I recognize that my lifestyle is very unlike others’. I know that by working at home, and with just one kid in school in a walkable community, I am living in a way that gives me the luxury so many people dream of: time. I have the time to tell my daughter stories. Our weekday mornings look nothing like the stereotype you see in movies or commercials – parents grabbing keys and briefcases while talking on their cell phones, teens reaching for pastries as they race to the bus, kids trying to finish homework while breakfast sits uneaten on the table. Our mornings actually include long conversations!
And yet I also propose that families can find ways to add minutes and hours to their clocks – maybe not every day, but every week? Yes. I think so. One choice I’ve made for my family is to severely limit television and the electronic video gadgets that have such a hypnotic effect on kids. My daughter also has a strict (and early) bedtime, designed to allow at least thirty minutes of relaxed reading before a full night’s sleep. This lets me wake her up at 6:00, giving us plenty of time in the morning before the 8:00 school bell. (I also made the choice to live three blocks away from school, but that might not be a change you can implement today!) How we manage our time as parents is within our control: it’s all a matter of our choices and priorities. Intellectual courage allows parents to consider the implications of our choices. We can gather information, objectively observe how our choices impact our families, and make different choices if we judge that to be warranted. If the choices we make suck our time into a black hole, it's time to make different choices. Is this choice a net gain or a net loss? Our responsibility as parents is to make that assessment and take appropriate action.
|Copyright Ew Chee Guan, Dreamstime.com|
Telling a story and listening to a story require attention, so we have to find ways to get our children’s attention, or notice the times when we already have it or can easily draw it to us – in the car, when they are in the tub, at a meal. Notice the times when they are receptive and relaxed. Is it at the end of the day when the rush is over, or at the start of the day, before the rush begins? Is it driving home from church or Little League or aftercare? Is it while you are playing a board game, or taking a walk or doing the dishes together? Does a weekly ritual such as Shabbat dinner open space for stories? Notice the times when your child needs your strength and encouragement: while waiting at the doctor’s or dentist’s office, after taking a test, before trying something challenging for the first time. Instead of distracting her from her anxiety with activity, give her a story to help her put that worry into perspective. Emotional courage means recognizing and acknowledging that anxiety without pretending it isn't real, trying to laugh it off, or cover it up with electronic sleight of hand.
Sometimes I find myself in the grim and unsatisfying position of fishing for conversation with K. after school. I ask question after question – open-ended questions, artfully and subtly designed to elicit information or opinion (yeah, right!) while she’s unpacking her lunch box and fixing herself a snack. When I realize I’m insisting she share with me, I remember that I must first give what I want to receive. When I share a story, I can create an opening for meaningful dialogue rather than commanding a tedious recitation of the day’s events.
So, when to tell a story, especially if you feel your time is limited and you want to make the most of your talking time? When you find yourself asking, once again, “How was school today?” and getting, once again, a one-word response – that’s a good time to start.