Are you aware that children who know details about their family history--where their parents and grandparents grew up, how they overcame difficulties, what their hopes and dreams were as a child or teenager, where certain family traditions came from, how their parents and grandparents met, what their first car or house was like--are emotionally healthier and happier? Dr. Marshall Duke and Dr. Robyn Fivush developed the “Do You Know…?” scale, sometimes called “The 20 Questions,” that tap into different kinds of family stories. The questions were designed as a starting point for sharing family stories and the result was that knowing about one's family history gave rootedness in something bigger than themselves. The process of families sharing stories about their lives provides bedrock upon which to build our own future. The links at the bottom of this blog give more details about the research.
As a child, I remember visiting my mother's parents in Doylestown, PA where my grandfather had a shoe store. My mother told me that in the beginning, my grandfather would buy shoes in Philadelphia and sell them out of the trunk of his car before he opened a store. I was impressed with his entrepreneurship! My father, as the youngest of ten children, became his family's historian and has authored several books that provide a rich history of where I come from. As a teenager, I enjoyed wearing bib overalls, much to the amusement of my father. I learned that he was eager to put wearing bib overalls behind him when he entered high school. As the youngest son of a farmer, it was a practical thing to wear and often, the clothes were handed down because times were hard during WW2.
Whether you are a parent or a grandparent or even a beloved uncle or aunt, the children in your lives need to hear stories of where they came from. Below are some questions to get you started in the family tradition of telling your stories.
Dr. Marshall Duke at Emory University: www.youtube.com/watch?v=8jE_oaW-ezc
Dr. Robyn Fivush: www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-stories-our-lives/201611/the-do-you-know-20-questions-about-family-stories
As a parent or grandparent, it is easy to see the mistakes that we have made: losing our temper, being late to pick up our kid afterschool, burning the dinner, forgetting an adult child's birthday, saying something mean in the heat of the moment that we cannot easily take back, missing a drama or orchestra performance because of work, and so many more.
I was challenged by my pastor in a recent sermon to claim my victories of the past year because if I don't, I can lose perspective of the growth and the areas in which I have made progress. In addition, we were encouraged to think of ten challenges considering what I learned through them. As the first blog post of 2023, this is a worthy exercise for each of us to undertake.
To make a list of your victories of 2022, start small. When I asked my husband about this task, he said, "First of all, I woke up every morning." That is indeed something to be grateful and to claim that I am still here, on this journey of life. One of my goals this past year was to continue to educate myself by reading and when I looked back, I realized I can claim the goal of reading at least one book per month. I also claim as a victory that my husband and I traveled 5+ hours every month to spend time with my 90-year parents. I have to say that listening to books on Audible on our car ride helped me achieve the victory of one book a month.
Your victories might include having a meal together as a family at least three or more times every week. Maybe it has to do with a new friendship that you are building or a relationship that you have begun to heal. Did you start any new projects or find service opportunities? Did you walk or exercise consistently? Perhaps, you found a unique way to connect with and celebrate the relationship with your spouse, child, or grandchild. I know a grandfather who communicates with his teenage grandson by texting and sending each other jokes that tickle their unique sense of humor.
How about the challenges that you faced? Did you discover that you are stronger than you thought? Did your capacity to find joy in small victories increase? Some of the things that I discovered through my challenges are:
I offer you the opportunity to look back on 2022 if you haven't already to claim your victories and contemplate what you learned from your challenges.
Once our adult children become parents, we naturally want to develop and nurture healthy, loving and enjoyable relationships with our grandchildren. Grandparenting can be our second chance to give what we missed giving the first time around. What greater legacy could there be than leaving one of love for our grandchildren? Grandparenting experts Tim and Darcy Kimmel, authors of Extreme Grandparenting have said, "We are the link to the past, the anchor to the present and the bridge to the future."
