Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Family Narrative: Essential-How About That!

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on March 18, 2013


Bruce Feiler writes that for good health, a family narrative, one that “oscillates” between happy and sad times is the telling, pun intended, point to happy families. As someone who considers themselves to be in the business of personal narratives, Mr. Feiler’s article makes sense to me. Understanding history, both personal and family, gives a solid foundation towards moving forward; no matter how challenging, or upsetting this history may be. It seems that the human brain does better with context, and creating a narrative, helps to develop a setting in which the current situation arises. Knowledge is power, as the saying goes. Personal knowledge, family knowledge is perhaps the best kind.

4 Responses to “The Family Narrative: Essential-How About That!”

  1. Shelly said

    I enjoyed the article, although I am not so sure that “developing a strong family narrative” will help give a solid foundation towards moving forward if something goes wrong. In my opinion, in troubled families, they have their hands full just trying to get through the day. The kids aren’t really interested in hearing about the past, about long-dead family members and how they trudged throught the snow and hail to get to one-room school houses, etc…They are less interested in how our parents celebrated holiday traditions and more interested in how we get through our own. How do you integrate the narrative, if you will, to today’s young adults who are more interested in their own interests and less interested in history?

    • As usual, Shelly, you raise good and practical points. I think that parenting, like teaching, has “parenting moments” or “teachable moments” where there are windows of opportunities to share the historical narrative. For example, on a child’s birthday, a parent can have a moment to reflect on the birth, and the meaning of their name, which often sheds light on what was important to the parents when that child was born. Similarly, on holiday tables, one can take a moment before food is served to remember how the parent celebrated that holiday when he/she was a child. Family rituals, like visiting a grave site on the loved one’s birthday will also help instill a family narrative. Thanks, as always.

  2. Jon said

    It should come as no surprise that an oscillatory family narrative points to more happy families. Live is oscillatory, and thus any attempt at a realistic telling of life must have an oscillatory arc. It also comes as no surprise that knowledge of family history is helpful to serve as a grounding place for the self. History in general helps explain why things are as they are. Family history makes it very personal.

    • To add on, Jon, the personal history, is, of course, the most personal, and hence the most complicated to construct; one subject to the oscillations, as you picked up from my post and from the article of a textured life. Constructing these narratives not only helps one develop a better sense of oneself, but it also helps one be interested in other people’s narratives, and hence this interest facilitates intimacy and deep communication.

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