Our kids are good kids, I said to David. When we lay out a plan for them, give them a vision for what could be (this conversation being about the concept of a peaceful ride home from school), they embrace it. They really do.
If they’re misbehaving on the way home from school, and I’m about to lose my ever-loving mind, I pull the car over and cast the vision for what the ride home could look like. Car in park, turning around in my seat, I’d look them squarely in the eye for a solid second each before opening my mouth to speak: “Kids.” Lips pursed at that period. One more second of eye contact per kid. “We are not going to do this.”
Calm voice, every word staccato. I’d have their rapt attention at this point, but if I scream, I’ll lose their trust. To keep their trust, I have to shift at this point. Storytelling in place of screaming is always a better option.
“Let me tell you a story.” My voice returns to its normal tone and cadence. And I’d tell them a story about what it was like when I was a kid and my mom pulled the car over or was driving me home from school. And then I’d tell them what the experience was like. And after that, I’d tell them what I liked about it, or didn’t like about it, and something I learned from it.
Which is I guess, the only formula I need for writing a book. But that’s a separate conversation.
I’d have my kids’ attention on the way home. They’d look out the window and then at random ask a question about the story. The others would listen thoughtfully. And then they’d return to staring out the window until another question popped up.
I’d start driving again.
“You guys,” I’d continue at the appropriate point, “you know what I want riding home from school to feel like? Less anxious. Less worried. Calmer, more peaceful. I get it, kids. At three o’clock in the afternoon, we’re all hyped up and exhausted. I think in some countries they call this nap time, but in America, we decided to call it school pick-up time. But we’ve been dealing with people and thoughts and lessons and exercise all day long. We’re all on the brink of snapping at our family members, right? But if we fall prey to that emotion, kids, we’re not going to like where we end up.
I want the ride home from school to look, feel, taste, sound, and smell beautiful. Not fancy, kids. Beautiful. I want a clean car, with peaceful music, a relaxing retreat, a safe place for you guys to step into after your work at school all day. I’d love to have fresh ice water for you, maybe a piece of fruit in each of your seats. I want the ride home to rest and recharge you, and set you up for a great night at home, one where we’re not all mad and irritated at each other, ya know?”
I might conclude with, “Life is hard. Let’s not make it harder by being harder on each other.”
I think they’d buy it. It acknowledges them, sees them, understands their efforts, and wants to be able to hear their stories and struggles. It shows my vulnerability, my willingness to talk with them, to share my heart with them.
Anytime I approach my frustrations this way, instead of snapping (and believe me, I have snapped), I feel a shift in my relationship with each kid. We smile at each other, meet each other’s eyes, say goofy things, and chuckle. All because I decided to tell a story instead of scream.
They say we’re wired for story. It makes too much sense that this is why the approach works. Of course, the outcome of storytelling over screaming would be better. That’s why the Bible is full of stories, our history is chronicled and told best as a story, why speakers start their TED Talks with a story, why pastors use stories in sermons, why artists drew on cave walls, why Renaissance artists painted characters into pictures, and used symbols and gave them meaning and turned them into an alphabet and then a language.
If you don’t like what’s happening in your life, rewrite the narrative you are telling yourself and your people. Recognize what is, but cast a vision for what could be.
Want my thoughts in your inbox every week? Click here!