Two weeks ago, our Family Legacy Planning series focused on 20 questions for your Thanksgiving table talk, prompting last week’s email to continue family story telling during holiday meals. The volume of feedback from those two emails tells me there’s a great level of interest in telling family stories. At your urging, I’m diving deeper into the topic of family table talk.
Robyn Fivush explores what’s so special about storytelling at the dinner table in her study The Importance of Family Dinnertime. “The dinner table is the perfect time for a busy family to come back together at the end of the day, to tell each other stories of their daily experiences and to re-connect as an emotionally bonded family.” Fivush breaks the stories into two categories: (1) “Today I…” stories where each tells something that happened during the day, and (2) Shared Family stories recalling favorite memories of a shared family experience, such as a trip or outing. Both are important, as every family member at the table can participate, regardless of age.
Fivush researched these conversations at the Family Narratives Lab and came to this surprising conclusion: “Adolescents from families that told more stories, both ‘today I…’ stories and shared family stories,… showed higher self-esteem, higher sense of social competence, higher academic competence, and showed few internalizing (anxiety, withdrawal, depression) and externalizing (aggression, substance abuse) behavior problems.” Why is that? Children from story-telling families build tighter family bonds, feel emotionally closer to family, and develop a sense of security and belonging.
Most of the stories are positive, but even talking about negative or challenging experiences is valuable. Fivush continues: “Use this as an opportunity to understand your children’s feelings, and to help them gain some perspective on these difficult events. Sharing sad events helps your children understand they are not alone.”
In the Blum family, we have discovered a way to expand on the “today I…” theme that works for family members of all ages. At the weekly Shabbat dinner table, each person gives their “rose” and “thorn” highlight of the week. We start with the youngest (even including the babies, whose older sisters answer for them), and keep going till we get to the old man Marvin. Everyone gets a voice at the table. My son-in-law Ira modified the rules recently to prevent the negative experiences from overpowering the positive ones. In order to announce your thorn, you have to first give THREE roses. You’d be amazed at the wisdom we all learn from these weekly highlights. Perhaps it would enrich your family experience too, while also giving everyone at the table an uninterrupted chance to talk. Why not give it a try!
Marvin E. Blum
Preparing Chanukah mealtime at the Savetsky home where each member of Marvin Blum’s daughter’s family can share three “roses” and a “thorn.”