Most of our children learn lessons and values from fables and stories. Why not take the opportunity to mix in stories based on our own family’s values? This way we can teach our children what we want them to learn in a way that is memorable.
Here is my story about how I did just that:
When my daughters were very young, I built a large family picture wall. I gathered old photographs from my parents and in-laws to create a large collection of framed pictures that included several generations from both sides of the family. I asked my mother-in-law a lot of questions about my husband’s side of the family so I would know as much as possible about the people in the photographs. Then I did the same with my side of the family— asking both my mom and dad an endless series of questions when they visited us so I could fully understand all of our family.
Some of the pictures I gathered were action shots, like their dad pitching for his baseball team or their great-grandfather on an airport tarmac in the front of a two-seater biplane. Others were portraits that captured a different era. Many of the pictures were from the turn of the 20th Century.
My daughters studied the pictures laid out on the floor as I prepared to hang them on the wall. They had many questions and comments as I hung each one. They would say, “Mommy, why aren’t they smiling?” or, “They look so serious” or, “Look at the clothes they are wearing.” Some of the other questions were, “How old are they?” and “Where did they live?” The question I loved most was, “Did you know them?” This was especially great for the people who lived long before I was even born.
Needless to say, the concept of time and age had to be discussed to allow me to highlight the timeless nature of our values. My ultimate goal was to bring all of our family and our values to life through stories, whether the family in the stories lived long ago or were still alive.
As I hung the pictures, mostly eyeballing even-distances between frames, I continued to answer many of my daughters’ questions. I hadn’t even begun telling them actual stories before they started asking me questions. This told me that the pictures were not only interesting, but also captured the girls’ attention. I knew it would be easy to get their attention again to tell more stories.
It did not take long to hang more pictures and begin using additional wall space. All of the wall space I used was still in sight of their toy box, game shelves, and play area. I wanted to make it easy to tell stories while staying in the same space, so their playtime could easily flow into a brief story time and then back to play. The key was not to make story time a big production—I wanted to captivate them, but I also wanted it to be effortless.
I found that every once in awhile I could go up to a picture while they were playing, point to it, or take it off the wall, and ask if they wanted to hear about Great-Grandma Valentine, their Great-Grandpa Regan, or their father when he was young. The answer was yes each time, because they knew an interesting photo would produce an equally interesting story.
Every story I told included a desirable attribute of the family member, like courage or determination. I explained how the attribute allowed that person to do or accomplish something, such as winning an award or running a business. It was a great way to teach them about their family, share a family value, and connect the story to someone related to them.
The pictures, and the stories that came from them, worked. Years after the picture wall was finished, and soon after I published a story about my Grandma Valentine’s legacy, I was tucking my older daughter into bed when she said to me, “I wish I could have met Grandma Valentine.” I told her I wish she had too.
Sharing stories with the next generation is about the desire to create a connection to those before us. It gives our children the opportunity to make their life decisions not only based on their individual desires, but also on the values their family members established long ago. It provides our children, and all of us, a moment to reflect.
QUESTION: How are you imparting your family’s values?
CHALLENGE: Pick 3-5 people from your family and find a picture or two. Decide what may be inspirational to know about each family member and recall stories that demonstrate a quality, value, or virtue that is valuable for your child to know to help them grow. Tell a story at nighttime or share a story that relates to something that just happened. Add fun details and, if you are in the story, share how you were feeling at the moment. The story should be as fun for you to tell as it is for your children to hear. Stories bring us closer together, and are the best way I know to impart our values and make them timeless.
Images and graphics provided by Anna Jenkins.