When children ask “where did I come from?” they aren’t only asking about the physical acts of sex and birth. They are asking how they fit into their family and their tribe. Each child is born with a need to feel connected. Early on this need keeps children close, where they are safe. Later this desire for connectedness leads children to aspire to become team members, join a dance group, scouts, or even a gang. For now, while your child is little, strengthen healthy family bonds by repeating your family history and sharing silly jokes, rhymes, and songs that have been part of the family for ages.
Parent and child sharing family history becomes a real joy after one clears a few hurdles. First, a parent needs to know some family history. Thanksgiving usually means gathering with, or at least talking to family members. This is a perfect opportunity for collecting stories and histories. Next, sift out the items not suitable for the little ones. Some of these you can save for later; others you are free to forget!
Some families are more dysfunctional than others. Take the good bits of history, the ones worth continuing in your family line, and then search around through your close circle of friends and stories from your culture to fill in the gaps. Adopted children need to hear the story of their adoption and the history of their birth culture, along with that of their adopted family.
One last, but important point—tell the stories age appropriately for your child. A 3-year-old is not ready to hear an hour-long saga of great grandpa’s life, but bits of information given over time will pique his interest for more stories later. Young children want to hear stories of when these people were children, similar to themselves, who faced familiar challenges, overcame obstacles, or are just plain funny.
Some of these stories will provide part of a moral and ethical framework for your child’s future. Telling your child to not steal, or to keep buckled up is good. But telling the story of when Uncle Robbie was 5 and got caught taking a candy bar, or the story of Aunt Terra being in a car accident, leaves a much bigger impression. If you really think about it, you can find a family story for each lesson you want your child to learn.
Families are held together by what they have in common—the things they all laugh at, cry about, and roll their eyes at. Bond your child to your family by sharing your family history. If you don’t, who will?
Evelyn Satterlee, M.Ed