Mothers who actively choose to remember important experiences and stories from the past and share these memories with their children have great power to shape their children’s emotional well-being.
In a 2003 General Conference talk, Susan W. Tanner told about a little journal she wrote for her 17-year-old daughter.
Almost three years ago, one of our daughters got married and immediately left with her husband for medical school in a distant city. She was leaving the security of the nest to begin a family of her own. I wondered: “Did I teach her everything she needs to know? Does she know what is most important in this life? Is she prepared to build a happy home?”
As I watched her drive away, I remembered a little journal I gave her on her 17th birthday. It was entitled “Did I Tell You … ?” In it, I recorded counsel I had often given her in our late-night conversations. As she and her new husband headed for their life together, I thought of three additional entries I wanted to add to that little journal to help her make a transition more important and challenging than that of crossing the country: the transition to starting her own home and family. …
Remember how we laughed and cried as we built the backyard fence? Remember how every time we drove in the car we sang so we wouldn’t quarrel? Remember how we fasted for one member’s important decision and for another’s crucial test?
The moments Susan W. Tanner selected to share with her daughter are not random memories. They were carefully selected to teach specific lessons. That is what mothers do. Mothers have the power to help children form their life narrative. The stories they choose to reminisce about with their children are crucial in how children see themselves.
When I send my kids out the door to school, I worry – have I told them what they need to know? Will they be able to ignore the little comments that chip away at their self esteem? Did I remind them how unique and special they are? Did I tell them the most important things?
Dear son – remember how you were our miracle baby? And how strong you are?
Dear daughter – remember when we painted a beautiful picture together? And how creative you are?
Dear baby – remember when we played peek a boo until you were so tired you couldn’t stop laughing? And how cute you are?
As I carefully repeat inspirational, strengthening, joy and hope building stories to my children, I’m building my kids up to withstand the difficulties life brings. I hope the stories I tell will influence my children long after I’m gone.
As Julie B. Beck said, “There is eternal influence and power in motherhood” (Mothers Who Know,” Julie B. Beck, October 2007 General Conference). She spoke about “mothers who know,” but in this article I’m going to talk about mothers who remember.
Mothers Who Remember
In order to tell our children important memories, moms need to remember. That’s a tall order for me – I feel like I have a terrible memory! I resort to writing everything down in a calendar, notepad, notebooks, Keep app, and my online journal at JRNL.com.
My mother is an excellent rememberer. She began keeping a journal for me when I was a 18 months old. She wrote, “Nicole went to nursery for the first time last Sunday. She didn’t even need her pacifier for the two hours she was there.”
Five days later she wrote, “Nicole is a little girl – she loves playing with her dollies and wrapping them up in blankets. She has three dolls and likes to have them all tucked in beside her when she goes to bed.”
I just put my own daughter to bed, who is sleeping with barbies wrapped in blankets around her feet. I love telling her that she’s just like me when I was a little girl. It helps us feel close. Once, I told her, “we stick together, because we’re girls!” She doesn’t have a sister, just two great brothers, and I wanted her to feel connected to her feminine side. She loves to tell me that “we stick together!” She also loves to point out that we have the same kind of thumb. When my son was working on his inherited traits chart, he found out that he and Daddy have hitchhikers thumbs, while his sister and I have straight thumbs. She likes to hold her thumb up to my thumb and press the tips of them together in a little thumb shake.
My mom glued my first primary talk into the journal. I drew pictures of myself and our family in the journal when I was 3. She wrote about my growing talents and funny things I said. As I began to talk, she let me narrate the journal entries. When I was five years old, I wrote my first entry all by myself: “I GOT A BARBIE AND KEN FOR MY BIRTHDAY.”
My memory-keeping mother also gave me are three photo albums containing the photos of my childhood. As she took pictures, she printed several copies and put them into albums for each of her children. When I got married, she gave me the albums. Every once and a while, I work on scanning the photos and uploading them to my google photos account. It’s a delight to have these memories of my childhood.
Mom didn’t just help me document my own life, she told me about her life. When I was in college, I remembered her stories about studying in the library all the time and getting along with roommates. I tried to follow her example. When I was dating and thinking about marriage, I remembered her story about the importance of marrying someone you could respect and love. Nowadays, when I’m having an exhausted mom day, she tells me that she knows what those days are like. She always reminds me, “the first year of having a baby is always the hardest.” She is my rock. Thank you Mom, for being a memory-keeper!
“Mothers who remember” gather important family stories and give them to kids at the right time. They remember what happened to their family in the past. They remember the important stories of their parents and grandparents. They know where their ancestors came from and are able to tell their children about it. “Mothers who remember” are kin-keepers!
Emory researchers Robyn Fivush, Jennifer G. Bohanek, and Widaad Zaman, in their Family Narratives Project, found that mothers and fathers have unique roles in the storytelling and child-parent narrative making department. Fathers ask their children what happened that day and help children form stories about achievement. Mothers, uniquely, talk with their children about “remote” family stories – family history – and are especially involved in “kin-keeping.” Kin-keeping, for the purposes of their research, means keeping the family history alive and meaningful. When mothers do this, their children have higher levels of emotional adjustment.
According to the research, kin-keeping mothers:
-share remote family stories (intergenerational stories about parents, grandparents) with children
-help children re-tell these family history stories – what the researchers call “co-narrating”
-are highly involved in providing, confirming, or negating information in the family stories children are re-telling
-tell stories that are more relationship oriented, with more detail, elaboration, and emotion
Fivush concluded: “Our results suggest that adolescents who are embedded in a storied family history show higher levels of emotional well-being, perhaps because these stories provide larger narrative frameworks for understanding self and the world, and because these stories help provide a sense of continuity across generations in ways that promote a secure identity.” (Fivush, R., Bohanek, J. G., & Zaman, W. (2010). Personal and intergenerational narratives in relation to adolescents’ well-being. In T. Habermas (Ed.), The development of autobiographical reasoning in adolescence and beyond. New Directions for Child and Adolescent Development, 131, 45–57.)
What do you choose to remember with your kids? How do you shape their stories, their narratives, their memories? What memory keepers do you have in your life? How do they remember and continue to co-narrate?
Happy Mother’s Day! This post is part of our monthly #FHforChildren Blog Link Up. Check out the other posts here: