Knowing Our Family Histories Builds Resilience
By Rebecca Price Janney, Nov 3 2017 12:09PM
Anyone who knows me understands how important family is to me, not just those of my current generation, but my ancestors as well. Ever since I discovered where I came from a few years ago, I’ve been so inspired I’ve had books published (Easton at the Forks, Easton in the Valley), and I do a fair amount of public speaking on the subject. This isn’t just a personal thing with me. I truly believe all of us should know something about our family histories.
Today I’m offering one good reason for doing so—the children we pass these stories down to become more resilient.
According to a recent study, one of the best things we can do for our families is to develop a strong narrative of our family.* Child psychologist Sara Duke, who works with learning disabled kids, agrees. “The (children) who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges.”
Duke conducted a study in which she asked children 20 questions, such as:
“Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school?”
“Do you know how your parents met?”
“Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family?”
She also ran a series of psychological tests. “The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned.”
She’s discovered in times of national trauma, such as terrorist attacks, “the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.”
When we find out about grandparents who fought in wars or supported the cause on the home front, their patriotism, their self-sacrifice encourage us. I’m proud that my mother was a Rosie the Riveter during WWII, how she worked after school in dangerous conditions—there were no safety guards on the machine she used—because she couldn’t go to war like her big brother, but she wanted to support the war effort.
Similarly, when we discover how a relative overcame a debilitating illness, or lost everything in the stock market, we gain knowledge of how they survived and realize we can as well when our own hard times come.
My husband tells the story of his grandmother, who raised ten children in a two bedroom house in Pittsburgh during the Depression and World War II. Although they usually just had something simple to eat for supper, Grandma often sent a child to the neighbors’ to make sure they had food before her own family sat down to eat. From her example, Scott learned compassion, to put the needs of others ahead of his own, and to be grateful for his blessings.
What stories from your family history have strengthened you in times of trial?
* (Bruce Feiler, “The Stories That Bind Us,” The New York Times, March 15, 2013)