Parents have a lot of jobs. In addition to the paid work a parent might do outside the home, there are a million components to the caregiver role as well. We know them all well - in the summer, the more fun roles might include camp scheduler, picnic packer, 4th of July organizer, marshmallow roaster, hair stylist, backyard pitcher, and a million others. Of course, those are in addition to the less fun ones - chores enforcer, bedtime warden, bill payer, recycling sorter.
But there’s one role that can be overlooked in the effort to get all the other jobs done. And as much as I hate to add another thing to your plate, mama, we think this one is pretty important. Good news is, it’s pretty enjoyable too.
I believe that one of the most important roles a parent can take on is the role of family storyteller. Why is this one so meaningful? Because a child’s sense of well-being can be bolstered by their understanding of their family story and how they fit into it. Indeed, a positively-framed and fondly remembered set of stories can strengthen the bonds of all family members. These stories can provide protection against stormy family times as well.
This is probably why we as parents work so hard to create memories for our kids; why we know, intuitively, than experiences are more important than things. It is from these experiences that our stories come, stories we can tell each other for many years into the future.
With the advent of smartphones, parents have the opportunity to take hundreds of pictures and videos of their kids everyday. Sometimes it’s easy to do, sometimes it’s a pain to remember - but usually, most parents end up with quite a collection of footage deep in their phones or far off in the cloud somewhere.
Ironically, although we are taking more footage than ever, capturing digital evidence of many beautiful moments, parents often don’t have the time to enjoy these memories. We forget or don’t know how to get out the evidence and tell our children the deeper, longer, nuanced stories that weave these moments together into a coherent narrative.
That’s where my company, Smitten Films, comes in. I started Smitten Films five years ago to help parents tell their stories (aided of course by the great videos and photos already on their smartphones) so that families would have a way to enjoy their narrative in the present and for future generations. We take all the bits of footage and work with parents to tell the story behind the moments. Our final product is a finished family film that tells successive chapters of a family’s history together.
I see the benefits of family storytelling all the time in my line of work. I see small children overjoyed at the thrill of seeing themselves on screen. I see slightly bigger kids comforted by reliving a family vacation where they grew through shared experiences with their siblings. I see teenagers soften a bit, reflecting in the love they have always been given by their parents (even when they weren’t always ready to receive it.) I see families embrace gratitude as they reflect on a lucky, love-filled year gone past.
Smitten Films can save you time and, we like to think, add a bit of artistry, but telling your family stories can be done independently too. Just pull out your laptop, select a series of favorite shots, and tell your children some stories to complement the images in front of them. Try to remember the funny details that make the stories uniquely yours. Don’t just show the most beautiful photos; instead, show the authentic moments that make you laugh and cry. Mix in not just beautiful stills, but also videos where you can hear their little voices, shrieks of joy, conversations with the siblings. Take time to savor not only the milestone moments like their first steps, but the unexpected ones as well - like dance parties after dinner or a quick hug in the hallway on the way to brush teeth.
Taking the time to tell and relive your family’s stories is meaningful and worthwhile. Of course, this task can be a lot to fit in with all the other “job responsibilities” of a parent. However, this part of your parenting must be one of the most pleasurable and rewarding. I hope you take the time to tell your stories to your children. Trust me, they will benefit from the sense of wellbeing that comes with knowing they are loved - and knowing they are part of something larger than themselves.