I believe that the stories we tell our children shape the future stories of their lives.
As a father of four children, it should seem obvious that I believe that telling stories would be a vital part of family life. Young children, we intuit, need the imaginative nourishment that storytelling provides. But that is really not what I am talking about.
All the bedtime storytelling I did when my kids were little was just laying the groundwork for the type of lives I wanted them to have. I believe that the stories we learn as children make us more or less receptive to ideas about things that we cling to when we get older: what we tell ourselves that we can or cannot be and what we tell ourselves about what we can or cannot achieve.
With my kids, the typical bedtime stories gave way early on to the stories of my own life growing up with my brothers and sisters. My children never tired of hearing them either. Soon, the venue of the storytelling changed too, from the late night-light glow of the bedroom, to the raucous rhythms of the dinner table.
Did my children really find a valuable life lesson in the story of the time Uncle Rick fell asleep on the bus coming home from high school? My Dad had to chase the bus down, screaming like a madman, begging the bus driver to wake the kid at the back of the bus.
And what possible lesson could they have learned from the story of the time Uncle Chris had to be rushed to the emergency room to remove a sliver of glass from his “behind” after he sat on a small glass tumbler he had brought into the tub with him?
The stories of my youth are part of who they are now. They like to repeat them at family functions and I am sure they have been embellished during the retelling. They are beginning to tell their own stories now too. There is nothing sweeter to my ear than hearing my twenty-one-year-old say: “Remember the time when –” It is a pronouncement of arrival.
These stories built a sense of family that could never have been taught or learned in any school or church. What my kids were looking for in these stories was a sense that they were part of something larger than themselves. These stories told them that they had place, purpose and intent.
The stories I told my children about my childhood offered up a world to them at which they were able to laugh. But to me, these stories gave me a way to bind each child to the other and then to me. This is how we first present the world to them, after all, and this is how we finally begin to change it.