As mothers, we want our children to feel part of something bigger than themselves. Connected to family, connected to generations, connected to God. But how to do this? What is the best way to connect them in ways that make them feel belonging, hope, and peace? The thought has come to me many times – start with a story. Bedtime stories, car ride stories, work together stories. You know what I mean – stories as you wash dishes together at the kitchen sink or that you whisper as they drift off to sleep.
This idea isn’t new. We grow up reading fairy tales. We read parables from the Bible and study stories in school. Stories are powerful teaching tools because we can see ourselves in stories or we can at least relate to the characters. That’s what keeps us up late reading one more chapter or watching one more episode.
But what stories to tell? There are more to choose from than we think! My children love hearing their own story – how many times have I repeated birth stories and funny quips from their early years? Stories from our own childhoods, from our parents, and the generations beyond. Not every story has a teaching moment, but every story can have a connection.
My son had his 5th-grade track meet this week. His best event was the long jump. We cheered and congratulated him. Later in the car, I asked him, do you remember who else was a good jumper? Your great-great-grandfather Victor. Cort remembered the stories of how Victor had a lot of fun jumping over ditches on the way to school. By the time he was in high school, he could jump long distances with ease. He even set records in college. It got Cort thinking about what he could do by the time he was in college if he practiced like Victor.
Cortland and Victor even look quite similar. I daresay they might even share the same wit. The story about Victor jumping ditches and competing in track and field was a way that Cortland could naturally connect to his ancestors.
Last year Cortland had a similar experience with another of his ancestors. We were at an interactive museum in Park City. Cortland loved a display where you could pretend you were a telephone switchboard operator. There was a challenge where you could see if you could connect all the lines in time. Cortland was fast and a natural! As we walked away from the exhibit, I said (you guessed it), do you know who else was a really good telephone operator – your great-grandmother Josephine.
Jo worked for the telephone company, starting as a switchboard operator. She moved up the ranks to a senior position. She became an early advocate for working rights for women, bringing a suit against the company for wage discrimination as she earned less than men who held the same job. She won the case, which set early precedence for women’s rights.
As I was telling Cortland the story, my 13-year-old daughter was drawn in, too. She is very interested in fairness and rights. What started as a game, moved to a story, which evolved into a connection. The interaction was simple. It was applicable to what they cared about at the moment. And it tied them to people and causes bigger than themselves. Because their ancestors did hard things and shared their talents, perhaps they can, too?
What stories do you have to tell? The stories need not be long or even especially grand. One of my favorite memories to share about Great-Grandpa Victor is his windshield wiper wave. I still remember him standing at his door as we pulled out of his carport. He would do this huge wave – back and forth – just like a windshield wiper. I think about that wave and I know he loved me. What stories can we tell our children that remind them how much they are loved, too?