So my topic for this assignment was family gatherings. As a summary for my process I began by conducting three interviews with people two from American and some European backgrounds and one with an Indian background. I jotted down notes from the interviews and looked for commonalities and avenues for improvement (my end goal was to make family gatherings a much more enjoyable and meaningful experience). After finding these the negatives and positives I tried to understand why the negatives existed, a fair amount of surface level questioned were answered in the interviews, but I had to dig deeper and that's where the observe and experience phase came into play. Unfortunately, I was limited in what I could experience/observe at the moment so research and recollecting on my own past experiences was incredibly important for this stage. After this stage I filtered once again to find the underlying problems, and opportunities for improvement. This stage hinted at some solutions related to what makes families stronger, not necessarily particular products. In the end I did feel somewhat confident about my conclusions of what was lacking and what was causing this underachievement at family gatherings.
Below is a picture of my iPhone voice memo app. I used this app to record the interviews which I later listened to again and jotted notes on. I then funneled these notes onto a single large white board (which I will describe later) and underlined positive areas of the interviewees stories and negative aspects, trying to make connections between each.
The interviews took about seven minutes each, this allowed me to cover more perspectives on family gatherings and ask more why questions. All three interviews were with college students at the U of M. By now I realize I could have gotten a parents perspective on the matter, on the otherhand I wanted to to see how other family gatherings compared to my own from people in similar perspective (More controlled factors such as age, education). Interestingly I got different cultural perspectives my first and third interviewees were from American families (one with a primarily German backgrounds) and the second interviewee had an Indian background, compared with my own experience, this seemed to provide an nice variety but also similarity in culture. Two of the people that I interviewed I met this semester, one at the beginning (the first interviewee) and one just a few days before(the second interviewee), the last I had met the previous semester.
Next I made three pages of notes on each interviewed person. These pages are messy and unorganized so I will not go through them, I compiled this data onto my white board which allowed me to better organize and capture the essence of each interview.
Below is the first white board image, I go into detail about what I learned from each interviewee. The text below the second white board image describes some of the connections I found.
-Divorced parents cause separate celebration for mom and dad side. These gatherings are small.
-Enjoys seeing Grandparents, Aunts, and Uncles.
-Together time primarily consists of eating together and opening presents.
-Family members usually participate in individual activities before and after present opening/family dinner time. The time the family is together lasts approximately 1 hour.
-Doesn't know cousins that well or extended family.
-Loves visiting his Grandma at the nursing home with his siblings. Enjoys the food and talking to her. Family photos are a challenge (but he treats it like a game)
-Notes on interviewee: Good eye contact, pleasant though not excited.
-Music related gatherings in winter called Dasara. Concerts are usually at temples but sometimes at home.
-Strongest impression of rituals, setting up god idols takes 9 steps, specialized food for occasion.
-Children and adults enjoy themselves on relatively separate avenues.
-Smaller families go to larger events.
-Notes on interviewee: Most eye contact and positive feelings. Excited demeanor.
-Dad side 9 people visit, mom side upwards of 25 but gets smaller as families are forming. They celebrate separately due to grandparents not liking each other and distance.
-More relatives in age group but some cousins are socially awkward. Enjoy catching up with one cousin and her family in particular.
-Not close with most of extended family at all.
-Family reunions (the large ones) are described as a S%&*# storm.
-Amazing food but lack of good interactions.
-Some good parts but overall stressful and difficult.
-Cousins live close to one another. she can feel a bit disconnected for that reason.
-Summer cottage story, two "socially awkward" cousins didn't help set-up and take down the cottage because Aunt and Uncle believed that their awkwardness was enough of a reason for them not to help. Described as a "big fiasco".
-Interviewee notes: Least eye contact, stressful, more focused on negatives.
Food seems to play an important role in bringing families together, it gives an opportunity to bond and a better more relaxed environment for socializing. However these positive effects can be neutralized and lose meaning when people fail to talk and get along.
Opening presents, food, and music seem like primary facilitators in providing relaxing environments for families to interact in. This provides both a foundation but also an opportunity for improvement (what other avenues can be explored that encourage family members to learn something meaningful about one another and talk to other generations).
Families typically celebrate small, the people I interviewed do not know extended family that well. Cousins can be difficult to get to know over long distances and as close families grow it feels like extended families moves apart. It can be awkward talking to cousins, if all the cousins live together and you don't.
After the main events or before big events people tend to isolate and split off. For the Indian student that was interviewed it felt as if the family both prepared together and had a longer period of togetherness, there really wasn't a place for an individual to hide away and the music concerts tended to keep people in a social area.
Families have to feel like everyone is contributing otherwise tension is a focal point. The third interviewee described her thoughts and dissatisfaction with two able bodied cousins not helping because they were socially awkward and the Aunts and Uncles justifying this because of their social ineptitude. This is of course one perspective, but for a family to feel cohesive requires contribution from all members; this is contrasted with the strong sense of responsibility in the Indian interview.
