I received a lot of email regarding my article To my Daughter, At Halftime, a list of things I wanted my daughter to know in the “second half” of her growing-up years. Quite a few people contacted me and asked if I read the article to her, and did it resonate?
Always one to take on a double-dog dare, I sat down with my three girls (twins age 10 and my almost nine-year old) separately and read them the piece. I received quite a few giggles, a few nods, and about 25 interruptions asking what certain words meant like trajectory and unfulfilling and diss. In the world of Common Core grading, they didn’t even know what GPA was yet.
Even though I took the time to define these words to them, and I spent time explaining why these points were important to me, it wasn’t sinking in. I lost them. It was a big fail. All of these great messages were not getting into their heads and into their souls.
I mulled it over quite a bit the next day. If I was putting all this thought into what I wanted my girls to know, how could I actually get them to, well, get it.
That’s when it clicked. A few months back a publishing executive saw one of my posts on Mean Girls and asked if I would take a look at a book she was promoting. Because I like free stuff, I said sure, but I really wasn’t sure what to do with it.
When Parenting with a Story arrived in my mail box, I was excited. I loved the premise of the book, which offered real-life stories for parents and children to share to underscore important lessons such as perseverance, gratitude, kindness, grit, and more. I read several of the sometimes heart-wrenching and sometimes heart warming stories, but since I didn’t need them in the moment, I placed the book to the side.
I felt like an idiot. I couldn’t read my kids one of my blog posts and expect them to understand it. I mean, when I was growing up, if my mom started lecturing me about something I totally tuned her out. And I certainly never believed her when she said she knew what it was like to be my age.
I went back and read the intro Paul Smith wrote for his book. One of the most powerful lines is a quote he pulled from the self-described political theorist Hannah Arendt: “Story-telling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.” From a parenting perspective that means it is possible to get our point across without blatant eye rolls.
Smith also said in the book: “Platitudes that seem profound in a pithy piece of prose are surprisingly unhelpful to children in a real-life situation….What does it mean to ‘be myself’ or ‘stand up to peer pressure?’ Should I walk away, start a fight, or just ignore them? At the other end of the spectrum, telling children exactly what to do in every situation is overly prescriptive and doesn’t leave them room to think for themselves. But a story…gives them a concrete idea for how to respond without just telling them what to do.”
Are you talking to me Mr. Smith?
Luckily, I have stories. A lot of them. I have stories that underscore every point in my blog post. I probably have stories about me — or my friends — to highlight every lesson I want my kids to know (yes, if I’m going down, I’m taking all of you with me….it’s for the children.)
I had the story of how someone had accidentally forwarded a message to a group of fifty people, including me, that was only meant for the eyes of one. It contained private, embarrassing information about someone’s divorce. It was completely unintentional, but it happened and the damage was done. Daughters, this is why maintaining your digital privacy is important
I had the story of when I was ten and watching television with my brother. I exclaimed how much I loved the band on TV. He scoffed and told me I didn’t even know who it was. I showed him, and proudly said: “I do too, it’s Via Satellite.” He was relentless with mocking me while he explained that the concert was broadcasting live “via satellite” and the band was, in fact, U2. Daughters, this is why you should not pretend to be something you’re not. And be thankful you don’t have a brother.
I had the story of making the decision to leave my career in public relations to try something new, something that makes me infinitely happier and self-satisfied. One decision can change the trajectory of your life. It was a story that my kids are watching play out first hand. Daughters, this is why you should let yourself be vulnerable, and always be courageous.
I sat down with the girls to try again. We went through each point, and I told a story to go with each one. They had questions this time. They made comments about things that have happened in their lives, some of which I never knew. They started to get it.
I can answer truthfully now that I shared this post with my kids in a meaningful way. The future will tell how deeply it impacted them, but I feel pretty good every time I get my kids to open up to me.
And I can’t wait to share the story of my first spiral perm. Man, that one is a doozy and I’ve got pictures to prove it. Don’t even ask…
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