Make your Family Stronger through Storytelling

In 1922 my Grandfather immigrated to America.  He was 18 years old and grew up on a farm. He left behind his entire family and the only life he ever knew.  My Grandfather didn’t speak English or know anyone in America.  He had $10 in his pocket.  And while he didn’t know how he would survive once he got to New York, he knew life in America had to be better than his life back home.  The trip took six days and my grandfather spent most of that time in the bowels of an old boat.  When it sailed into New York harbor, he stood on the deck and among the first sights of his new home was the Statue of Liberty. 

When he realized he had made it to America he was overcome with emotion and cried.  After the boat docked at Ellis Island, he filed into a great receiving hall.  In that era, millions of immigrants from Europe entered this hall and waited for hours to be processed.  If someone was sick, injured, or deformed, they were quarantined.  No entry. Go back home. Healthy people had to provide basic identification information including their name, age, country of origin, and family status.  My Grandfather was scared.  He was strong and healthy, but he didn’t understand English and feared he would be sent back home.  As the line he stood in moved steadily toward the reception desk his heart raced.  If he screwed this up, his chances of staying in America would be lost.  When it was his turn, he grasped the brass railing and took a step towards the man standing behind the desk. . .

The Ties That Bind. . .

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Telling Stories Keep a Family Close

I know this story like the back of my hand. My grandparents, parents, and relatives told the story for decades.  I remember listening to it around the dinner table at every celebration of life.  When I didn’t have any grey in my hair, I didn’t understand why my relatives told it so often.  Today I appreciate the reasons why.  Storytelling is one of the best ways to hold a family close together.  It’s a tie that binds generations, gives a sense of belonging, and teaches lessons that can have lasting impact. 

Family tales can instill virtues like perseverance and determination in children.  Storytelling reminds adults of the same virtues, and helps them feel a connection to loved ones who blazed the path ahead.  According to Claire Halsey, author of Your Child Year by Year, “Our identity is strongly tied to our family and its history.  It’s not just where we come from, but the family characteristics of courage, creativity, and even the jobs or achievements of family members.”

Now is the Time. . .

Stories can be about recent events too.  Family vacations, celebrations, or the road to an accomplishment are fertile grounds to create, refine, and retell the stories of shared experiences.  In the coming weeks, many families will get together to celebrate.  This is the perfect time to start telling family stories.  All families have traditions and stories to tell, so gather everyone in a comfortable space, turn off the television and cell phones, and create memories that entertain and teach.  The result will be stronger relationships, higher self-esteem, and more resilience.  Benefits that last a lifetime for you, and the generations to come.