Many American families will gather back around the Thanksgiving table this year after last year’s cancelled or altered plans. (My family shivered around a bonfire last Thanksgiving for as long as we could stand it, and I, for one, am thrilled to be back at the table. --Laura). Perhaps we will eat and drink as much as we can fit in our bellies. The children will have too many dinner rolls and not enough vegetables. We will talk about football games, health issues, and the weather. Then at some point, there will be a lull in the conversation.

Here is an idea for this lull, inspired by both the work we do at LifeBio and the fact that November is National Family Stories Month. What if, when the table pauses and takes a collective breath, you initiated a round of family storytelling? It could be as easy as queuing up Uncle Bill to tell one of his classics, “Uncle Bill, didn’t you used to work on the railroad? What was it like to be a train engineer?” Or asking your grandma, “What did you do on the weekends when you were a teenager?” Or seeing who can describe the great-grandfather that younger generations will never have the chance to meet. Or “What was Thanksgiving like when you were a little girl, Mom? Who was around your table back then?”

There are research-driven reasons to do this. Studies show that telling family stories helps strengthen family bonds, supports young people in regulating emotions and dealing with negative experiences better, and decreases anxiety and depression. While these are all good reasons to initiate a storytelling time this Thanksgiving, there are some plain and simple heart reasons to do it too. Sitting with you at the table are unique, incredible people who you could know more fully. Yes, the cornbread sage stuffing is delicious, but take a moment to savor the people at the table. They hold an intricate mix of moments, choices, personality traits, and emotions—more complicated and detailed than any recipe, even Aunt Alice’s turkey preparation.

Family storytelling takes a little bit of intention and concentration. You might need to encourage the younger people to turn off their devices and tune in (explain why it is very important in advance of your visit if possible). Practice the art of listening. It might take follow up questions to flesh out the story being told. It is okay to deviate from the usual round of conversations about the weather, sports, or health issues and let your older loved ones “go there” for a while and reminisce about the days gone by. One of the primary reasons people share stories is to “teach and inform”  younger generations which gives purpose and meaning. Hold the space for your loved ones to do this.

These stories are valuable to the storyteller, of course, but also to you and your children, the storylisteners. Why? These stories create a sense of heritage and a sense of resiliency. “We are tough, hearty, amazing people! I am a part of this amazing family.” These thoughts just might go through younger generations’ heads! There are hard times your family made it through that let you know you will make it through hard times ahead. There are unorthodox choices a relative made that can reassure you that you don’t always have to take the obvious path. You might find out things you never knew about your family. All you have to do is ask.

We wish you a great feeling of thankfulness for those around the table with you this Thanksgiving. For those physically distancing, there is no reason why these conversations can't also happen by listening across the miles by tablet, computer, or phone. Here's to all the Storytellers! 

LifeBio question ideas to get you started or keep the stories rolling:
What was Thanksgiving like when you were little? 
What is your favorite story of a tree in your life? A backyard tree?  A Christmas tree?
As a child or teenager, what was your favorite store?
Was there a time in your life when you felt especially proud of something?
What is a lesson you learned from a good friend?