Breaking Zoom Borders Through Stories This Holiday Season

Family storytelling may be more important this holiday season than ever.

Posted Nov 14, 2020

Unlike the past seven months, last Thursday night my dance card was full. I participated in back-to-back webinars related to how we are coping with the pandemic.  

Earlier in the evening, I participated in an Emory College panel discussion, “Inside the Virtual Classroom,” helping parents understand how we are transitioning to an online environment. I was joined by colleagues in the sciences, Doug Mumford and Jaap de Roode, who have figured out innovative ways to actually run science lab courses online! And by Paul Bhasin, our director of orchestral studies, who showed us a performance of our amazing Emory students playing together beautifully, each in their own individual Zoom room. Our goal was to reassure understandably concerned parents that we are reaching out, doing what we can, having unanticipated successes among the challenges, in connecting with our students and creating exciting learning environments even across the Zoom boundaries. Certainly it is not perfect, but watching our students alone yet together was inspiring. 

Which brings me to the second webinar of the evening, Pandemic Parenting. My colleagues, Lindsay Malloy at Ontario Tech University and Amanda Zelechoski at Valparaiso University, have started a biweekly webinar for parents to help provide expert advice and information about parenting during these unusual times. This is simply a great resource. With the holidays just around the corner, and all the concomitant stress that usually brings, the webinar focused on ways we can think about the holidays differently, and especially how we can create positive memories for our children even in these difficult times, when we may not be able to share the holidays with our extended families, or engage in some of our typical holiday traditions. For those who read my blog, you already know my advice: Family storytelling!

Family storytelling may be more important this holiday season than ever. Because family may not be able to gather together in person, finding ways to share stories together will help strengthen a sense of connection and belonging. For example, families can engage in an online story circle (see my earlier post), or share photos and scrapbooking online as a way to bring out stories of past holidays together. Sharing family stories is important for so many reasons.

  • Sharing family stores again and again, telling the traditional stories of the season, help family members feel connected to each other and provide a sense of belonging and family identity.  
  • Sharing family stories provide a sense of continuity; that we will get through these hard times, persevere, and be together once again.
  • The benefits of family storytelling come from both the stories told and the telling– we rejoice in remembering the good times together and we rejoice in the present moment of sharing and savoring those memories as we tell them again.  
  • Storytelling benefits all generations. I have written quite a lot in this blog about the benefits of storytelling for the younger generation—adolescents who know more of their family history show all kinds of positive outcomes, higher self-esteem, better social relationships, better academic progress—but storytelling also benefits the older generations who pass down the stories.  Grandparents who share family stories show higher levels of well-being, a sense of satisfaction, of a life well-lived.

So how does all this relate to the virtual classroom? As I watched all these students in their individual Zoom rooms, mixing chemicals, playing their instruments, each seemingly alone, but on the Zoom screen creating a beautiful mosaic, an orchestrated product, I thought about family stories, how we each contribute our bits, what we remember, what we thought, how we felt, and how we weave those pieces together into a family quilt of stories, something that brings comfort and solace in times of stress. This holiday season, we may have to be in our individual Zoom rooms, but we can reach across those Zoom borders and create something beautiful, meaningful, and sustaining. We can create and renew our family connections through stories.