The Power of Family Stories: Building Resilience and Connection Across Generations

By Michal Lloyd

In the words of author Salman Rushdie, “Stories in families are colossally important. Every family has stories: some funny, some proud, some embarrassing, some shameful. Knowing them is proof of belonging to the family.” 

It’s undeniable that our family stories shape our identities and provide us with a sense of belonging. They serve as a bridge between generations, highlighting the values and experiences that have shaped our family’s history.

My family, hailing from the Dakotas, has always perceived ourselves as rugged, hard-working folks with a somewhat dark sense of humor. We are also hearty eaters who prefer a burger to a fancy dinner most days. 

In my own family, my mother used to run to her grandmother’s house when she and her mother didn’t get along. Grandma would give her a knife and tell her to start chopping – a simple task that ultimately created a strong bond between the two, teaching my mother the value of hard work and the art of crafting the perfect strawberry rhubarb pie.

However, sharing stories isn’t solely a means of passing down wisdom and values. It’s also a two-way street that benefits both the child and older adults. Children bring a renewed sense of energy to their elders, fostering intergenerational bonds that improve the quality of life for everyone involved.

When most of my great grandmother’s children had finally moved away, one of her sons called on the party line–two long rings and a short ring–and asked her how she was doing. She said, “Living on pie, sonny.” She didn’t have company and she filled her empty days with delicious pie. We have ways to connect now that they didn’t have then. The power of video chat can come in handy.            

I always thought it was funny that when my mother and my great uncle went off to college, they were each sent with a case of eggs. I remembered the story and recalled it to my mother. She said Grandma also gave her a goose, which she cooked for her roommates. That made me laugh. Here my mom was a young student in 1966 cooking a goose in a dorm room.

But not all family stories are warm and cozy, and I think there is also some value in appreciating our flaws as well as our victories. There isn’t just one family in Minnesota with addiction and mental health issues. The problems we see playing out in the news happen to us all. One Christmas when I was young, we went to Christmas dinner at my grandparents’ house and sadly my grandmother passed out in her mashed potatoes. A little too much eggnog, and knowing my grandmother, some drama for effect. Mom and I discussed it on the way home. It didn’t seem funny at the time, but I was sure I didn’t want my child to see me pass out in mashed potatoes or even a humble pot roast. 

As parents and caregivers, we can help develop these connections that are made and cherished–if not now, when our kids get older. Engaging grandparents as a resource can help build resilience in children while significantly enriching the lives of older adults. Encourage your children to spend time with their grandparents, ask questions, and listen to the tales that make up the fabric of your family’s history.Also, these positive relationships can protect against teen drug and alcohol misuse, promoting healthier, more fulfilling lives.

In today’s fast-paced world, it’s essential now more than ever for children to have meaningful human connections. While television and smartphones can keep kids entertained for hours, these devices offer one-way communication, lacking the crucial feedback loop necessary for children’s healthy growth and development. Face-to-face interactions with authentic voices are invaluable in a child’s life. Grandparents or even an elder friend can provide additional support against stressors that children face and help build resilience. In doing so, you promote resilience and character in your children and strengthen the bonds that tie generations together.

Create opportunities to share family stories through conversations, scrapbooking, video calls, or oral histories. By valuing and preserving these narratives, we help solidify our children’s sense of belonging and identity, paving the way for a more connected and resilient future.

Looking for ways to help build connection? Try our Convo Cards and 30-Day Challenge.