Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Create a Family Narrative

I just love reading books about marriage and children. I love self-help books in general, as well, but books about marriage and family relationships specifically are like chocolate to me...addicting and fun! Right now, I'm reading "The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work" by John Gottman and Nan Silver, and it's been really good so far.

One of the points they touch on as being important to maintaining a good marriage is the idea of creating a "history of your relationship." It seems that looking back together, and creating a story of your life together that focuses on the "good stuff" helps to buffer your marriage in times of crisis. Gottman says,

"I've found 94 percent of the time that couples who put a positive spin on their marriage's history are likely to have a happy future as well."

And it's not just that happy memories bring happiness to our marriage, either. Gottman further describes these histories we create about our marriage like this:

"...each couple and each family create its own microculture. And like other cultures, these small units have their customs, rituals, and myths--the stories the couple tell themselves that explain their sense of what their marriage is like, what it means to be a part of their group."

Our family stories are a large part of what help us identify ourselves as a "we," as in this life together, as a team. Family stories aren't just memories; they're how we view ourselves. This really got me thinking about the narratives I already know about my extended family.

For instance, my maternal grandmother Norma's mom was very ill and then passed away very young, and my grandmother tried to take care of the youngest children, but they eventually had to go to orphanages. Even so, my grandma Norma kept in touch with all of them and maintained the family connection throughout their lives. I wonder if this inspired my sister to be a foster mother in some way. Or if this part of our family's history somehow set the stage for our whole family to be so open to the beauty and wonder of adoption. Or if perhaps this story made family connection all the more important to my family.

And then there's the story of my birth. I was born 2 months premature, and was only 2 pounds 13 ounces when I was born. I had a feeding tube, and surgery to remove my appendix at a few days old, and things were very bleak and scary for my parents, I'm sure. But I grew, and thrived, and my mom pumped breastmilk for me all the while, which I believe really made a wonderful difference for me. Hearing that story about myself made me think that I was one strong kiddo. That I had really overcome something big. And I think it really affected me when I had my daughter, to want to nurse her, as well.

And on Robi's side of the family, his maternal grandfather Bobby was born early, as well, and Bobby's mother died in childbirth. His aunts took turns caring for him, but he really had no stable sense of family life growing up. Perhaps that's what made him such a good father, husband, and grandfather--that he wanted for his children what he never got to have: a stable, loving home.

And in my own family growing up, one of the important parts of our family narrative was that my dad's dad was in the military, and my dad attended 13 different schools growing up. So, when he had children, he and my mom made a point to stay in one town throughout all of our school years. That's right, my sister and I went to school in the same county from preschool until we graduated from high school. And that really made us feel a sense of home, connection and stability. We definitely felt that we belonged somewhere. My parents also highly valued education, and didn't want my sister or me to have to work hard physical jobs like they did. They told us over and over that school was our top priority, and that only through education could we have the good careers we wanted. My sister and I were the first people on either side of our family to get a college degree, and both of us went on to get higher degrees as well.

As for my own little family, I guess our story is that Robi and I were high school sweethearts who just kept growing and changing together and never let ourselves grow apart. We started dating just before Robi started college, and my dad always said that I made Robi a little more grounded and he made me a little more fun. I think that's true. We both valued education a great deal, and supported one another through my 2 degrees and Robi's 3 degrees. Education continues to be important to us, and one of our big goals is to put Flannery through college ourselves. Just before having Flannery, we became Orthodox, and that has shaped our marriage significantly, too, in that we both want to pass down the importance of spirituality to our children. We are both thinkers and planners, and we like having systems for things. For example, when we go camping, we make lists and start packing weeks ahead of time. And when we were picking out names when we were pregnant with Flannery, we had an actual spreadsheet that we kept to help us rank names every so often to see which names remained favorites over time. We're never the same couple for too long, which I think is good for us. We expect one another to change, so it's not scary when we have to reevaluate things together every now and then.

I'm sure I'm leaving lots of things out, but that's a good start.

What's your family narrative? Or your relationship narrative? Or your own individual narrative? I'd love to hear it!

By the way, that's my beautiful Grandma Norma in the photo! She was a WAC (member of the Women's Army Corps) way back when. Gorgeous, huh?


  1. Ilove the old picture of your grandmother..that's so cool..so would that be WW II that she was a WAC?

  2. Thanks! Hmm, I don't think she served overseas or anything, but yes, during that time. I need to find out more details! :)