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Family Stories and Myths

Definition Of Family Stories And Myths

As raw experiences are transformed into stories, myths, customs, rituals, and routines, they are codified in forms that can be easily recollected (Martin, Hagestad, and Diedrick 1988; Zeitlin, Kotkin, and Baker 1982). Elizabeth Stone (1988, p. 5) observed: "Almost any bit of lore about a family member or experience qualifies as a family story—as long as it is significant and has worked its way into the family canon to be told and retold."

The family canon is the creative expression of a common history transformed into stories for the present and future generations. These stories are as likely to be about the "black sheep" in the family as they are to be about those who led exemplary lives. Despite the fact that the main character is often a man, women in the families are the primary keepers of the canon (Diedrick, Martin, and Hagestad 1986; Martin, Hagestad, and Diedrick 1988; Stone 1988).

Family stories, as with all stories, are told after the fact. This is important because each family can be selective about the events or incidents it chooses to remember and preserve. Steven Zeitlin, Amy Kotkin, and Holly Baker (1982, p. 16) noted that "in this way, each narrative becomes not a rehash of an event but a distillation of experience" unique to each family.

Family myths are the most secret and intimate genre of storytelling. They offer "an explanation and justification of family members' roles, self-images, and shared consensual experience" (Anderson and Bagarozzi 1983, p. 153). Family myths communicate the most idiosyncratic family convictions that families are most reticent to surrender (Stone 1988).

The power of family stories that are allegorical in nature, may be due to the context in which they are told. Elizabeth Stone explains:

Families believe in their myths for reasons more compelling than respect for versatility of metaphor. What the family tells us has a force and power that we never quite leave behind. What they tell us is our first syntax, our first grammar, the foundation onto which we later add our own perceptions and modifications. We are not entirely free to challenge the family's beliefs as we might challenge any other system of belief. And even when we do challenge, we half disbelieve ourselves. (1988, p. 101)

Myths and stories are meant to offer possible, if not always plausible, explanations for emotional calamities within the family (Stone 1988). They are a blend of fact and fiction preserving important themes, special events, and notable personalities in the history of each family (Anderson and Bagarozzi 1983; Bagarozzi and Anderson 1982). However, to family members, "veracity is never the main point—what's important is what could be rather than what actually was." (Stone 1988, p. 129).

Additional topics

Marriage and Family EncyclopediaFamily & Marriage TraditionsFamily Stories and Myths - Definition Of Family Stories And Myths, Functions Of Family Stories And Myths, Metaphors, Using Family Stories As A Research Tool