similarities in their lives and the lives of their grandparents that can build stronger relationships and broaden perspectives.
Benefits to older generations:
“Incorporating stories of your life into a finely woven fabric that makes sense and helps validate the idea that ‘I lived my life well,’ is crucial for older adults,” Gladding says. “Not doing this can lead to despair and depression.” Sharing their personal history helps older adults in this critical process.
Telling stories that highlight how they have made their mark in the world can reinforce older adults’ self-worth. Getting good feedback from relatives can have a positive impact on their outlook. Thus stories work on multiple levels.
Even telling a difficult or tragic story can help older adults sort out their experiences. Through these stories they convey lessons to other family members Explaining the wisdom gained from life experiences to grandchildren or other young people allows older adults to pass along something of value to the next generation.
Tips for encouraging family storytelling during the holidays:
• Pre-plan to create a new storytelling tradition—Tell people in advance you would like them to share family stories during the holiday gathering. Set aside a particular time and place. Encourage them to bring photographs to help tell a story.
• Set expectations—Reassure everyone they won’t miss out on watching the football game on TV or any other activities they enjoy.
• Focus on lessons learned—Tell the storytellers to also share what they learned from the experience. Focusing on lessons learned translates family history into useful ideas for how to handle future situations. This can help other family members set goals.
• Record it—Appoint someone to be a scribe or make a video or audio recording.