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Why Grandparents Need To Tell Family Stories

Grandparents need to be the curators of family history.

By Larry Fowler – Author of four books dealing with children. You can learn about his FREE webinar on grandparenting, The Legacy Mission, June 19, 20, and 21 here.

Grandparents need to be the curators of family history.  We usually think about doing it family storiesto preserving memories, but there’s another reason.  Family history—in the form of family stories—is also helpful for meeting three needs of the grandkids.  My grandchildren all need identity, wisdom, and acceptance, and as a grandparent, I can help develop all three in them through our family stories.  Here’s what I mean:

Identity and its connection to family.  Every child needs it, and searches for it.  Sometimes it is found in an interest, like music or sports.  Sometimes, it’s found in a special talent or gift.  But it is always connected to relationships, especially those within the family.  Adolescents who have found little identity there will seek it in peers, or any group that offers it.

You can help your grandkids gain a sense of identity by how you talk about your family line and history.  Here’s what to do: talk about the privilege of being in the family of your ancestors; talk about the honor of carrying your family name.  Make sure it means something special to be part of your “clan”.  So what if there is no good identity with the past?  Or if there is no past (as in the case of many adopted children)?  Then challenge your grandchildren with the opportunity that they have to begin their own legacy.

family storiesWisdom and its connection to family stories.  It goes without saying that every child needs this too; and you can use family stories to help impart wisdom to your grandkids.  It boils down to how you tell the stories.  Make sure you don’t just relate events from the past; think what you learned in the event, and be sure to communicate it as well.  Grandma, if it is a story about how you set up a picnic spread too close to an anthill, make sure you talk about how you learned to more carefully evaluate a situation before taking action.  This involves some thinking on your part; you have to remember what the lesson learned was, not merely the details of the story! 

Acceptance and its connection to family stories of failure.  Let’s be real; in every family, there is failure.  ALL of us have done it, and hopefully we’ve bounced back.  We’ve disappointed others in our family; and they’ve forgiven us and we’ve moved on.  

Some grandparents don’t want to tell the failure stories; only the ones that make them look good.  But when they project only the positive, they are setting their grandkids up for feeling rejected when—not if—they fail.  Of course, there are appropriate and inappropriate times to be transparent and share stories of failure, but they are important.  Maybe, even more important than stories of success.  Hearing about how grandpa got every promotion ever offered will likely have a negative effect when a grandson gets passed over; conversely, hearing how grandpa got fired because he didn’t work hard enough will likely be a great lesson that can help a grandson avoid the same pitfall.

So, Grandpa and Grandma, be intentional about your family stories; you’ll contribute a lot to your family legacy by doing so.

Christine Crosby

About the author

Christine is the co-founder and editorial director for GRAND Magazine. She is the grandmother of five and great-grandmom (aka Grandmere) to one. She makes her home in St. Petersburg, Florida.

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