The stories that families tell: Narrative coherence, narrative interaction, and relationship beliefs

Barbara H. Fiese (Editor), Arnold J. Sameroff (Editor), Harold D. Grotevant (Editor), Frederick S. Wamboldt (Editor), Susan Dickstein (Editor), Deborah Lewis Fravel (Editor)

Research output: Contribution to journalSpecial issuepeer-review


Personal narratives are receiving considerable interest as reflections of important psychological processes. Less attention, however, has been paid to how narratives are constructed among family members and serve as markers of family relationship functioning that directly affect child development. As a group activity, the telling of family stories may be one way that families regulate social interactions. As reflections of individual and family beliefs, family stories also may be a way that representations of relationships are passed down across generations. The Family Narrative Consortium was formed by a group of family researchers who aimed to devise a system by which family stories could be coded reliably. The consortium members were interested in how narratives about personal experiences could be considered a central aspect of the family's attempt to make sense of their social world and to share representations of relationships with their children. The narratives used in the collaborative project came from family interviews conducted with four different samples using four different interview protocols. The data sets were originally part of larger research projects aimed at studying a variety of family processes including intimate couple formation, family rituals, family adoption, and effects of parental psychiatric illness on the family. Three dimensions were proposed as part of the coding scheme: Narrative Coherence, Narrative Interaction, and Relationship Beliefs. Family narratives are proposed to involve the process of creating a coherent statement about family events, the exchange of information among family members, and attribution of meaning to family experiences. Analyses conducted across the samples and within each site provided support for the reliability and validity of the narrative scales. The consortium members conclude that narratives provide access to the insider's view of the family, can detect interactional and representational as pects of family process, and are important markers of family functioning. Furthermore, the study of family narratives emphasizes how the meaning-making process comes to life in family interaction and transacts with representations of family relationships.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)x-159
JournalMonographs of the Society for Research in Child Development
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jun 1999
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology


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