Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Do You Know (DYK) Scale

Every two years, my synagogue hosts a retreat down at Girdwood. This past weekend, the theme was Weaving Generations.

So we did some talking about Boomers and Millennials (18-34 year-olds). I’d just finished discovering that it was only in the last months that Millennials finally passed the Boomers in population in the U.S. There may have been more of us, but we’re dying. For many of us, the Millennials are our kids.
What interested me was something called the Do You Know (DYK) Scale. Created by Emory University psychologists Robyn Fivush, Ph.D., and Marshall Duke, Ph.D, the scale involves 20 yes-or-no questions that ask things you wouldn’t know directly about your parents, grandparents, or other relatives. Either you weren’t alive or they were too distant.

So some sample questions are:
  1.     Do you know where some of your grandparents met?

  2.     Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?

  3.     Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?
Higher DYK scores are associated with higher levels of self-esteem, better family functioning, increased resilience, etc. As I looked at the list, I immediately thought two things (in the two directions of the generations): (1) I’d ask these questions to Sophie to see if she knew them, and (2) It is probably too late to get the answers to the questions I don’t know about my parents because of my mother’s now-absent memory.

The authors of the scale say they hear from parents who want to “make sure” their kids know the answers so they’ll have all those good outcomes. But that’s not how it works. Knowing the answers is a reflection of a process within families, the process of telling family stories across generations. It’s that process that yields all those good things, not just knowing the facts of the answers.

Mostly, this storytelling happens at family dinners and family occasions, and mostly it’s the mothers and grandmothers who do the transmitting. I think of family gatherings when I was younger; relatives coming for the day, hooting and laughing and eating. I had batches of cousins and they came with aunts and uncles, and we gathered frequently. So my parents had siblings who told stories on each other, and we kids lapped it up. My DYK score is pretty high.
So then, of course, I wondered whether my daughter would have a high score. When she was young and we’d read bedtime stories, I’d often add a story of when she was little or when I was little. Then those became a ritual, and I can still hear her child’s voice, “Tell me a story from when you were little.”

But recently, when she was paging through my finally-bound book of newspaper columns, reading the entries that told some anecdote about her, she’d laugh out loud and ask, “Did I really do that?” And I realized she doesn’t remember.

But mostly, I wonder about the Alaska factor, the distance from family. We always made sure there were annual visits, but only Tim’s family lives near each other. With my family, it often meant catching one aunt or uncle at a time. I wonder if a friend circle can do the same thing.

The authors say it’s about the development of an “intergenerational self and the personal strength and moral guidance that seem to derive from it.” So I think about what lasts over generations, and it’s family. I hear of sisters moving to be nearer sisters, siblings taking trips together (My friend Judith calls them practice for when they’re widows.).

But at the same time, I wonder if this process is more about simply talking, listening, and sharing. Or even about “warmth stability.” Our family is dinner-eaters. Every night, we ate dinner together. On Junior Nordic nights, it may have been earlier, but it was dinner. So is it an intergenerational self that engenders all these good things or a listened-to-and-shared self? Or a self that simply grew up with regular Thanksgivings and Passover seders and camping trips with friends?

I will see both my mother and Sophie next month. I’ll tell the former she did a great job, and I’ll give the latter a little quiz.

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