The summer that Juno was one we visited an island with my parents. The whole family went for a walk to visit some weird volcanic sculptures (NZ = another day, another site of geological significance) but Juno was sleepy and I was feeling lazy so we pushed back the passenger seat and lay down for a boobysnooze. I’d flung all the doors open to let a breeze pass through and as we were both coming to the surface after our nap we heard some scuffling in the back. We looked behind and there was a large, curious bird standing on the middle seat. It was a weka, one of New Zealand’s rare, flightless birds. We all stared at each other for one still minute and then it hopped out.
The best thing about this story is not that it happened, but that it became Juno’s first story. She still only really spoke using sounds and actions but she began to relay this story to anyone who would listen. What was even better was that she embellished it – she began telling people, with hand gestures and expressive noises, that the weka did a POO before it hopped out!
Telling stories is one of the things that makes us human. Storytelling is about our brains finding patterns in our experience, and within those patterns, discovering meaning. The weka story was Juno’s first attempt at making sense of the world and attempting to share that understanding with others.
Over the last few months I’ve been thinking about what role telling my own story has on my ability to be a kinder, more loving, more content human. Turns out, it is imperative!
Early in March we had a pretty scary experience getting evacuated out of a festival that flooded along the road from our farm. Forgive me if it feels like I’ve gone on about this alot, but it made a huge impression on me. There were a few moments that night where I believed we’d witnessed serious (fatal) tragedy. A few days later one of the friends we’d been in this experience with tagged me in a post that said
“Everything that makes an impression must have expression”
I really like things that rhyme ‘cos they stick in my head and that one went over and over in my mind and it pushed me to give myself the time I needed to process all the feelings I was having about the festival. Because if we don’t give voice, somehow, to things that have bruised us, we are less able to heal. They just get pushed down, under all the layers of life that continue to be piled on top.
I tend to process using my journal. All the ins and outs of that, and some of the weird things that happen to me when I do it, are in my new video:
Storytelling is important for all people
As you know, I am a big fan of Non Violent Parenting, and a few months ago Ruth Beaglehole, the found of the Centre for Non Violent Parenting in LA, came out to do some workshops in my local community. One of the things she spoke about was the research that shows how narrative work can help us form more secure attachments. A whole therapy has arisen out of it – narrative therapy – a way of dealing with trauma by telling our stories, because until we take hold of our experiences and try and make sense of them, we struggle to find our place with another human. For people to be able to establish and maintain healthy, meaningful relationships with the people around them, we have to be able to know and understand who we are, it is apart of placing ourselves on this map of human connections.
Storytelling is definitely important for parents
I love connecting the dots between gurus. Another peaceful parenting person, a psychologist, Robin Grille, came out one year and did an exercise with us. He asked us to think about a challenging issue we have with our child, and then to imagine ourselves at the same age. What were we doing at that age? What was our experience? We were asked to recall in detail what we would have been going through. After a while we got back together in a group and shared our stories – turns out in several examples, imagining ourselves as kids, enlightened something about the current challenge. One mum, for example, was struggling with her four year old kid watching tv, when she went back to her own story, she realised that when she was four she had two busy working parents, and she was shifted around from babysitter to babysitter who would park her in front of the tv. For her, her child wanting to watch tv bought up feelings of neglect that she’d felt, and she was anxious that when her kid watched tv, even though he was in a loving, secure home, she was neglecting him.
If we take the time to explore what is confronting us, what triggers emotions or explosions, we get the chance to process some deep down stuff and, after a little work telling our stories, we find we are far less explosive or triggered or confronted.
Since being committed to this inner work, this narrative stuff, I have found myself far calmer and far better able to hold space for my children’s emotions.
