Many parents today put immense pressure to make sure that a family dinner happens every evening, and for good reason: family dinners have notable benefits, and children whose families eat together often benefit socially and emotionally. Family dinners are a great way to check in with family members (minus the smartphones) and share daily experiences. Listening to one another in this way promotes intimacy, empathy and trust, while hopefully providing a forum where your kids eat something resembling a vegetable.
In many households, however, hectic work schedules and a myriad of extracurricular activities make eating dinner together somewhat impossible. Many parents feel guilty for not providing this staple of family structure on a daily basis, but recent research may alleviate some of that strife. Since the mid-1990s, scientists have been gathering data showing that a stronger tie beyond the dinner table binds families together: storytelling.
These studies began when scientists gave a “What Do You Know?” questionnaire about families to children, asking if they knew details ranging from where their grandparents were born to the story of their own birth. It was shown that the more children knew about past generations, the higher their self-esteem, sense of control over their lives and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. This was especially true if they were told an “oscillating” family narrative, where past troubles and hardships were revealed and explained as events that strengthened familial bonds. These kinds of stories help children to see that they are a part something bigger than themselves, which in turn, gives them greater self-confidence. While the idea that communicating with our children is essential isn’t revelatory, the evidence that this kind of storytelling can have such a positive impact just might be.
Since it’s been shown that the way we tell our own stories is crucial to individual happiness, it logically follows that the way parents explain family lineage would have an impact on children’s perception of themselves. If this kind of storytelling can be done around the dinner table, all the better, but don’t hesitate to create new family traditions. These can happen on a road trip, during holidays or while simply driving to the grocery store. Building the ways that your family connects through shared experiences lets them become the next chapter in your family narrative.