Monday, 13 May 2013

Why We Should Tell Our Children Expat Tales

A love story with a trailer
Photo Credit:Michal Zacharzewski SXC
My eldest son is at the age where he has started asking lots of questions about my past, about how life was in England, how I met his father and how I came to the Netherlands. It's a fabulous period of curiosity but also a great reminder for me and my husband of how far we've come. The details of exactly how we met (online in a chatroom) don't really make any sense for him yet (it's something we still find hard to believe looking back so we certainly can't expect a six year old to wrap his head around it) but the story of his papa coming to England by boat with a borrowed Dutch police trailer to collect his mama and all her belongings falls on eager, listening ears time after time. And we love telling the story.

There's nothing traditional about how I came to meet a Dutchman, sell up my flat in Watford, England and move to the Netherlands to make a new life and so it makes for some awesome story telling for our curious children at the stage where they want to know everything that happened before they arrived on the scene.

Last week, a great blog post by Drie Culturen asked whether there was a difference between children and adults living abroad.  In the post, Janneke argues that there is a big difference, namely because adults living abroad have already formed their own identity but a child's identity is still evolving. Whilst she talks about children from the point of view of them growing up abroad her tips are still relevant for those of us raising children in a country where they are native but we, as a parent, are not. She talks about helping children to form their own identity by telling stories about their heritage. She says tell your children stories about their grandparents. I couldn't agree more. And I would also add tell them about your own life back in your home country, about growing up in another country. Tell them their parent's love story. Tell them their birth story. Tell them every story you can think of about their family.

Not all stories need come from books. Share your
family stories with your children
Photo Credit: Patrick Nijhuis
Not only does it help mould their identity, it turns out that story telling is good for their memory too!  An excellent article called "The Stories That Bind Us" in the New York Times about research undertaken to find out whether children that knew more about their past faced adversity better than children with less knowledge about their family's past states,

"The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned."

That's quite something - research showed that children who have a good knowledge of their own family and past functioned better in challenging situations. Brian Gresko followed this topic up in an article and wrote,

"Storytelling has benefits beyond entertainment, which explains why humans have been telling stories for as long as we know. It’s one of the elements that makes us human, I think.........Having a shared story, a shared collection of memories, is a powerful unifying force between people – whether those stories be ones we tell as a nation, an ethnic group, a workforce, or a family."

And as expats, we have some amazing stories to tell our children.... so what are you waiting for? Share those stories today!

What stories do you tell your children about the country you were born in? What stories do you tell about grandparents and your brothers and sisters growing up? I would love to hear your stories!

1 comment:

  1. That's a really interesting post and lots to think about. Our three all expatriated with us (aged 3mths, 2 & 5 at the time) We've always shared, "Remember when.." conversations around the dinnertable but this is a good case for building on that and digging deeper.
    It makes sense that the more you know of your family's past the greater a sense of identity it brings and stronger foundations it builds. It seems to be a natural human inclination to absorb more negativity than positivity from ignorance - time to banish the ignorance and nurture real strengths and successes. Great post.