Strong rituals and ideas of what you're supposed to do seem to decrease tension since then everyone has a role and nobody is doing all the work, yet at the same time grandparents seems to love making food for children, this provides them with an excellent opportunity to sit down and talk with grandchildren as perhaps food keeps kids from getting restless(or making socializing and connection easier)(first interview).
Children and adults mingle a bit but mostly enjoy their festivities on a separate avenue, is this a good thing or potential area to improve upon? The first interviewee seemed to have a stronger desire and joy from talking to older generations, and as later research shows this is important.
Separate celebrations for mom and dad side. Seems more manageable but also makes a greater sense of disconnect.
In-between and after these interviews I began my research phase.
First I looked up the importance of family mealtimes. General data has shown that eating with family is beneficial, however as this NY times article claims as well as a study at Cornell University the quality of the conversation and engagement is more important than the actual meal. Meals appear to facilitate discussion but it still requires effort to make the most of these occasions.
Here is a good quote I found from the Cornell study "Family meals may provide a unique context for parents to connect with and share important information with their children."(Musick&Meier)
These next quotes are taken from an African-American Family Reunions pdf. It provided a better context into why we have family gathering rather than just to see people in our bloodline because it we are told to.
"Rituals have a symbolic form and provide family with a sense of identity as well as provide meaning to and stabilization of family life"
They provide a bridge between generations
Rituals help mediate life transition and deal with them without a sense of disruption or discontinuity (examples wedding and funerals).
"What people are seeking is not so much the home they left behind as a place that they feel they can change, a place in which their lives and strivings will make a difference-a place in which to create a home"
Next I stepped across another New York Times article about creating happy families as well as a TED talk by the same individual who wrote the article.
"A surprising theme emerged. The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative" (source 1)
Wow connection anyone?! Just last week I had finished reading A Whole New Mind an assigned reading in our class. It mentioned a high touch concept called "organizational storytelling which aims to make organizations aware of stories that exist within their walls- and then to use those stories in pursuit of organizational goals." If you read the book then you know the importance of storytelling, identity, and meaning (the feeling that you are part of something larger than yourself). The same techniques that we are using in business can be applied to our own families. Bruce Feiler makes the exact same conclusion in his TED talk. He gives examples of people incorporating these novel new business approaches to family life. In addition his article places emphasis on the importance of a family narrative (connection to meaning anyone!).
"Dr. Duke said that children who have the most self-confidence have what he and Dr. Fivush call a strong 'intergenerational self.' They know they belong to something bigger than themselves."
"The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family's positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come."
He also mentions the importance of family traditions and basically mentions how the sillier they are the more likely they'll pass down and gives an example of hiding frozen turkeys for thanksgiving, perhaps silly traditions are easier to preserve?
From my own experience I focused on recollecting on family interactions from the perspective of the research I did. To give some background I am a the only American born person in my family. My parents moved to the U.S from Poland leaving behind all their relatives in search of work and opportunity.
I have a strong sense of family history despite living in another country away from my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Despite the physical barrier and language barrier (overtime my polish language skills deteriorate if I don't use them) my parents tell me moving stories of our families dating from World War 2, soviet occupation, to raising two kids while earning a PhD in a foreign country. I have learned a lot about members of my families who experienced close friends dying during German occupation and the constant supply shortages during Soviet occupation that lasted until 1989. These stories of perseverance have helped me gain a stronger sense of identity and have helped me reconnect with family members even when physical contact with them is separated by sometimes as long as two years.
It's not perfect of course, at home during these holidays it can feel lacking and especially when my sister is in another state (so it's just my parents and I). On those holidays it is easy for us to go our separate ways after dinner and presents. Sometimes we try to make up for this by celebrating with other members of a polish community in an attempt to connect back with home, family, and keep ourselves together. Even in polish community gatherings the younger and older generations easily split apart, most of the time when adults try to engage younger generations the younger generations lose interest. Other times younger generations are forced more or less to participate in certain activities which makes us feel not so great about participating.
In the end I came up with a few opportunities for improvement.
1. People need a way to recount and share family narratives during family gatherings because these are the crucial elements to bonding and forming stronger families.
2. People need a way to encourage newer and older generations to share their stories and reconnect in an engaging manner in order to develop a stronger inter-generational self, increase family stability, and develop stronger bonds even with extended family.
3. To create memorable rituals to keep the family engaged and make everyone feel like a part of something larger and decrease the likeliness of people refusing to help or participate in a family activity as well as to keep a family together and longer.
4. A way to not only connect long-distance families but also keep them engaged with one another during holidays in order to create a stronger sense of family (being a part of something larger).