Grandparents have a lot of wisdom and history to share with the next generations. Children love hearing the family stories, so it is important for grandparents to take time to talk with them and share their memories and experiences.
So why don’t more grandparents share their stories and life experiences? I’ve heard all too often that they think their life is boring and not worth talking about. Or they worry that they aren’t a good enough writer and so can’t properly record stories to make them interesting.
Do you remember your grandparents telling you stories when you were a child? You probably loved them. Although, you may have not seen them as important family history, it’s those simple things that live in our heart. Those memories are what make up our lives, and they’re definitely something to treasure.
I’ve been blessed with a cousin, Reba, who became a professional genealogist and compiled a wealth of our family stories and history. In the first book she compiled, she told the story of what got her interested in her family history.
Her grandmother (my 2nd great-grandmother) had a worn, old trunk. She began telling little Reba about all the pretty things and the stories that went along with them as she carefully took each item from the trunk. Reba was fascinated as grandma handled each item from a by-gone era gently in her hands.
“Show me something else, Grandma,” she cried, eagerly peering into the trunk packed with other story-telling items from her earlier life. Keepsakes that recalled precious memories of the golden years of her youth in Cedar Valley. Treasures brought over the long span of miles into the wilderness that was to become Oklahoma. The trunk was better than a gold mine to a wide-eyed youngster; her stories more exciting than Cinderella, Little Women, or Gone with the Wind ever were to be.1
That grandmother of ours had lived through the American Civil War. I recall hearing that she would say, “That was the War Between the States, there was nothing civil about it.” To her, it was just that part of her growing up years that she would just as soon forget, but to the generations who have followed, it was a front-row seat to an important piece of history!
Why are family stories important?
There are so many reasons that we should share our family stories, but have you really stopped to think just how important those reasons are? Here is some food for thought why we should share who we are with our posterity.
They help children feel secure and bolster their self-image
Children need to feel like they belong in order to feel secure. When they hear stories from their ancestors, they begin to connect themselves to their family. They tend to relate personality traits, physical characteristics, and behaviors of their ancestors to themselves. Ever stop to think just where your blue eyes came from? Or do you wonder. . .just where did I get my impatience or my love of the outdoors?
They can help children understand where they fit in
Often seeing themselves as unconnected to the world around them, hearing stories from the past will help them see how they fit into their own family as well as their bigger community around them.
They help strengthen family ties
As a child who was not very familiar with her maternal grandparents, I felt very disconnected to them. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until after she was gone that I read the life history that my grandmother left. As I read her journal, I began to understand so much more about her and felt a real connection that I never had while she was alive.
When we know people better, we can relate to them and understand more about who they truly are. How much better is this when those people are still with us?
Pictures tell us a lot, but without the family stories that accompany them, some pictures become incomplete or irrelevant over time.
I don’t know about you, but I have an awful lot of pictures in albums, scrapbooks, and boxes! There are many of those photos that are associated with treasured family memories. I lived those events, but for the most part, my grandchildren didn’t. If I don’t leave stories – either verbally or in writing – along with those photos, they will be meaningless except to see us standing in someone’s home or against a famous landmark. Over time, even some of the people’s names have faded from memory.
Indeed, we want to remember fun or memorable times together as a family and record those moments in photos. However, I have discovered that you should not only take the pictures but tell the stories and memories associated with those photos as often as possible.
Just last year, the “memory keeper” of our family passed away. My sweet sister-in-law was the one who seemed to remember every detail even from decades ago. Who of us will ever be able to recover the stories that she kept in her heart and memory?
They help preserve family values and shape individual values as well
Hearing what family members have done in previous situations can help children understand how to make good decisions and learn about the things that are most important to their family. Strong values that are passed down from generation to generation help build solid individuals who know who they are.
They help us to preserve the past and connect generations
I think it goes without saying that sharing memories and stories with our family members, we can preserve the past and our family’s history. However, there is something magical that family stories can do to bridge the gap of years between family members.
My great-great-grandmother used to go with her friends and cousins on little weekend trips together. On one of those outings, she wrote in her journal as she watched the sun rise while sitting atop Lookout Mountain in Tennessee. Just over 150 years later, I was able to sit at the top of that same mountain at sunset and write in my own journal.
