Stories

Parenting & The Power of Storytelling in the Modern Era

The other night, as my husband Dave and I sat on the couch, we paused the show we were watching for the 50th time to share our thoughts about the day.

The conversation ran deep, as it usually does when it’s late and we’re both exhausted. I’m not sure why that happens, but it does. Maybe it’s like sinking down to touch the bottom of the pool for a minute after treading water all day.

How did we get here? We’re in our 40s, with one kid in high school and the other about to cross firmly into the teen years.

While we were feeling emotional, I can’t say that we were feeling melancholy.

I mean, it’s the golden age of date nights without needing a sitter, getting help with dinner, the kids doing their own laundry, and having enough mental space for us parents to find ourselves again. It’s glorious.

Even “attitudes” are understandable when they’re framed in hormones, stress, and striking out on one’s own. This is as true for them as it is for me.

So there we were, sitting on the couch, TV paused, taking stock.

“Remember when the kids were little and they’d always say, ‘Tell me a story from when you were a little kid?’

Isn’t it funny how a short turn of phrase, one you thought you’d forgotten about, can suck you straight back through space and time to the moment you first heard it?

It was an emotional era.

Looking back through the layers of cuteness, I realize now that the kids were actually starting to recognize that they were separate from us.

In the most primal way, they were trying to understand themselves. And how have we understood ourselves since the beginning of time? Through the power of story.

I had coffee with a poet once. We talked about the stories we carry deep in our bones. The stories we’ve absorbed from those that came before us. And how those stories affect us even to this day.

And while I admit I lean heavily on the romance side of things, there’s actual science to back it up.

Some years back, scientists conducted a study with mice. Maybe you read about it? In short, they took a group of mice, had them sniff some cherry blossoms while the scientists gave them a small electrical shock.

The mice were scared. Then the scientists bred them and took the offspring and exposed the youngsters to the smell of cherry blossoms. This time there was no shock. But you know what happened? Those little mice, even though they’d never smelled a cherry blossom before, completely freaked out. They were terrified.

Two generations later, the offspring of the original mice were like, NO! when it came to cherry blossoms.

Had those mice learned about great-grandpa’s experience, they may have been able to recognize why they didn’t like the smell of cherry blossoms. Meaning, they wouldn’t have to be so afraid.

The same goes for us and our family history. It’s the ‘stories we carry in our bones’ thing I was just talking about.

Tell me a story from when you were a little kid.

Eleven words. That’s all it took for our kids to enter a world where their mom and dad were little just like them, and, just like them, doing their best to navigate the world around them.

For years, I wrote articles about parenting. I even created a 13-episode series for PBS Parents’ Youtube channel called Adventures in Learning. And yet I never shared this ritual.

Maybe because I thought it was hokey. Or maybe, more honestly, I had no idea how things would turn out. I didn’t know if the kids, growing up in the world of blogging, would turn out okay. I didn’t know if the stories we told would lead to anything more than helping me feel more connected to my children. As if it was selfish rather than something more.

That’s the thing when you’re in the thick of it. You don’t have the opportunity to pause and assess. You don’t have time to sink to the bottom of the pool before pushing off to break through the surface.

But what I’ve learned in my years of parenting, having been at this for nearly 16 years now, is that those stories—the ones where Dave and I were at times the hero of our own stories and sometimes the villian—have lead to our kids feeling completely comfortable in sharing their own stories with us.

Which, when you’re talking about sex and drugs and all the big stuff that felt so far off when they were little, has made all of us feel like we can handle this phase. And also, that this phase can be just as wonderful as the ones that came before it.

That’s why I’m honestly thrilled with BeforeYou. It’s the app that allows you to capture and share family stories with your kids.

It’s like when Facebook was good.
When Instagram was honest.
Before Twitter was… Actually, Twitter was never my jam.

BeforeYou is modern storytelling made easy.

And while I wish I had it when the kids were little, I’ve been having so much fun going through and filling in the stories of their great grandmas and importing pictures from when Dave and I were little. It’s easy to add text, videos, images to our family timeline. And when I get stuck there are prompts to help me along. And the best part? It’s not owned by Facebook. So I can feel confident my privacy is protected.

Seriously, I love it. It gives me context and touchstones and perspective. It gives the kids that too.

Check it out at BeforeYou.com

There’s great power in storytelling, especially in the modern era.

This post is graciously sponsored by BeforeYou. I am thrilled to be teaming up with them over the next month to spread the word about the positive impact of family storytelling on both kids and parents alike.