Currently, my husband and I are reading Doing Life With Your Adult Children--Keep Your Mouth Shut & The Welcome Mat Out by Jim Burns and we have discovered a great deal of wisdom throughout this book on topics such as:
One of the most interesting chapters for me was "Being a Grandparent May Be Your Biggest Legacy. I especially enjoyed the suggestions on connecting with and influencing our grandkids. The list below is adapted from Chapter 9 of Jim Burns' book.
If you are trying to figure out what gift to give your child, grandchild, niece or nephew--consider gifting an experience/the gift of time.
What would get the recipient of your gift excited? Maybe it is a day spent at a wonderful museum with interactive exhibits about outer space, art, animals or construction. It may be a special meal out with mom and dad and no other siblings. Perhaps it is going on a train ride to discover a new place. Maybe it is going camping and fishing or attending a concert. How about learning a new skill like painting, using a potter's wheel, snowboarding or gardening? Maybe it a plane ticket to fly to visit you during spring break. The possibilities are endless and limited only by your imagination.
One of the experiences that I remember as a child is from my recently released book: www.coachmyrna.org/7-gifts-to-give-your-child.html
All of us fall into the habit of purchasing lots of gifts for birthdays and holidays. We do so to express our love, but often what our child really wants most is to spend time together. I remember when my parents purchased two season passes to a series of cultural events. Each month, one of my siblings or I went with one parent to experience a string quartet or hear highlights from a musical performance of H.M.S. Pinafore. It meant getting dressed up and having time alone with my mom or dad. In addition, there was the opportunity to go backstage and meet the performers, see their costumes or instruments up close, and get them to sign the program. The memories of these evenings far outlasted any toy that I received.
I want to re-share a post from a few years ago because it has an important message for all of us as parents, grandparents and even aunts, uncles and other family members. I am not the author of this post but as a teacher for over 20 years, the truth of these words are so powerful.
Dear Parents & Grandparents,
I know at this time of year the sounds, smells and decorations of Christmas are everywhere. As a parent, there is pressure to make a perfect, magical experience. You want to create lasting memories and give your children the best gifts possible. Sometimes that means a lot of stress on you to get everything done. You may wonder how you can afford to buy all that their hearts’ desires or how you will possibly have enough time to fit everything in.
I want to tell you a secret. Every January, when your children come back to school, they tell me all about the Christmas holidays. I hear about the day that everyone stayed in their pajamas and watched favorite movies. They tell me about walking together in the freezing cold to get something at McDonalds. They remember driving around looking at the best decorated houses and having hot cocoa afterwards.
I hear about the morning that you didn’t have to go to work and how everyone snuggled together in your bed. Or about the days that they stayed at Grandma’s until you came back from work. They tell me about visiting cousins that they haven’t seen for a long time and how they stayed in a hotel with a pool. Sometimes, I hear about how they visited friends on New Year’s Eve and they got to stay awake until midnight. Or how it snowed and everyone had a huge snowball fight!
Usually they mention their presents, but for them Christmas is about you and your love, time, routines and feeling safe. You are their favorite gift!
(adapted from an Instagram post)
If you have adult children who are parents, consider giving them "7 Gifts to Give Your Child--Parenting That Will Touch Their Future" as a gift this year. www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09L7KS5VH
Recently on a bucket-list trip to the Mediterranean, my husband Michael and I had the opportunity to experience the Sagrada Familia (Holy Family Church) in Barcelona, Spain. An icon of the city, the Sagrada Familia boast bold, wildly creative, organic architecture and décor inside and out and is still a work in progress. In fact, the term gaudy comes from the name of the initial architect—Antoni Gaudi.
Begun in 1883 under the guidance and direction of Antoni Gaudi, it is an unusual masterpiece that is set to be finished in 2026. Despite his boldly modern architectural vision, Gaudi was a traditional and deeply religious man who designed the Sagrada Familia to be a place of solid Christine values amid what was a humble workers’ colony in a fast-changing city.
When he died, only one section of the church—the Nativity Façade—had been completed. The rest of the work has been inspired by his vision, but he knew that he wouldn’t live to complete it—thus allowing space for others to bring their own inspiration and faith to the project.