She lived in the 1800s and sometimes, when I read her journal, I’m fascinated to feel so connected to an ancestor that I had never met in person. Yet, through her stories, she transports me to a long-ago past and has introduced me to people and things in history that I never knew before.
They help construct the family narrative
So often, the stories are each just small parts of a greater whole. But together, those things tell who we are as a family and the things we cherish. This is something that can guide decisions when hard things come to a family.
For instance, in our family, we have gone through some pretty difficult challenges. So, we adopted a family motto: Love. . .no matter what. As we pass this motto down from generation to generation, it will stand to remind us and others what is most important to our family.
Kids who know a lot about their family tend to do better when faced with challenges
Interesting, right? There are studies that show that the more children know about their family, the better they do when faced with difficult decisions. I believe that this is due to many of the reasons we’ve already talked about.
They can help put a child’s own experiences into perspective
As a teenager, I had learned that one of my grandmothers had been through a very similar experience to my own. Unfortunately, it was after she had passed away that I learned about that. However, knowing about my grandmother gave me strength and relief that things would work out and that I could do hard things.
As you can see, it is so important to tell our stories to our children and grandchildren. Our experiences will bless our posterity even long after we’re gone.
Children love to hear the family stories
My granddaughter will sit down and ask us to tell some of the family stories. . .especially if they are about her! Family stories make great bedtime stories, because they are about real people who the child can relate to.
In addition, family stories can help open conversation with those grandchildren who sometimes find talking to adults difficult or awkward. Sometimes a family story is the perfect ice breaker for those hard-to-talk-to teens.
Do you hesitate to write down your family stories?
The survival of our family’s stories is vital to the legacy we want those stories to leave for our posterity. We want to be remembered and future generations deserve a glimpse into who we were and what shaped our lives. When our stories are not written down, the memories will often fade with time and may disappear altogether after we’re gone. This is why significant events from our lives need to be documented in some way. Write them. Speak them. Record them. Do whatever is most comfortable for you.
There may be memories or life events that may be difficult to talk about to others. My father-in-law found many of his military experiences hard to talk about even decades after they happened. However, when my son was finished with his military service, my father-in-law felt comfortable talking to him. I suppose he thought my son would understand when no one else would. It truly became a connection that strengthened the relationship between my son and his grandfather.
At my father-in-law’s funeral, my son told stories that no one – not even my mother-in-law – had ever heard. I found a new respect and love for my father-in-law that day. I had no idea what he had been through during his military service. Now, so those stories are not lost to time, I’ve asked my son to write them down so we can preserve them.
Sharing Your Family Stories is One of the Most Important Gifts to Give Your Family
One of the most important things a grandparent can do for their grandchildren is to share family stories with them. Stories are priceless and they don’t need to be told in person. They can also be shared through letters, phone calls, or other forms of communication. The sooner you start sharing your stories with your children and grandchildren, the better!
Don’t’ wait. Take time to share your family stories today! Write down some memories from when you were younger and be sure to include stories that have been passed on to you by older relatives too!
Grandparent Legacy Journals
If you have been thinking about writing down your life’s experiences, I created a couple of journals to help you get started. These journals are a bit different than the normal chronological-type journal where you have to remember names, dates, and places.
Instead, the Legacy Journals give you 52 topics to write about. With each topic is a quote and a prompt to get you thinking. You can write about your values and the experiences that have shaped who you have become. You can write down your stories for your family to enjoy now and when your no longer with them.
We have brought back our special offer! Right now, you can get the Pen/Bookmark Set FREE when you purchase a journal. The Grandmother’s journal comes with a beautiful floral pen with coordinating magnetic bookmark, and the Grandfather’s journal comes with a fine writing pen with magnetic bookmark.
*Grandmother Legacy Journals are back in stock now
and ready to ship!
*Grandfather Legacy Journals are in stock now
and ready to ship!
- Collins, R. N. (1975). History of the Janes-Peek family: From Grandma’s little Trunk. Edmond, OK: Edmond Printing.