It’s inspiring and admirable to share the positive stories of our families. It’s just as inspiring—if not more important—to share difficult family stories, our skeletons in the closet, to strengthen our children as they grow.
By exposing those skeletons to the light, they lose their ability to cause the shame that has been passed down for generations. Take those haunting family experiences and tell them with the light of love, forgiveness and lessons learned, strengthening our ties as family.
How to make a skeleton dance
Here are some typical “skeletons in the closet” and suggestions on how to treat these stories in your memoir. My rule of thumb: If the story honors, encourages or inspires the subject or the reader, it’s likely a good story to share. Keep dancing with it until it speaks a worthy truth.
The skeleton: Great uncle was a philanderer
The dance: Great aunt exhibited grace, strength & taught integrity to her children (in spite of her husband’s actions).
The skeleton: Grandfather abandoned two children during The Great Depression after his wife died suddenly
Father, with limited resources, did his best to compensate by bringing others in to help (even though the kids were exposed to her darkness).
The dance: The children's lives glow with kindness and generosity (despite abandonment and hardship).
The skeleton: Mother suffered deep depression
The dance: Father, with limited resources, did his best to compensate by bringing others in to help (even though the kids were exposed to her darkness).
The skeleton: Alcoholic parent
The dance: Spouse was a stellar example of protecting children (even though family suffered for lack of mental health help for many years.) Adult children are healthy and merciful people.
The skeleton: Child abuse
The dance: Individual overcame in silence as it was socially unacceptable and unknown to seek help. He became an example of joy, peace and taught his own children wisdom and discernment without scaring or scarring them.
The skeleton: Death of a child
The dance: Parents became examples of how to live life as a daily gift (despite the grief and loss that remains).
Upon reflection comes the lesson
If you have your own hidden skeleton, consider taking it out for a spin in the light. When you’re ready, take it to your family and share the person you’ve become as a result of overcoming or surviving the experience. It’s not until you examine your current character and trace those positive traits back to the event that you discover your newfound or more fully developed virtues. Indeed, it sometimes takes the perspective of a compassionate or professional outsider to reveal the depth of your personal growth. Your story has the potential for shining a bright light on a dark path for your heirs.
Each of us is responsible for creating our family narrative. Your story tells itself every time we share a tale, a secret, a funny moment, a tragedy, or a simple day-to-day experience with our families.
- What (or whose) story will you tell?
- What core values do you want to leave to future generations?