October 2, 2017

Building emotional intelligence and strength through adversity and storytelling

Their stories began turning the pages of our imaginations before they were even born. After wondering who they would favor on the outside, our minds turned to imagining the person they would grow into. What story would unfold from the pages of their life and how can we as their initial story keepers help them write their best works. I find myself daydreaming about my children’s stories, fastforwarding in a time traveler sort of way in order to look back to the present day. How will today shape their lives?image1

I often reflect on how my life was shaped by the chapters that came before mine. The forward to my own story was so colorful that its pages bled onto my blank pages before I even opened my eyes. We are all born into a tale that started long ago yet has a way of staying with us today.

My father’s parents were immigrants from Ireland, making my dad first generation American born. At the tender age of three, he was placed into the foster care system of NY upon his mother’s passing. Five kids were too much for his father so he kept only the eldest son. The traumas of living with multiple foster families left its mark. My eyes widened with every story shared at the dinner table; they all sounded like works of fiction to everyone but my dad. His eyes shared the pain when words were too painful to speak.

My mother became a citizen of the United States after living in England for fourteen years without truly belonging. Her parents fled Estonia during WWII to escape their own deaths, living in the woods for months while enroute to a safer place. My mom was born in a displaced person’s camp upon arrival in Germany where she lived until the age of five. Once the American Red Cross reunited my grandfather with his family (he was a POW for two years), they applied as refugees to go to England.

By the time I reached adulthood, I developed a huge appreciation for the stories that make us who we are. I understood why my parents found one another. I knew to never pass judgement too quickly. I developed a deep sense of compassion and empathy. I learned to truly listen. I learned to truly forgive. And as I grew into my thirties, I finally understood the source of my anxiety: it was woven into my DNA. It can take up to three generations for war traumas to be cleansed from our DNA. I wiped my brow and sighed a great relief knowing that my kids should have less burdensome DNA.

But is it all burdensome? Afterall, emotional strength comes from adversity. My parents had both confronted more than their fair share of challenges. Together they created a family of their own with my brother, sister and me; there were certainly times when it felt like we were all on the learning curve together. I can see how my strengths were born from their experiences, as well as my own experiences.

So now fast forward to my own children’s stories. I sometimes question if they have enough adversity in their lives or more directly, are their lives too easy? While I never want to wish too many challenges or strife upon them, I know I want them to be emotionally intelligent and resilient. My life has certainly had pages and chapters of adversity which I now embrace more than ever as a parent. I have become a storyteller armed with powerful lessons. I am literally an open book. I have shared my (and my family’s) most vulnerable stories with them, stories that I once considered burying forever. I watch them listen to me and see myself reflected in them when I listened to my own parents’ stories. I feel myself grow stronger with every story shared, but more importantly, I see that invisible thread weaving into the cloths of their beings, strengthening their souls. So don’t hold onto your most vulnerable stories. As painful as they might be, they are treasures for your children. And what happens afterwards is priceless – they in turn share their vulnerabilities.

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