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Published March 01, 2011, 12:00 AM

Parenting Perspectives: Valuable lessons found in family stories

Who are the storytellers in your family? Teacher Sally posed the question to a group of parents during a recent Early Childhood Family Education class in Moorhead, while our 2-year-olds played in the gym.

By: Sherri Richards, INFORUM

Who are the storytellers in your family? Teacher Sally posed the question to a group of parents during a recent Early Childhood Family Education class in Moorhead, while our 2-year-olds played in the gym.

For me, the answer was easy. It’s my dad.

When I was a girl, he’d spin stories around the dining room table for what seemed like hours while the adults drank coffee. Now that we’re adults, he’s shared the tales with his son- and daughters-in-law.

Dad has dozens of stories about our shifty neighbors, who apparently left town for good one night while a casserole still warmed in the oven. He tells how he and Mom taught their first dog, Shep, to fetch the Reader’s Digest, leading one astounded witness of the trick to exclaim, “That dog can read!”

Dad remembers as a boy hearing Pearl Harbor had been bombed. He was sitting in the dentist’s office and based on everyone’s reaction feared the bomb fell just down the road.

There’s the time Quentin Burdick, an insurance company attorney who later became North Dakota’s U.S. senator, successfully represented Dad in a frivolous lawsuit. Dad was worried about his chances when Burdick showed up late and disheveled but was quickly reassured by Burdick’s oratory abilities.

“Whoever tells the stories defines the culture,” Teacher Sally said, citing parenting expert and author Dr. David Walsh. She was emphasizing the importance of creating rituals with kids.

This hit home for my husband, Craig, and me. We read books to Eve every day, but we hadn’t really told her any stories. That night before bed, Craig asked if Eve wanted to read a book or hear a story. “Hear a story,” she said.

So Craig told her about how he learned to swim. I told her that when I was her age, I stuck a watermelon seed so far up my nose my parents had to call a doctor.

Now it’s a daily ritual. “Tell me a story about Sherri,” Eve pleads. “Once upon a time there was a girl named Sherri,” I start.

Her favorite story, so far, has been the time I was learning to ride my new bike and ran smack into a tree during a Richards family reunion.

Telling these stories shares our family history orally, a centuries-old tradition I fear will be lost in our digital age, where kids text message the friends sitting next to them.

These stories entertain Eve. And they share morals and values we want to instill in her: To work hard and practice. To listen. To value her loved ones. And to never, ever stick a watermelon seed up her nose.


Sherri Richards is mother of an almost 3-year-old daughter and is an employee of The Forum. She also blogs at www.topmom.areavoices.com

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