Who Decides Your Family Story?

I was teaching a class on novel-writing. One student was writing about three generations of women who all married men they didn’t love. The book was largely autobiographical. For that reason she was unwilling to make many changes. As I continued to listen to her, I realized that her family seemingly encouraged stories of my-misery-is-worse-than-your-misery. That meant marrying a man you didn’t love was a prerequisite and the novel was actually a one-up in those tales of woe.

In my family, we tell love stories. My husband and I polished a small incident from our courtship as our contribution. Also unlike my student, as a child, I was never allowed to tell an oh-dear-me more than once. I could get it off my chest, so to speak, but not repeat it.

Who decides how the family stories will be told?

I never got my student to see the pattern in her book, but I’ve been haunted, ever since, with the idea that family stories shape us. We expect our lives to turn out like the stories we’ve heard.



Filed under Family Stories, History, Life Story, Personal Narrative, Uncategorized, Why Stories?

5 responses to “Who Decides Your Family Story?

  1. swinefever

    My Mother constantly repeats the same family stories over and over again, often changing small details to highlight the point she happens to be making at the time. It got so bad one Christmas that I couldn’t stand it anymore and called her on it, a massive row ensued and as a result I haven’t spoken to a single member of my family in nearly 3 years. I don’t know what that says about family stories, but it says a lot about families.

  2. There’s so much truth in the idea that what is considered an “official” family story is not necessarily the one that includes every truthful detail, but more likely the one each person feels correctly represents their FEELINGS about the story. Sometimes you let a family member tell what you know is a distorted story just because you know they take special pleasure in it. Other times, as the commenter before me said, there’s that one-too-many times telling of a story that grated on your the first time–

  3. Debbie Mihal

    I wrote a long paper about my family roots back in high school and distributed it to my family members as a Christmas gift one year. Despite that it was written when my grandparents were still alive and therefore–in my mind–is like a snapshot in time, everyone in my family has their own version. I’ve since stopped worrying if I get it right. Everyone sees the world differently.

  4. Pingback: “Who Do You Think You Are” Videos Are Free Fun | Jerrie Hurd Takes Family History Seriously . . .

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