I am reminded how we need this long view in our families. Investing in our children isn’t only for today. It is for who they will become, the families they will have, and the grandchildren that will be born and grow up.
We must challenge ourselves to allow the process to unfold, not micromanaging every detail and over stressing about the future. Rather, like Gaudi, let’s provide support, guidance, vision, inspiration and trust for our children, youth and young adults as we imagine the way they will impact the future.
In her book “Letter to My Daughter,” Maya Angelou writes about her mother’s long view. When Ms. Angelou was twenty-two with a young son, two jobs, rented rooms and very little money, she was also fiercely independent and didn’t want to accept support from her mother, Ms. Vivian Baxter. Her mother, a successful businesswoman, was supportive and encouraged Maya’s self-reliance. Once a month, they did have a standing appointment to have lunch at her mother’s lavish home.
On one such occasion, Ms. Baxter spoke the words to Maya Angelou that reached into the future and guided her towards it, “Baby, I’ve been thinking and now I am sure. You are the greatest woman I’ve ever met. You are kind and very intelligent and those elements are not always found together. Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune, and my mother—yes, you belong in that category. Here, give me a kiss.”
I touch the future, I parent!
When you're a bucket filler, you make the world a better place! Using a simple metaphor of a bucket and a dipper, author Carol McCloud illustrates in her book “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” that when we choose to be kind, we not only fill the buckets of those around us, but also fill our own bucket!
Sometimes we forget this in our family relationships, at work and in the hectic pace of life. Living within a snow globe of swirling responsibilities, demands, checklists and choices is stressful. We need to stop and remember that life is a journey--not a race, a destination or a competition-but a beautiful journey to be walked, danced and enjoyed with those we care most about.
Our days are not something to survive, endure or merely get through but we are meant to enjoy and revel in our meaningful relationships. The world is changed by our example, not our opinion or words but how we live our lives!
So, this week, I challenge you to take time to let the snow globe settle. Make time to ask your daughter to tell you about her best friends at school and be present to her while she talks. Take your son to the hardware store and ask him to help with a project around the house. Cook dinner together. Go for a walk as a family. Use a meal time to talk about favorite family vacations. Call your son or daughter that is away at college. Make a lunch date for the next time they will be home. Write a text or mail a card to your adult children just to say you are thinking of them.
Read “Have You Filled A Bucket Today?” tinyurl.com/y6zes5vb and talk about ways your family can practice kindness in your neighborhood. Watch the YouTube video “Grateful: A Love Song to the World” together. www.youtube.com/watch?v=sO2o98Zpzg8 Challenge your kids to find other inspirational videos and Ted Talks to share with the family.
Buckminster Fuller, 20th century architect, inventor and visionary dedicated his life to making the world work for all of humanity. He said, "In order to change an existing paradigm you do not struggle to try and change the problematic model. You create a new model and make the old one obsolete. That, in essence, is the higher service to which we are all being called."
We all have the opportunity to create amazing experiences, connections and memories in our families and in the process, we heal ourselves and influence those around us.
Recently I heard the heartbeat of my unborn granddaughter! Separated by several thousand miles from her parents, this miracle came to us in a text.
Michael and I are eagerly anticipating the birth of our first grandchild. We first heard the news last Mother’s Day when our son visited us on a business trip. Joined by his wife on the phone, we unscrambled letter tiles to discover the exciting news: “You are grandparents.”
I was fortunate to know and spend time with all four of my grandparents. However, we lived across the country from them and visits were special but infrequent. With my grandchildren, I want to be a more integral part of their lives.
Our world today has changed in so many ways from my youth. Today’s grandparents live longer and are younger, healthier and more involved than ever before. As a result, we can see a greater number of three- and four-generation families.
As grandparents, we can enjoy an expanded role with our grandkids. We can reconnect with the joys of discovery and play and give our most valuable gift--time. In the words of Rudy Giuliani, “What children need most are the essentials that grandparents provide in abundance. They give unconditional love, kindness, patience, humor, comfort, lessons in life. And, most importantly, cookies.”