Restoring Family Storytelling At Home
NOVEMBER 6TH, 2014 (IN REFLECTIONS) By Msgr. Anselm
The other day, I was in a restaurant for dinner and I saw a family of six come in to eat. While they were waiting for their orders to be filled, the two older kids were busy on the phone, texting; the two younger kids were playing games on their phones; dad and mum tried keeping a conversation going while occasionally being distracted by incoming calls. I began to ask myself; what happened to family quality time? Why is it becoming increasingly more difficult for families to share time together without being distracted by gadgets?
I believe that the reason why families are having difficulty sharing quality time together is because family storytelling is becoming increasingly and tragically a thing of the past. The consequence is that family members have no stories of their own to tell and they have no stories to tell because no one is telling them stories. They, therefore, have no story to retell, to rethink, to deconstruct, to joke about, to share and to recreate over time. This gap is being filled for our children by the multidimensional social media that is bombarding them with so many stories, none of which is their own story. Unfortunately, without a story of your own, you haven’t got a life of your own.
Family storytelling, I believe, is the world’s oldest entertainment system that kept families together, taught about life, and gave meaning to existence. Family storytelling was not just for excitement and amusement only; it passed on values, strengthened identity, fostered belonging, nurtured family love, explored faith, taught morals, and connected the dots between the past and the present. Family stories gave children the chance to experience the power of being part of a living history which can be instrumental in helping them see themselves as part of God’s people.
In life, knowing where one comes from is a fundamental part of building a healthy family and a healthy identity. The power of family story time is that it can be very helpful in tuning us into what is going on in our children’s lives—their fears and worries, their aspirations and goals, their values and tendencies, the inner world of their thinking—and above all, it also provides us with a powerful teaching moment. There are many stories in our nuclear families that can help create lasting memories, immortalize relationships, and keep family members connected way after we are gone. There are many stories in our generational history that can help our children connect to their roots. There are many traditional stories and feeble tells that can help us teach morals, character, wisdom, understanding, knowledge, courage, piety, right judgment, and self-control to our children. There are many stories in the Bible that can help make God come alive in the heart of our children and strengthen their faith and commitment to God. Bottom line, families are made stronger when members can come together to tell their stories.
Our children do not want more gadgets and more air time. What they truly need is family time for stories; stories about our faith—faith in us as their parents, our goals, our success, our stories, our history, our spirituality, our traditions, and our ideals.
Family storytelling has always been a creative conversion of life into more powerful, clearer, and more meaningful experience. It serves as the currency of our generational contact and continuity, and the engine of how we learn. In general, stories have a way of showing us the way up, the way down, or the way out, and when it comes to conflicts and troubled situations, stories have a way of cutting out a path of escape in what previously seemed to be a back alley; paths that lead to new insight and new learning; paths that help us construct and reconstruct our life experiences; paths that help us connect with truths about life. No wonder, Siberian Elder once said: “If you don’t know the trees you may be lost in the forest, but if you don’t know the stories you may be lost in life”.
Family storytelling makes family time together a beautiful thing to behold and something to look forward to. It inspires our very souls to rethink, reevaluate, and recreate new ways of being family. It delights and enchants the heart, touches and teaches the mind, recalls and inspires history, gives life to past experiences, makes events in our individual minds memorable to other, and motivates and galvanizes family members into a more harmonious union. A family is as healthy and connected as the stories they tell themselves. Let us bring back family story time into our homes! Our children are better for it.