It’s the eve before Toothless’ birthday and we’re enjoying a goodnight snuggle as I start to tell him the story of his birth. He wriggles and giggles with anticipation – he’s heard this many times before, and he delights in this special tale that is all about how incredible it was that he came to join our family that day.
It’s a story I love telling him. Partly to remind him how much he has always been loved; and partly because I remember when I was his size, on the eve before my birthdays, and how loved and cherished I felt each time mum told me MY birth story.
Our parents were always tellers of stories and our family folklore takes on a life of its own. I know that mum scratching her leg will turn on the light; that even if my little sister “did it she wouldn’t have”; and how the kind ladies gave strawberries and fish to my dad until they mistook my mother for his mistress. I know what happens in a kitchen floor episode; we still tease dad about the bits and pieces; and my cousins will attest to the Evil Uncle with his glasses falling down his face who actually Peeled Back the Roof of the Tent whilst we were Astral-Traveling.
As I said, it’s now folklore.
It turns out that what my parents did instinctively – as many others have for generations – was incredibly important to our development throughout childhood. Who knew, huh? Thanks Mum’n’Dad.
The importance of telling family stories:
- A study of 48 families by Dr Duke and Dr Fivush (Emory University, 2001) established that a child’s knowledge of their family history is the strongest predictor of their overall health and well-being, and that the more children know about their family history, the greater sense of control they have over their lives.
- When parents reminisce about everyday events with their children, those children learn to tell richer, more complete narratives. They also demonstrate greater understanding about the thoughts and emotions of others (empathy).
- Families that collaboratively discuss everyday events and family history have tweens with higher self-esteem and stronger self-concepts.
- Adolescents who are well versed in their family history have better coping skills, and lower rates of depression and anxiety.
- A family narrative that includes ups and downs in their family history, with a unifying message that through it all the family held together, develops resiliency in children.
- Family stories communicate family beliefs, values, and important life lessons of the family system.
The jacarandas are in bloom again. In my family’s stories, we know the jacarandas herald the arrival of my big sister. The whole country blossoms to celebrate her birth. Toothless doesn’t get to have the jacarandas in his story, instead he hears of how his jacaranda Aunt was the one who made his belly button so his bum won’t fall off. She lives a long way away, my sister. I hope her street is full of stunning purple blossoms, and if she can’t quite remember her birth story, I know a special lady who tells it really well.