Family narratives are important. On Monday, we found out just how important at a private lunch we hosted with the Seattle Foundation. The speaker was Marshall Duke, Ph.D., Emory University professor and presenter of The Family Stories that Bind Us. Dr. Duke talked to us about the surprising finding of his decades-long research: Children – both young and older — who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges. How much children know can be gauged through a series of questions, such as:
***What is the source of your name?
***Where did your grandparents grow up?
***What are some of the lessons your parents learned from good or bad experiences?
The answers to these and 17 other questions on Dr. Duke’s “Did You Know” scale come out of family talks you can have virtually anytime you’re together — floating on a lake, around the table, in the car. Regardless of whether a family is well-off or poor, if the children are told about the lives of their parents, grandparents and even great-great grandparents, they tend to have higher levels of self-esteem, more self-control, better family functioning, lower levels of anxiety, fewer behavioral problems, and better chances for good outcomes if a child faces educational or emotional/behavioral difficulties.
Especially powerful are stories about a family’s specific successes, struggles and how the family bounced back from challenging times. This helps the younger generations see that they, too, can overcome adversity. Shared stories not only unite a family but allow its members to handle challenges in the future. That’s a great insight and an important reminder for all of us to gather with our families and share more of our stories.
Read our in-depth interview with Dr. Duke to find out what you need to know to make the most of family stories.
A special thanks to Kim Wright, Director of Family Philanthropy at the Seattle Foundation, for helping to make this lunch possible.