As a new mom, I’m always on the lookout for tips on parenting. A year and a half ago, when I was still sporting a baby bump, my shelves were piled with the usual prerequisites—Baby 411, The Happiest Baby on the Block, What to Expect: the First Year.
Now, as Wyatt approaches his sixteenth month, my husband and I often wonder how our six-pound burrito has morphed into a small person, complete with a quirky sense of humor, a fascination with firetrucks, and a propensity for the great outdoors. Gone are the days of swaddling, shushing, and praying for sleep—our responsibility now is to raise our son to be the best person he can be, and a happy one at that. This realization (a daunting one, to say the least) has spurred us to pick up a whole new slew of parenting books, with titles like Brain Rules for Baby: How to Raise a Smart and Happy Child from Zero to Five and How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character.
There’s no question that when it comes to child-rearing, the world is rife with opinions; deciphering what’s best for your particular tyke can be overwhelming. But every so often, we come across a bit of advice that stops us in our tracks and makes us think, “Aha! Now that makes sense. I can do that.”—My thoughts exactly when I heard an interview on NPR with Bruce Feiler, author of a new book out called The Secrets of Happy Families. In it, Feiler discusses the importance of sharing what we know about our family history with our children.
From Feiler’s Top 5 Family Tips:
Tell your story. The most important thing you can do may be the easiest of all. Tell your children the story of their family. Children who know more about their parents, grandparents, and other relatives—both their ups and their downs—have higher self-esteem and greater confidence to confront their own challenges. Researchers have found that knowing more about family history is the single biggest predictor of a child’s emotional well-being.
Feilier discusses this research further in today’s New York Times, in an article entitled The Stories That Bind Us (found on the front page of the Sunday Styles section):
The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.
Feiler’s advice resonates well with me, for two reasons: First, while digging up my family’s past has led to discoveries both exhilarating and heartbreaking, I can honestly say I’m better off for it—I feel more grounded in the world, more confident and comfortable in my own skin, more grateful for things I may have once taken for granted, more willing to tackle a challenge, no matter how insurmountable it may seem. Second, I love the idea that sharing my story with Wyatt (someday several years from now when he’s old enough) may also boost his emotional well-being. It’s a win-win!
You may be thinking—great, I get it, it’s important to tell my story—but where do I begin? My advice is to start small. You’ll be amazed at what you can learn by picking up the phone and calling a relative, or by spending an hour on Ancestry.com. Write down what you learn (along with the history you’re already familiar with), and share it with your children—perhaps even involve them in the research process. Your findings, and the process of uncovering them, may just boost your own sense of happiness (this has certainly been the case for me) and, according to Feiler, your children will thank you for it.
*Check out my Ancestry Search Tips for more advice on researching your family history.