My “Family” Bathroom

About a year ago, I was preparing to write a book. In fact, I was DONE writing the book and was working on photography and final details, when I found out the entire project had been canceled. Details are here. Life moves on and for most of last year I simply forgot about all that work I had done, but now as I am preparing again to teach at RootsTech, I'm remembering and thinking and deciding what I want to do, and I've decided that I simply want to share what I wrote—here on my blog! I mean, duh. Why not? In fact, even though I am NOT a graphic designer, I might even figure out how to flow all this content with images so that the individual chapters/projects/essays would be easy to print for anyone who wants a hard copy—if this is you, leave me a comment!

So, without further delay, Here is the introduction to my (almost) book, with no title ...

Several months before this book was even an idea, I decided to renovate our back door bathroom. We put new tile on the floor and walls, installed new fixtures and gave it a fresh coat of paint. I wanted to do something a little different with the decor too. But what? It’s a bathroom, so generic art seemed appropriate. I looked around for awhile, but nothing caught my eye. Then as I was scrolling through images on my computer one day, I found a super cool picture of my grandfather as a young teacher standing with his students in a one-room school house. I asked myself, “What if I framed some old family photos like this one and put them on the wall?” Would that be too weird, to “sit” and look into the faces of deceased family? I’d been wanting for years to create a gallery wall of vintage photos somewhere in our home, but hadn’t settled on a location that I liked. Why not the bathroom? I started collecting photos, framing them and adding them to the walls! Fast forward a few months when I heard the all-too-familiar flush and slam as my sixteen year-old son, Trey walked around the corner and into the kitchen. “That’s my favorite room in the whole house” He said. 
“Really?” I asked, “Why?” 
“Those are my people.” 
“Yes they are.” 
“And now, I know where I got my curly hair!” 

Trey was referencing a new, small photo of curly-haired Joseph Hall, posed with his wife, Margaret at his side. Without any prompting from me, he had done exactly what I hope all my children are able do—show interest in the family that has come and gone before us, and discover a connection to them. I tell my kids, “We didn’t just appear on this earth stage out of no where. We were preceded by men and women and children who lived and breathed and worked hard. They struggled, but they also laughed and sang and danced and fell in love. Many of these ancestors lived only a short time. Others grew to be very old. Either way, the choices they made—often choices full of courage and sacrifice—have in some measure placed you where you are today. These family members are real and they would want you to be happy and healthy and productive.” I tell them, “The choices you make become part of a legacy that is not yours alone.”

You get the gist. I’m a lover of family stories (past and present) and a believer that being familiar with them instills a wonderful sense of gratitude, confidence and accountability in us. And, it’s not just me that feels this way. There are in fact those that know this for sure. 

In his book, The Secrets of Happy Families, Author Bruce Feiler concludes, “The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.” 

Families that share stories, and particularly stories about parents and grandparents, about triumphs and failures, provide powerful models for children. Children understand who they are in the world not only through their individual experience, but through the filters of family stories that provide a sense of identity through historical time.
— Robyn Fivush

In 2010, researchers at Emory University, intrigued by this idea, created a simple scale to assess how much children know of their family history. The “Do You Know …” (DYK) scale consists of 20 yes/no questions asking the child to report if they know such things as how their parents met, or where they grew up and went to school. Several intriguing findings emerged. First, children that scored higher on the DYK scale were from families that, indeed, told more family stories over a typical dinnertime conversation. Second, the DYK scale was related to other family and child measures. Specifically, higher DYK scales were related to more internal locus of control, higher self-esteem, higher reported family functioning, higher reported family traditions, lower child anxiety and lower internalizing and externalizing behaviors. These relations suggest that children’s knowledge of family stories is a good indicator of more general family functioning and individual child adjustment. 

So, whether you’re fascinated with research or not, knowing a bit of history as it relates to your family is a good thing. An even better thing is making bits and pieces of what you learn more visible in your home and more accessible to everyday conversations around the dinner table, or in the car, or anywhere. Children and especially teens want to know who they are, and who they are like. They have a strong desire to be unique, but an equally strong desire to belong. Back to my bathroom. It has now become a mini museum of sorts, which we visit on average, twice a day. When we are there, we are reminded that we’re not alone. The life, work or school-related frustrations we bring in with us are somehow understood by those pictured on the walls. And most of the time, these frustrations are quickly put into perspective with even a flash of reflective thought, so that as we wash our hands and prepare to leave, we also figuratively wash undo hassles and worries down the drain and we remember that what matters most, lasts the longest and that we’ve been a family for a very long time. 

My backdoor bathroom experiment was admittedly quite accidental, but you’ll be glad to know that I’ve been 100% intentional with the solutions, activities and projects that follow in these pages. This book and these ideas do not take excessive amounts of time that you do not have. They are easy to think about and simple to carry out. Once you learn how to invite family stories into your home, it becomes second nature to do so and the return is positive and palpable—the amazing thing is you don’t have to write this narrative—its already there and every single day unfolding. All you have to do is discover and expose it. It’s free for the taking and readily shared. 

One last introductory thing: I believe there is a spirit about these efforts, so be prepared for the feeling that you are being both aided and encouraged and know that what you take from me, may be nothing that I’ve written, but something quite original that you contemplate, consider or conclude while you read. In my opinion, that would be backdoor-bathroom cool! 

If you made it this far, I'd love to know your thoughts. As I continue to share this content, feel free to ask questions or share your insights. 

Thanks for reading!