the secret of good parenting: tell a story

by rebecca on February 22, 2012

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My lectures aren’t very popular, especially with my son. He rolls his eyes at me. I am soooo uncool. And I don’t get it: the pain in his life. We are on opposite sides of the world just now. He wants to shut the door on me every chance he gets. I understand. This is what he’s supposed to do. He’s becoming a man. It just sucks, because I’ll never be able to articulate to anyone how much I love that kid.

When someone hurts him I just want to go crazy. I have a lot to say. I want to go on a tirade and explain the psychology of people around him. I don’t want him to take things personally so I go to epic proportions of explanation of convoluted psychology about relationships….which bores the snot out of him. 

I can’t do it. 

It’s better if I find a way to connect. 

I remind him of when he was really little. Frances had a lousy best friend. Do you know Frances? A Bargain for Frances was a hot-ticket item when we visited the library each week for story hour during the toddler years.

Frances had a friend, Thelma, who tricked her. Frances was saving her money for a real china tea set all in blue. Thelma convinced her that a plastic tea set was preferable and sold hers to Frances, then promptly spent the money on a real china tea set all in blue. Thelma is the same friend who helped Frances to get doused in the freezing pond when they went skating and other adventures that didn’t turn out so well. When Frances discovers she’s been duped yet again she uses some trickery of her own. Backsies or no backsies.

It’s a story about manipulation and trust. I have an eager and trusting son. Just like Frances, he never remembers when a friend hurts him. I use the story of Frances a lot. It is my cautionary tale; a shorthand when I’ve said “Be careful,” one too many times.

Other story book characters are alive and well in our family lore. I adore the one I read below about Mr. Putter. It illustrates that there are dozens of ways to get what we want if we’re willing to simply surrender to the fun of life and forget about being cranky. Plus it involves tearing up a lousy present from a relative. Who doesn’t want to do that?

Do you use story to change the narrative in your children’s lives? Who are your favorite characters?  Have you ever cut up underwear to make a slingshot?

Can stories distract us? Here’s Alix Spiegel’s investigation about serotonin and how people want to simplify the complications of depression by treating biology. 

I want to hear your stories and the altared spaces they’ve created in your life.

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{ 15 comments… read them below or add one }

SuziCate February 22, 2012 at 5:59 pm

We enjoyed story time as much as our children…oh the lovely memories! Each of our kids had favorites that got read over and over and over. We have a video of our oldest “reading a book at two….it was upside down but he was telling it word for word from memory!
My folks were in town this weekend and my father is quite the storyteller. The only time he ever stopped was to eat of sleep. Oldest said he was telling him a story while he was doing homework and his grandfather fell asleep in the middle of it and woke up and continued where he’d left off!
As far as friends…boys are way different than girls. Girls tend to hold grudges and make someone earn their trust before forgiving. Boys seem to get over things quickly. My youngest had a friend like “Thelma” from age six, and he is now 22. He just finally “got” it and has lessened his ties with him. He told me he always knew how he was and really didn’t care but now he just doesn’t have “time” to deal with people like that. Sometimes wisdom takes a while to mature?

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rebecca February 23, 2012 at 5:32 pm

I love this story about your father, SuziCate! The ability to fall asleep, wake up and continue with a story is a writer’s dream, right?

I’ve wondered if my son will outgrow his ability to shake things off so easily. It seems to be such an integral part of his nature. It’s interesting to hear this story of your son. We change when it serves us, I guess.

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Margaret Reyes Dempsey February 23, 2012 at 5:12 pm

What a delight that video is! It made my morning.

With a 12-year-old son, I’m definitely in the stage of trying to shed light on what true friends are. Kids are so fickle at this age. As an only child accustomed to being around adults who are more predictable, he sometimes has a difficult time understanding the behavior of his peers. But we’re getting there.

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rebecca February 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm

Glad you like the video, Margaret. I’ve hesitated because I’m so not a professional. But this topic about stories just begged me to haul out the stories of my children’s childhood.

