‘The Women Who Made Us Who We Are’: The Power of Your Family Stories

Although male figures dominate history books, ask anyone about the family leaders who helped them grow into successful adults, and chances are you’ll hear about women. Grandmothers, moms, older sisters and aunts inspire young people to grow, achieve and help others.

This is especially true in the family of Make It Better Media Group founder Susan Noyes. She recently sat down for a virtual Fireside Chat, “The Power of Your Family Stories: Be Inspired By Three Generations,” with four family members.

Let’s meet Noyes’ participating relatives:

Matriarch Virginia Blankenbaker, Noyes’ mother, is a former Indiana state senator and mother of five.

Betsy Murphy, Noyes’ younger sister, is a writer, performer and publisher at Beautiful Infinity Books. She leads retreats and teaches courses to help others tell their own stories.

Willie Griswold, Noyes’ nephew, is a comedian on the Bob & Tom Show.

Emma V.R. Noyes, Noyes’ daughter, is the author of The Sunken City, a young adult fantasy novel.

While none dismissed the powerful support of the dads and grandads in the family, the family members each acknowledged that strong women are a distinguishing characteristic of their family tree.

For Susan Noyes, growing up with a mom who built a thriving grocery business with her husband, then successfully ran for the state Senate, helped her understand there was no job she couldn’t do. That started at age 12, when she saw an ad for newspaper delivery boys.

“I said, ‘That’s discriminatory! Girls can do that job.’ My mom said, ‘Write them a letter and tell them that.’ And I got the job!”

For Blankenbaker, family support came not only from older generations but from the younger members of the family.

She recalls everyone pitching in for her grassroots state Senate campaign.

“All you kids came home from college to help with the campaign and walk in the neighborhoods. That impressed a lot of people.” 

For Murphy, the strength she absorbed from her mother helped her find the courage to talk publicly about things that same mother might not have encouraged. That’s how she felt when she published her first book, Autobiography of an Orgasm, which dealt with her experience of sexual assault.

“Whether she likes it or not, my mother was my inspiration for me to say, ‘This happened to me and it matters. It doesn’t define me, and I am reclaiming my body and my life.’”

Although she was at first put off by a subject seldom broached in her generation, Blankenbaker later invited Betsy to share her story at her book club.

For Griswold, growing up in a family of strong women helped prepare him to thrive in today’s world, where gender stereotypes are constantly being challenged.

“I grew up in an environment where (gender) boundaries weren’t respected or even talked about. When I was in sixth grade, my sister Lucy joined the high school football team. And when I was in third grade, I was taking tap dancing lessons.”

For Emma Noyes, her mother’s encouragement pushed her to share the writing she’d been working on practically in secret for years. This eventually led her to publish her debut novel.

“When I started putting my work online and sharing it with people, that was the first step. The more I put out there, the more my confidence grew.”

Watch the full conversation below:

How did the role models in your family help you become who you are today? Do you, like Noyes’ family, find that the women were especially influential? We would love to read your family stories — please email them to editorial@makeitbetter.com or send to us on Instagram or Facebook.

More from Better:

Carrie Kirby spends a lot of time asking people about something they think about but rarely talk about: money. Her work on personal finance, business and technology has appeared in San Francisco MagazineConsumers DigestWise Bread and more publications. Carrie’s most recent work about her other love, travel, appears in The Best Women’s Travel Writing: Volume 10. She lives on an island (Alameda) with her husband and three kids, and blogs about getting them all where they need to go without owning a car at carfreemom.com.

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