I think we can all agree that Parenting is indeed the spiritual practice of our time. Nothing shows us our margins – the clear edge of our capacities and sense of what is possible – like Parenting. Parenting forces us to find energy when exhausted, wisdom when sleep-deprived, and creativity when the well is dry.
When new parenting tools and resources come along, parents take them seriously. We entertain the possibility that this PERSPECTIVE or CONCEPT or TOOL might be just the thing to help us be present and loving with sleepless children at 2 a.m., or with impatient children in the airport, or with sick children in the doctor’s office, or with rowdy children while trying to pack lunch for a day at the park.
So here is the oldest and, I think, most effective parenting tool available: Storytelling. And I don’t mean reading “Uncle Wiggly” to them for the 12th time – I’m talking about the stories you make up in the moment. Ask any kid: made up stories are their favorite. Hands down.
The trick, therefore, is actually doing it. Telling them stories. Opening your mouth and saying “Once upon a time…”. The challenge, however, is that most people won’t do it. They don’t feel like it will be a ‘good’ story, they don’t feel creative, they don’t think their child will like it, and they don’t know what to tell a story about. All valid reasons, but all easy to collapse.
Your stories will be ‘good’. In fact, your children will think they are the ‘best’. You are creative, and you do know what to tell a story about. There. So lets get started.
Perhaps we should begin with an idea about stories. Here is something many of the indigenous people of Australia believe about stories: they see stories as little (or big) entities floating around and waiting for somebody to nab them out of the air and then tell them. I like this because it takes the responsibility away from the teller and gives it to the great All That Is. It is not my story – I’m just telling it.
So, how do you get started?
The answer is literally right in front of you. I tell several stories a day – all made up. I start every one the same way: I PAY ATTENTION. No matter where I am – sitting in traffic, lying next to my youngest boy, standing in front of an audience – I pay attention to the sights and sounds and smells and inevitably, something jumps out. Something commands my ATTENTION. And it is usually something that I don’t expect: the sound of the clothes drier, a stuffed elephant on my boy’s shelf, the smell of coffee, the feeling of my wallet in my pocket. Something grabs my attention. It could be a thought or a feeling or an urge as well. I could be thinking about my dog. I could be feeling irritated. I could have the urge to laugh. All valid attention grabbers.
The next step is to choose one of the wonderful possibilities that is in your field of attention. I see a crow? Then I say “Once upon a time there was a crow who…”. I hear a siren? I say “Once upon a time a little girl heard a fire truck siren and …” I smell toasted bagels? I say “Once upon a time there was a boy who was hungry …”.
Then comes the fun part: keep talking. LET THE STORY TELL ITSELF. Don’t listen to the little voice in your head that is telling you to stop. It wants to tell you that your story is no good. It wants to tell you that you have no idea what you are doing. Ignore it. Just keep talking. See where the story goes. If indeed you run into an impasse and you don’t know what to say next, then PAY ATTENTION again and let the new attention grabber motivate your story.
So in short:
And, of course, if you allow yourself – you will have fun. You will be filled with energy. You will feel creative. You will feel powerful. You will be present. All of this is at your fingertips when you allow yourself to simply pluck a story out of the air and then TELL IT.
Summertime Parenting Challenge
Tell three stories over three days. It doesn’t matter how long they are; they can be two minutes or 20 minutes! And watch to see what happens.
David Sewell McCann fell in love with spinning stories in first grade — the day a storyteller came to his class and captured his mind and imagination. He has been engaged in storytelling all of his adult life through art, film-making, teaching and performing. Out of his experience as a Waldorf class teacher and parent, he has developed a method of intuitive storytelling, which he now shares through workshops and through his website. Together he and his wife Lisabeth Sewell McCann have created Sparkle Stories.
Rhythm of the Home is an online magazine for families that focuses on creating with children, nature explorations, seasonal celebrations, conscious parenting, and mindfulness in all that we do.