Oct 282014
How family will react to your stories and generations

Predicting how family will react to your stories is crucial to making thoughtful decisions about sharing.

When you’re writing about your past, how do you predict how family will react to your stories? Anticipating loved ones reactions can help you decide what to share and with whom you want to share it.

Sunny Morton recently brought up this point as we were recording a podcast for Genealogy Gems (link coming soon). Some people write what they view as innocuous stories. They’re surprised to find their memories raise family members’ hackles.

Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life addresses how to balance telling your stories with the need to keep peace in the family. However, first you need to gauge loved ones’ reactions. (Confession: During the podcast, my response was something like “Hmmm, I’ll have to think about that.” Well, now I have…)

Generational Values and How Family Will React to Your Stories

As the decades have marched by, our values have changed. Understanding generational differences can help avoid surprises. A great resource for this is the Generational Differences Chart posted by West Midlands Family Center.

Recently during a workshop, one elderly woman told a story of trying to collapse a crate of expired yogurt by jumping on it. As the crate collapsed, yogurt exploded out of it and up her skirt. The other ladies in the room were a little scandalized. Through their laughter, they admitted that telling embarrassing stories doesn’t come easily to them.


how family will react to your stories and privacy When we wonder if people will be offended, we think about the episode itself. How bad or embarrassing was it?

We need a second yardstick. How private are the people in our lives? How easily are they embarrassed? How sensitive are they to criticism?

Perfect Parenting

For many of us, “mom” or “dad” is at the core of our identity. Sometimes, however, there’s an understood “perfect” in front of that label. Even though parents know that was an unachievable ideal, they don’t react well to public criticism from the child in question.

To know how family will react to your stories, ask questions! Writing the stories of your life is about connecting. However, not all that connecting has to take place on the written page. Start a conversation. Ask. Looking back, do they feel like they did everything right?

Naming the Elephant

You might think that everyone in the family is well aware of the elephant in the room. Thus, naming it seems like a relatively small thing. But, if you’re the only one—or the first one—to call it out, that’s a red flag. Perhaps there’s a family reluctance to face the beast.

Passage of Time

Time doesn’t cure all wounds, but it often makes them less sensitive. When you contemplate how family will react to your stories, consider how much time has passed. Sometimes the wounds are simply too fresh.

The Intersection of Your Story and Others’ Stories

Does your writing spread understanding or blame? Have you acknowledged others’ stories? Have you painted a black and white picture of victims, perpetrators, and bystanders, or have you helped readers understand the complexity of your past? For instance, if you grew up in a dysfunctional family, admitting that other family members were struggling with their own demons gives dimension and shades of grey to your story. A hard look at the tone of your writing will help you predict how family members will react to your stories and memories.

The Next Step

Predicting and understanding how family will react to your stories, can also help you tell them. Not only are you in a better position to make informed decisions, you’ve gained more insight into your past. And that takes us back to the book

  4 Responses to “How Family Will React to Your Stories: Avoiding Surprises”

  1. I’ve noticed that my three brothers and I (we’re in our 60’s) have differing memories of the same events. And I honestly believe that my father (in his 80’s) does not recall some things that happened, and would be devastated to have them mentioned; he is now very tenderhearted. So touching on ‘touchy’ incidents could raise a hullabaloo!

  2. Anita, that’s not at all uncommon. You’ve probably have a good “read” on your family. If you don’t want to raise a hullabaloo, you might just share with your own children or keep your writings private.

  3. You’re right. I hadn’t thought of that possibility – keeping them for my children may be a good idea, since I do want to include things that I think could be potentially helpful to them and their children. Thank you!

  4. You’re welcome Anita. I always appreciate your comments.

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