Finding just the best gift for grandkids for Christmas can be a challenge. Here are a few thoughts about what gifts are the most lasting.
“I was standing on the platform of a railway depot watching a mainline train come in. Memory does not tell me where I was or why I was there, only that I was very young, that the weather was cold and my clothing was not good enough to keep me warm.
The train created a further chilling breeze as it shuddered to a stop with one of the dining car windows directly in front of me. Then, for the first time in my life I had a glimpse of opulence, the contrast between luxury and want, the gap between those who have much and those who have little.
There, behind a large glass window sat men and women in warm and well lighted comfort, dressed in fine clothing, talking, laughing and eating. If they noticed a shivering little boy outside their window gazing in at them in wonder, they did not show it. Nor could they have known that within that small boy at that time was born a determination that things would not always be that way from him.”
This is a small segment from our grandfather’s book. It is a collection of thoughts and stories from his time as an agricultural technician in the U.S. Governments Foreign Aid program between 1957 and 1967. This was a moment in his life that propelled him to get an education that changed the trajectory of his life forever.
He never told me this story. I didn’t know this story until I read it in his book and that was after he passed away. The book was intended for publication, but the manuscript sits in a 3 ring binder on my bookshelf with each page carefully placed in a page protector. It is in what I call my special collections section, the place on my bookshelf that holds the books I most cherish.
I know, we want to be hero at Christmas and birthdays. If I had received that book as a Christmas gift from Grandpa when I was a kid, my thank you note would have been short. But here’s the thing. I don’t remember a single Christmas or birthday gift from my grandparents. I didn’t keep any of them. But the book is on a special shelf. Here’s my two cents that you didn’t ask for. Give them a great present this Christmas. One they will love you for! The perfect thing. The one they will lose and probably forget that will make them feel loved when they open it. Scour the mall, hit the sales and make sure they know you care about them this holiday. At the same time, and they may not even know it, you can give them a gift that will last, will not be forgotten, and may help them cope in times of serious distress, help them be more well adjusted, more resilient, have more confidence.
Tell them your story. One of the most important roles we can play as Grandparents is family historian. [A. Kornhaber, 1996, Contemporary Grandparenting, Thousand Oaks, Ca:Sage] Grandparents are a link to the past and can provide continuity between generations. When grandparents share stories of their childhood, their families and their past, they can give a sense of identity. And your family story may do even more.
With Thanksgiving and Christmas just around the corner, it is the perfect chance to take time share memories while playing a game, eating a meal together, washing dishes and helping to clean up. But why does it matter and what difference will it make?
You have heard of 20 questions? THE 20 questions? I am not talking about the classic game. I am talking about the Do You Know 20 questions developed by psychologist Marshall Duke and his wife. I first read about it in The New York Times article The Ties That Bind. Dr. Duke’s wife noticed in her work with children with disabilities that the children who knew more about their families were better able to face challenges. So Dr. Duke and colleague Robyn Fivush developed their own 20 questions to test the hypothesis. And what do you know? The children who knew more answers to these questions was a significant predictor of their emotional health.
So, I could just print the 20 questions here and you could type out the answers, make your grandkids memorize them and we would have both wasted our time.
Consider this from the researchers:
“In our study of family stories at the Emory University Family Narratives Project funded by the Sloan Foundation, we found that family stories seem to be transferred by mothers and grandmothers more often than not and that the information was typically passed during family dinners, family vacations, family holidays, and the like. Other data indicated that these very same regular family dinners, yearly vacations, and holiday celebrations occur more frequently in families that have high levels of cohesiveness and that they contribute to the development of a strong sense of what we have called the intergenerational self. It is this intergenerational self and the personal strength and moral guidance that seem to derive from it that are associated with increased resilience, better adjustment, and improved chances of good clinical and educational outcomes.” — [Duke, M.P., Lazarus, A., & Fivush, R. (2008). Knowledge of family history as a clinically useful index of psychological well-being and prognosis: A brief report. Psychotherapy Theory, Research, Practice, Training, 45, 268-272.]
So while it is about telling your story, it kind of has nothing to do with the story. Maybe it has more to do with the relationship the story creates. It makes me wonder if part of the magic is that these are the kinds of personal stories we share when we spend quantities of quality time. So while you spend time with family this Thanksgiving and Christmas whether it is in person, on the computer or phone, remember to share the better gift. The gift of yourself. We know that family relationships are not easy. We know that not all stories are happy. And that is part of the gift!
There are three types of stories mentioned in the article that are of benefit. With Number 3 being the best! It is the oscillating narrative where we share our family’s ups and downs and how we survived it. Knowing that my grandfather came from humble beginnings and worked so hard to get an education has stuck with me. I am stronger because of that story. I am proud of that heritage.
Don’t force it. Not all stories are appropriate. And the timing has to be right. Use wisdom. And right them down! Start a journal. A book like my grandfather’s was a long term labor of love; one we are still benefitting from. Start the special collections section this season. It is the best gift. Don’t know where to start? Start with the questions from the study and then make up some of your own!
20 Do You Know Questions
1. Do you know how your parents met?Y N
2. Do you know where your mother grew up?Y N
3. Do you know where your father grew up?Y N
4. Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?Y N
5. Do you know where some of your grandparents met?Y N
6. Do you know where your parents were married?Y N
7. Do you know what went on when you were being born?Y N
8. Do you know the source of your name?Y N
9. Do you know some things about what happened when your brothers or sisters were being born?Y N
10. Do you know which person in your family you look most like?Y N
11. Do you know which person in the family you act most like?Y N
12. Do you know some of the illnesses and injuries that your parents experienced when they were younger?Y N
13. Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences?Y N
14. Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?Y N
15. Do you know the national background of your family (such as English, German, Russian, etc)?Y N
16. Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?Y N
17. Do you know some awards that your parents received when they were young?Y N
18. Do you know the names of the schools that your mom went to?Y N
19. Do you know the names of the schools that your dad went to?Y N
20. Do you know about a relative whose face “froze” in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?Y N