Management Parallel: Corporate Culture – what do you value? Do you communicate it? Do your employees know what you stand for?
Family stories are the glue that holds your family together and creates your family corporate culture. Whether it is the small, nuclear family that you and your spouse have begun or the large and extended family you may have created when you married and merged two groups of relatives together, it is the stories that are told about these people which will form the picture and history that your children will take forward into the future.
Make them fun!
There is so much bonding that can be gained when we share our funny, sad and truthful stories with the family and although some may be told over and over, and occasionally children may complain,”Oh no, not that one again, Dad!” You will be amazed when they look back later and those are the stories they remember most fondly and tell over and over to their children about that family member.
One of my family’s favorite “Mom Stories” happened during our one and only “road trip” to New Mexico when the kids were still pre-teens. My husband and I were trying a low-carb diet and so we brought a cooler with the girls’ snacks and bran crackers and cream cheese for the adults to munch on. Along the way, I offered to make him a snack, but when I pulled out the cream cheese and opened it, liquid had formed on top of it. Thinking nothing of it, I opened my window and emptied the liquid outside. I had no idea that Daughter 2 had rolled her window down as well and the force of the wind basically took my “cream cheese juice” and deposited it on her! My poor, lactose intolerant child had a face full of dairy. General hysteria ensued and I have yet to live this incident down decades later.
My husband’s family still tells the tale of when he was a very young boy, one sunny day he dragged them for “miles” down this old country road (yes, the tales may become a bit embellished over time for dramatic purpose, but it is all in fun), very excited because he had sighted an owl! His family was quite skeptical since owls are nocturnal creatures, but they went along patiently, trudging all the way to find the spot that he had found this mysterious owl. When they reached it, my poor husband began a lifetime of teasing and the receipt of owls for all gift occasions for years to come as the family identified his treasure as a bundle of leaves (perhaps a squirrel nest) in said tree. He got new glasses and a story that will stay with him as long as he has family.
But my favorite tale about my husband was this: My in-laws were giving a dinner party and my husband had been out in the woods earlier that week and brought home the most fascinating cocoon on a branch. He assumed it was some kind of butterfly or moth and had put it in a mesh enclosure as he waited to see what would happen. Well, what happened became part of the family lore forever. The night of the dinner party, the cocoon hatched about a thousand teeny tiny baby preying mantises, which promptly made their way through the house and had to be captured before the guests arrived! The family still laughs at the image of my mother-in-law, an immaculate housekeeper, trying to corral all of these baby insects. Even as recently as a year or two ago, he was still receiving preying mantis themed gifts.
When I joined the family, I brought stories from my personal family. I told them to our children and began a combined oral history that they will someday pass on to their children. The story of their lumberjack grandma who lost her finger in a donkey (a logging machine) and the time their mom placed second in the talent show at age 12 and started her singing career, how mommy and daddy met and fell in love…there are a million tales and they will love them all. This is the stuff families are made of. What do we learn from them? We learn how to laugh at ourselves, and more importantly, what our family values are. Some stories are serious and some are humorous, but they all tell us something about the people we came from and that is important to a child. Giving children roots gives them the opportunity to grow wings.
My husband’s family did an amazing thing while our kids were growing up. They made it a priority to get together at least once a year to renew the bonds, tell the stories, get the cousins back in touch though they were growing up so fast, and to keep the connections there. We have traveled to beautiful places and have had common adventures and experiences that will stay with us forever.
This is not something the family I grew up in did, but it is something that the family my husband and I have created will do. We will continue this tradition of keeping the connections alive and the oral history a part of the fabric that holds us together, though space and time may pull us apart.