One nearly universal truth about parenting is the struggle to get young kids to eat anything leafy or green. As a mom, I often hear jokes about kids’ aversion to vegetables and the creative ways parents get their kids to eat them. From slipping various forms of spinach into smoothies and pasta to enticing kids with special “green ice cream” made of frozen peas, caregivers—myself included—keep finding innovative ways to make sure kids get the important nutrients they need from vegetables.
In a spiritual comparison, family history seems to be one of the “vegetables” of the gospel for parents and kids alike. And yet, it is an important ingredient in each of our spiritual “diets”—helping us to gather Israel, strengthen our families, encourage temple work, and gain a sense of who we are and where we have come from. What we might not realize is that it is easy to “sneak” family history into things we are already doing in our lives and families. Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Vacations with Significance
A vacation is a chance to take a break from regular life and have fun. But where and how you vacation can also make a difference.
As an example, my husband and I recently took our young kids on a road trip to their grandparents’ hometowns. Those grandparents (my parents) came with us, and although we did plenty of expected vacation-type activities like souvenir shopping and enjoying the outdoors, all our stops were planned around important family locations. We visited cousins and great-grandparents, walked around temples, placed flowers on family members’ headstones, and drove past locations that were significant to my parents. We took dozens of pictures, and I frequently recorded my parents telling stories about the things they showed us. Our kids might not remember all the places we saw, but we do hope they will remember the feeling of making important family memories and spending quality time with their extended relatives.
If a trip built around family memories feels too heavy-handed, there are other ways to “sneak” family history into vacation time. For instance, many families have yearly traditions to visit Disneyland, national parks, lakes, or other locations together. Even visiting nearby relatives for Sunday dinner or making memory books of your trips together is helping to shape and preserve your family’s history.
Family Movie Night
With so many digital memories, scheduling time for a true family movie night about your family is easier than ever. And if your family already has a regular movie night tradition, it can be as simple as swapping out one adventure film for a night of reminiscing. Pick a night to share family stories or look at old scrapbooks, photo albums, and videos. You can make it into a tradition for a special occasion, or just pick a random day.
My husband and I recently celebrated our anniversary and decided to look through our wedding album with our toddlers. They enjoyed looking at the pictures and pointing out items they still recognize around the house, such as our wedding cake topper and Mommy’s bouquet. Our kids also like to look at pictures or videos from when they were younger, and to be honest, so do I. I remember spending hours as a teenager with my siblings and parents watching old videos from my dad’s video camera and remembering moments I would otherwise have forgotten about my own life.
Cooking Up Traditions
I recently read about a woman who visits graves that have recipes on them. She photographs the recipe, cooks it at home, and then brings the culinary delights back to the headstone of the person it belonged to. It touched me as a beautiful way to carry on someone’s memory.
But even if your relatives’ headstones are void of secret family recipes, food can still be an important (and easy) part of remembering our ancestors. A special cookbook containing family recipes and some of the stories and traditions behind them is still a treasured belonging among my husband and his siblings—a reminder of the relatives the recipes came from and of their mother, who has since passed away.
Similarly, my own grandmother kept dozens of handwritten recipes that were turned into a beautiful book after she passed away. I have felt closer to her seeing her handwriting, reading her personal notes about different recipes and ingredients, and imagining her cooking in her cozy little kitchen.
What recipes or favorite dishes have been passed down in your family? What new recipes does your family like? Picking a family recipe to try for dinner, compiling your own family cookbook, or continuing a food tradition can all be simple ways to incorporate family history into your family.
Many of us have family that either visits us or that we visit, even if it’s just occasionally. Family visits are the perfect excuse to look through the family scrapbooks, remind our kids of who they are related to and will be visiting, and an easy way to share stories.
When physical visits are not as easy, video calls, phone calls, or even letters can be just as meaningful. I will never regret that we were able to help my grandmother in another country learn how to video chat so she could “meet” my son before she passed away. And my children love to get birthday and Christmas cards from their great-grandparents who live far away. Any time we are helping our children connect with their extended family, we are doing family history.
Do you have popular family stories that you love to hear or retell? Type them up and compile them into a family storybook for bedtime. One of my son’s favorite bedtime stories is a scrapbook his grandma made for him about the day we brought his baby brother home from the hospital. It is the perfect way to share family stories and memories while also helping your children learn to read.
Sometimes it can feel easier to see what organically becomes a family tradition instead of consciously choosing one. But when chosen and carried out thoughtfully, traditions can become an excellent way to pass along family history and strengthen family ties.
Think back to your own childhood: is there a family tradition that you had growing up or that you know about from your history that you want to start? Or is there a brand new tradition that would be meaningful to your family now?
I recently came across a lovely story of a blended family who made their own holiday to celebrate the creation of their family. It was perfect for their family because even if individual members weren’t all together for major traditional holidays, they always knew that they would be spending time together on their special family holiday.
Just as this family did, you can create or continue traditions that not only make sense for your family’s situation but that can also build family relationships and a sense of belonging.
Talk about the Temple
You don’t have to have a recommend or be able to explain everything that goes on in the temple to get your kids interested in the work that is done in these holy places. Visiting the temple yourself, walking around it with your young children, and instilling a love of and appreciation for the temple is a great way to open the door to future conversations and excitement about doing temple work for ancestors.
There are plenty of additional ways to involve our children in gathering Israel and learning about family history. I love that a recent update to the Church Handbook emphasizes the FamilySearch organization. Gathering Israel, even in a family with a well-documented history, is an active decision. It means not only knowing where we’ve come from but learning how to make it part of our lives and grow because of it. As we introduce our children to this important fuel for following the covenant path, we will likely find answers to questions, lessons from the experiences of our ancestors, stories of faith and miracles, courage to move forward, and perhaps even comfort in finding someone—even someone who lived a long time ago—who experienced similar challenges. We will draw closer to Christ and to each other, and, much like the physical benefits of vegetables, our spirits will be nourished, and we will have the energy needed to keep following the covenant path.
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