Family Stories Keep Families Together

Jackie Kennedy Onassis once said: “If your children turn out well, nothing else matters.  If your children turn out badly, nothing else matters.”

Having the young people in your life turn out well is as important as anything else you do in life, right?

The children’s happiness depends on it. Your happiness depends on it.  And if you’re part of a family business and you want it to continue, your legacy depends on it.

The big question is, “How do you help them turn out well?”

Family Stories, a Key Ingredient

Fortunately, there’s a good answer to this question.  According to Dr. Robyn Fivush, Director of the Family Narratives Lab at Emory University, an overwhelmingly important part of successful child-rearing is having family members share their family stories.

“We have empirical evidence for the importance of stories,” Fivush told me in a recent conversation. “Members of families who know their family stories are more resilient, they’re better off both physically and psychologically, they do better academically, and they’re more satisfied with life.”


Stories help youngsters make sense of the world.  Stories help young people learn “what it means to be us” and “this is how we do things,” and “this is where we came from.”  Stories help children cope with what life throws at them because they know they’re not alone in the world but instead are part of something bigger than themselves.  They have role models for resilience and coping.

When children know their family stories, it means that they’ve spent time with their families. Maybe they learned the stories over dinner or during car trips or vacations.  Families that spend time together and share their family stories, are likely to be high-functioning families.

Want a quick checkup on how well your family is doing?  See how many “yes” answers the young members of your family have for the following questions. If they have a lot of yes answers, it shows that they’ve spent a lot of quality time with you, and you’ve given them a good start in life.

If there aren’t a lot of “yes” answers, then spend more time with your children. Talk with them.  Tell them the family stories.  You’ll improve their chances of doing well in life. And if you go along with Jackie Onassis’s attitude, there’s not much that matters as much as that.

Emory University Family Narrative Lab’s  “Do You Know Scale”

  1. Do you know how your parents met?
    2. Do you know where your mother grew up?
    3. Do you know where your father grew up?
    4. Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?
    5. Do you know where some of your grandparents met?
    6. Do you know where your parents were married?
    7. Do you know what went on when you were being born?
    8. Do you know the source of your name?
    9. Do you know some things about what happened when your brothers or sisters were being born?
    10. Do you know which person in your family you look most like?
    11. Do you know which person in the family you act most like?
    12. Do you know some of the illnesses and injuries that your parents experienced when they were younger?
    13. Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences?
    14. Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?
    15. Do you know the national background of your family (such as English, German, Russian, etc)?
    16. Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?
    17. Do you know some awards that your parents received when they were young?
    18. Do you know the names of the schools that your mom went to?
    19. Do you know the names of the schools that your dad went to?
    20. Do you know about a relative whose face “froze” in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?


Mitzi Perdue  is the author of the forthcoming  Family Business Treasure Chest: a System of Templates, Stories, Techniques, and Resources Designed to  Support Your Family Legacy

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