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Mom lets her kids interview their grandparents to create memories

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  • My parents were journalists and persuaded older generations to share stories during the holidays.
  • This year I am starting the tradition of my children interviewing their grandparents.
  • I want them to learn more about our family history and their Mexican and European ancestors.

Growing up, vacations were all about storytelling. My journalistic parents had a magical gift for extracting stories from the older generations. This year I will be consciously building storytelling traditions with my own children so they can learn about their Mexican and European family history.

My wife’s family is quieter than my own family of origin, so it takes some effort to nudge the elderly to share memories — especially with Grandpa’s TV blaring and an overactive poodle jumping on everyone. Here are some of the strategies I plan to use to keep the stories flowing this year.

Plan ahead

The first thing I’m going to do is prepare the storytelling session. This may sound too much like homework, but it’s nothing big. I just review favorite stories from the past and decide which “greatest hits” to request. I can also create a mental list of questions to guide storytellers to the most entertaining stories.

If you ask someone something general like “tell me about your childhood,” people get overwhelmed and shut up. So I’ll limit my questions and steer the grandparents to stories the kids will love to hear. “We have a fifth grader and a pre-K student at the table. Remember when you were her age? How was school for you?’ These questions encourage the children to be involved and ask their own follow-up questions.

Have photo albums ready to go

To get us started, I bring a phone or tablet with vintage photos in chronological order. When my mother-in-law, Genevieve, shared her immigration story with my daughter’s third grader, we took pictures of her trip to America. We started with a photo of Genevieve and two of her sisters in a German refugee camp. I asked Genevieve to talk about the bike in the picture. She remembered that dozens of children had to share that one bicycle. This was a detail that young children could relate to.

In my digital album I have included a photo of an antique Mickey Mouse doll. This image led Genevieve to remember how her Mickey toy flew out of a car window when she first arrived in America. She never saw that toy again, but she always remembered it. This story of loss was easier for children to understand than the idea of ​​being orphaned in the war. My kids will hear more of the serious details of the story as they get older.

The next image I added was from the mission in San Diego where Genevieve was raised by nuns. The specificity of the images – from the bicycle to Mickey to the low-slung whitewashed buildings on a hill – brought grandma’s stories to life.

There will be hard stories I have to navigate through

I spoke with Dave Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute, about how to deal with disturbing material in stories. “There has to be a whole arc of resilience in a story for kids,” he said. “You can say, ‘I’m telling you this because it’s a story of strength.'”

Indeed, Genevieve focused on her resilience in telling her own immigration story. When my children look at the picture of three beautiful girls in Germany, they see their own faces, their own strength. This is what I want to give my kids every holiday: treasured stories that show them who they are and where they come from.