Storytelling is especially important for women
We’ve been systematically and institutionally silenced for centuries and centuries. We’ve been told our stories are worthless, stupid, told our mouths mustn’t open in sacred places, without permission. We’ve been forced to just listen constantly, to the stories of the men around us. I’m thankful for the generations of women that have changed things, who have painfully elbowed their way to a place where they could tell their stories. We need to keep telling our stories. Today we need to make room for ourselves and each other. We need to share our experiences as mothers in a world that values people for the money they make, we need to share our experiences as women without children in a world that says the best place for a woman to be is at home raising children. We need to share the stories of all the masks we wear, all the violence we endure, the squeezing out, the judgement, the discomfort of living in a world that puts the golden crown on a sexist man’s head a thousand times a day in every single country.
We need to get together in gangs of women and tell our stories to each other. To weave together a narrative of anger and strength and grief and joy and this narrative will be a net that catches the golden slivers of truth and lets all the flotsam float through.
We need to create places where women lock eyes with other women and say “I see you. I hear you.”
Storytelling is definitely important for children
Some children are able to quickly and openly tell the stories they need to tell about what has impacted them. I have one daughter this way; she almost immediately begins processing “I was here and you were there and then this happened and I was angry and she shouted and I was scared and then…”
Another daughter seems to hold it all inside and needs the stars to align to process in a way that would help her. Sometimes a full week passes before she shares something with me that happened and a light goes off – the last week has been FULL of the fall out from that incident!
Since hearing about “Empathy Books” we have begun a small library of them! They only take a couple of minutes to make and can be incredible for honouring a child’s experience, however small – anything that has impacted them- and they have returned time and again to the ones we made about the festival evacuation and all our seven puppies going to new homes.
An empathy book is just a few pages with a sentence on each about what the child experienced. It is a chance for the child to take hold of the narrative and process their feelings, give empathy to themselves and, in time, give empathy to others.
Here is the original explanation:
Three practical ways to do some simple narrative work:
1- Figure out the way you best like to give expression to things that make an impression. Mine is certainly writing. Yours might be dancing or talking to a friend or writing a song or whatever. Find a few minutes each day where you can express, process, tell your story.
2- If you are facing a particular trigger, how about trying something along the lines of Robin Grille’s method? I’ve come across it in a few places and have used it for several different things. I have a version of it about self-love and body image in my book Freedom Face. Find a quit, comfortable place. Imagine yourself at the place you think a trigger may have begun. Perhaps a shaming incident or a certain time in childhood. Imagine everything you can about it – invoke all your senses, picture yourself there. Now speak to the little you. Tell the little you some important things you wish her to hear. That she is seen. That she is heard. That she is loved. Imagine warmth and love flooding your body. Allow those feelings to stay with you as you bring yourself back into the present. If you feel it might be too much for you, ask a friend to do it with you. If even the thought of it seems overwhelming, I reeeeeally recommend finding someone (a pro) to speak to. It’s a good insight that you have some stuff you are holding onto that needs a bit more serious, supported work.
3- Make an empathy book with your child. It could be about a fight they had at kindy, or moving to another country, or how they hate their car seat. See how making the empathy book feels for you both.
The ears of your heart
I’ve been thinking about the ears of my heart lately. About how they are stuffed up – plugged with those really effective ear plugs they give people in first class on the aeroplane. (I know about them ‘cos I pinched a packet once when we were getting off the plane for a 12 hour stopover and I was so desperate for sleep I stole and washed that first class wax off and had the best sleep of my life on a cold bench in a teeming but silent airport.) Our heart ears are plugged up, unable to listen to each other. Often when we are listening we have our To Do list going through our head, or we are thinking about what we are going to say in response. I don’t want to do that. I want to listen to people with my whole, open heart.
But I’ve also been thinking about how the ears of my heart should be the first ears to hear my story. When I do this well, when I take time to listen to myself, to be kind and give empathy to myself, I find I am so much more able to live authentically, in tune with my feelings and hopes and dreams.
So, here’s an invitation. To tell your story, hear your story and guide your children in the telling of their own stories.
The story that can change your life, that can make you a better version of yourself, that can bring you deep connection with others, is your own story. Start telling it.
Keep radical, my friends x x
PS Just checking you heard about my Patreon? Just launched and am MEGA stoked by your support. There is stuff on there for patrons only, discussions and videos and a parenting mini-series.