Relating to adult children — 25 July 2012
Enrich your children with family history tales

Curiosity about one’s family history is rarely experienced in childhood or even young adulthood. Yet, this information can be helpful and even transformative. Once children mature they may become curious about their roots and life conditions of those who preceded them in life. They may regret not knowing about their ancestors’ struggles and sacrifices that paved the way for their generation to enjoy a free and successful life.

The reasons for becoming informed about your family history include: medical health, social connection and psychological and emotional resiliency.

Physicians inquire about family history to plan preventative treatments for possible familial conditions you may experience in the future and to help facilitate your greatest chance for a healthy life.

The Surgeon General’s Family Health History Initiative of 2002 was initiated to encourage all American families to learn more about their family health history. It states, “Tracing the illnesses suffered by your parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives can help your doctor predict the disorders to which you may be at risk and take action to keep you and your family healthy.”

Socially, we need connection with our “clan” to feel safe. There is great comfort in knowing that we have an extended family and relatives who care and are connected to us in times of joy and sorrow. Just the concept of communal support, though not always well cemented, braces us in times of stress. Community fends off loneliness and fears.

Psychiatrist and ethicist, Willard Gaylin states, “To be vulnerable is not to be in jeopardy. To be vulnerable and isolated is the matrix of disaster.”

Psychologically, we also share traits, behaviors, skills and talents with our ancestors. It may be heartwarming to know that your great-grandmother, whom your father cherished, possessed some qualities that your father appreciates in you. Even some less admirable traits that are similar to another beloved family member may become endearing.

Parents are usually too busy or unaware that reciting family history may be of great benefit to their children. To their possible later regret, the younger generation is often too absorbed to be patient listeners. However, if this history is recorded or written, it may become a truly cherished gift to your descendants in years to come.

To help your children thrive:

  • Accept that your children are moving forward toward their own future and the past may seem irrelevant to them now.
  • Choose recollections of previous family members’ lives to bolster your children’s strengths, talents, resilience and courage.
  • Write or dictate your memories and early family history. It may someday be a source of comfort, strength and pride for your children.
  • If you are a young adult, ask about your parents’ life history, their childhood memories, their parents’ lives and wisdom. It may serve you well in meeting your life challenges.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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