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The Importance of Storytelling in Families

The Importance of Storytelling in Families

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Published by Joseph Horton
Mark Oestreicher speaks of the benefits of sharing stories with your children.

Mark Oestreicher speaks of the benefits of sharing stories with your children.

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Published by: Joseph Horton on Jan 30, 2013
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The Importance of Storytelling in FamiliesBy Mark Oestreicher
(WARNING: this guy doesn’t believe in capitalization)
 
when my two teenage children are with my parents
 –
their grandparents
 –
in myhome state, they consistently ask for stories about me as a child or teenager. they
ask for stories to be told and retold. when they stumble onto one they haven’t
heard before, they come to me and ask me to retell it also.
there’s more to this than the obvious surface stuff of finding out dirt on their dad.
hearing these stories helps my kids gain more of a sense of identity, connectingthem to the lineage of their origin. the stories become part of who they are. thestories become their stories.throughout history, our current culture stands unique in our affinity to facts.families, throughout time, have been more interested in stories. in fact, educationin jewish households was more about storytelling than anything else. beforeanyone had a copy of the bible or torah in their homes, oral histories (not evenprinted stories, let alone printed propositions) were the primary means of remembering who we are, of remembering where we came from.case in point: the passover seder dinner is all about storytelling. each element of a
passover dinner is meant to call up another important element of God’s greatrescue, reminding the teller and listeners who they are as god’s chosen, as god’s
beloved.of course, jesus is a fantastic example for us in this: he was an amazing storyteller,often preferring a story (real or imaginary) over other forms of communication. jesus knew that stories capture imagination. stories allow listeners to findthemselves in the characters. stories
 –
especially the right stories
 –
encourage us,
as the lion king’s mufasa reminded his son simba, to “remember who you are.”
 i love what paul (in a fatherly voice) writes to young timothy in 2 timothy 1:5
 
am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother lois and in your mother eunice and, i am persuaded, now lives in you also.
 
paul doesn’t
unpack the stories here, but he reminds timothy of stories tim knows well, and
 
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has heard over and over again his
entire life, stories that tell him, “remember whoyou are.”
 we parents tended to be pretty good about storytelling with our kids when theywere little. we bought all those cardboard covered picture books and read themout loud until we wanted to do imaginary harm to the imaginary characters. wesat with our kids watching veggietales or other cute story videos. stories thatwere cute until about their seventh viewing (and not so much at their sevenhundredth viewing). we sat on the edge of their beds at night, making up wild andwonderful tales, full of humor and pathos and wonderful morality and lessons of courage. try that with your 17 year-
old son! (no, really, don’t.)
 so when did we stop telling stories with our kids? and, more importantly, why didwe stop telling stories with our kids?
sure, our stories have to evolve a bit, if we’re going to continue them with
teenagers. storytelling with teenagers is less about snuggling and unicorns, andmore about the real stuff of life. remember, normal teenagers view their parentsas permanently middle-
aged. they don’t have much imagination about what you
were like as a child or teenager, unless you tell them.if lines of communication are already open and strong in your family, storytellingis a great way to keep t
hem that way. and you’ll be amazed at the other stuff that
will come up before, during, and after stories.
but if lines of communication are already strained, i’d like you to hear a fewthings. first, don’t panic. you’re normal. yes, this is difficult; but
 
it’s normal. in
fact, your goal as a parent of teenager is to wean them from the dependence onyou that was normal when they were children. relationships and independenceand communication all
 –
necessarily
 –
shift during these years. to try to keepthem
from shifting actually does damage to your teenager’s development. but
consider using stories to create a safe DMZ of communication.
even though it will feel forced at times (that’s ok –
some level of uncomfortabilityis ok), structure some sharing times that are built around stories, not check lists of 
“what did you do?” that feel more like a gestapo interview than loving parental
 
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involvement. my friend, who now has a great relationship with his young adultson, used to tell his distant and moody then-16 year-
old son, “you don’t have tolike this, and you don’t have to make eye contact with me, and you don’t even
have to say anything other than the bare minimum; but you will be going out to
breakfast with me once a week until you’re 18, and you will listen
to me tell you
stories, and you will tell me one story about your week.”
 
storytelling, by the way, isn’t only important for younger generations. storytelling
is beneficial for older generations also! in our culture of disposability and instant-everything, stories provide an anchoring, a macro-level picture of the values mostimportant to us, values like obedience to god, courage, faith, hope, and love. 16or 75, we all need to be re-anchored to those values.one of the practices we have embraced in my family is storytelling around thedinner table. we have a no cell phones policy (which, these days, is less abouttaking phone calls than it is about texting or mobile facebooking or otherinterruptions that take place just below the edge of the dinner table). sometimeswe take turns telling low points and high points of our day. with each of these
comes a story. we all learn about each others’ values, each others’ needs, eachothers’ spiritual and emotional states. often, a story of the day will bring out a“that reminds me of the story of that time…,” with a request or one family
member or another to retell one of our arsenal of favorites.here are some ideas for you to try:
host intergenerational storytelling dinners.
instead of everyone bringing a dishto share, each person has to bring a story (or a few stories!) to share
 –
realstories, not made-up stories. give the categories ahead of time, just like youwould for a potluck, and have them choose stories in 2 or 3 categories. make sureyou clear the date f 
irst with your teenager, because they’re who you really want
there! shoot for at least one person or couple from every generation. allow forq&a after each story.
highs and lows.
described above as a practice my family uses, have each family

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