I have another video with another friend (I might save it for the class I offer in this series) and she is a precious cutie. It was so fun visiting their home and reading books. Took me back to that stage of life.

At our home we’ve had tons of discussions about friends. Probably because kids get “dumped” and vie for popularity. Their issues bring up my issues….on and on. I have a harder time watching my kids (and their classmates) struggle with friend issues than I ever remember struggling on my own.

Good thing my kids have been mostly happy.

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Margaret Reyes Dempsey February 23, 2012 at 8:32 pm

I so agree about suffering more with your kids’ friend issues than you ever did with your own. I guess that comes with being a parent.

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Allison February 24, 2012 at 12:02 am

I love this, Rebecca. My kids love to hear stories about themselves, and I love to tell them. We all need to know that we are the heroes of our own lives. I don’t know any thing that is a greater boon to the soul than to hear evidence of it in a story!

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rebecca February 24, 2012 at 3:22 pm

Isn’t it amazing how much our kids love to hear stories about themselves! My kids loved to have me tell them a story about them just before they fell asleep. That was the “last book”. Still, ages 15 and 19 they hunger for stories about themselves told by their parents.

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Privilege of Parenting February 24, 2012 at 5:13 am

I constantly made up stories to pass time on car rides, help fall asleep at bed time and to frame psychological constructs, friends and frustrations in the world of squirrels and guinea pigs. My favorite was when my oldest read about kids in Nazi Germany and became obsessed with Nazis. That’s when we had “Nazi Talk” a pretend radio-call in show where you could ask questions about Nazis—mostly about their shiny boots.

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rebecca February 24, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I’m totally intrigued. Why were the questions about the shiny boots? My hunch is your son could tell these guys were “bad guys” so…what gives with such shiny boots. Say more please! I think this was a clever way to deal with a tough subject.

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Privilege of Parenting February 27, 2012 at 12:45 am

Even as a Jew with many relatives killed in the holocaust, I think the Nazis had a very specific aesthetic (doesn’t work for me, but my kid thought it was pretty cool; but I wasn’t that excited about Pokemon, Transformers, Warhammers or sports jerseys though either).

The shiny boots were part of the SS’s fashion statement, and nothing says “bad-ass-mother-f—cker” like tall shiny boots, I suppose. Perhaps we should turn the whole line of questioning over to Project Runway?

A kid I once worked with was very into Darth Vader (he had a little trouble on the playground sometimes), but again, that black and shiny thing has a certain wicked gravitas…

The good news is all kids involved seemed to grow naturally out of these fashion (and social) “don’ts”—the scary part is when grown-ups want to dress like Nazis or Klansmen. These guys need some major make-overs 🙂

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rebecca February 29, 2012 at 1:15 pm

I think it’s part of dancing with our shadow that we want to put on the shiny boots for a time. We’re probably figuring out where we can feel our power in the world. Good guy/bad guys games reign on the playground and it feels pretty good.

Then, later, we watch movies about it, right?

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Becky February 25, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I try explaining psychology to my 10 year old when she has issues with the world outside. I get alot of eye rolling too. She’s never bought my stories, but maybe I just need to seek out better inspiratoin.

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rebecca February 29, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Eye rolling: the bane of a mother’s day. I hear ya sista.

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Lesley Reid Cross March 2, 2012 at 6:25 pm

Thanks for the opportunity to reflect on the importance of story in our lives. It’s such a basic part of humanity.

My kids (17,12 and 8) and I are always talking stories- finding similarities between people and situations we’ve encountered and characters and their experiences. This is often the bulk of our lives together, and their education. And they often relate their own relationships to these stories. We still read together often, or we read the same things and they seep into our conversations. Harry Potter is a huge touchpoint around here. Percy Jackson. Princess Cimorene. And lately, with my 12yo, Princess Mia (of the Princess Diaries books). And I recall a time that was all about Amber Brown. And then there are the stories from movies and tv that are part of our lives as well.

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Lesley Reid Cross March 2, 2012 at 6:27 pm

Interesting…that was supposed to be 8, followed by a closing parentheses… but it’s lovely and smiley anyway!

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