The way to build a happy family is to help kids develop that intergenerational sense of self, and the way to do that is, in part, to build family time and rituals where you can construct narratives about your family.
It turns out that a large part of constructing a happy family is about creating a particular type of narrative about our family history, one that demonstrates that members of our family have been through both good and bad times together, but through it all we’ve stuck together. Kids who know a lot about their family history—the parts that they didn’t experience themselves, but that were passed down to them through stories—feel that they are a part of something much larger than themselves.
When we give kids this sense of being part of something bigger than just themselves, they reap enormous emotional benefits. These benefits include:
- a greater sense of control over their lives;
- better family functioning;
- greater family cohesiveness;
- lower levels of anxiety;
- higher self-esteem;
- fewer behavior problems.
It’s not the knowledge of your family history that provides all those benefits in and of itself; the way to build a happy family is not necessarily to start giving kids family history lessons.
Most kids come to know their family history at times like dinner, or on vacation, or through holiday traditions—and that research shows that these same situations and experiences occur more frequently in cohesive families.
All of these things together—family dinners and vacations and all the talking and playing that occurs because of them—help kids develop an intergenerational sense of self. Kids experience themselves as a part of something larger, and that sense gives them “the personal strength and moral guidance…associated with increased resilience, better adjustment, and improved chances of good clinical and educational outcomes.”