When I read New York Magazine’s article on the storytelling technique that could flip your life around with a little wordplay, I tried it and fell in love with myself…just a little bit.
As one who finds “self-care” a fluffy word that ought to be in quotes and accompanied with an eye roll, this was a bigger moment than it sounds. The article reviews a study that asked 600 people to journal, a practice I have never been able to make work for me.
No matter how I start it “Dear diary,” “Date/Time/Year”, “…” it always makes me feel sixteen and angsty, the opposite of the therapeutic effect I’m shooting for. So, I was a skeptic from the start. But this study instructed the participants to write about a past event in detail and then they analyzed the results.
Those who were able to flip this memory into something more meaningful than a simple rehashing, a bland day in the life, all fell into the same pattern. They went universal. They wrote with that big old second person “you” and “we” and “us”. When written in this way, lined and lettered with aphorisms and couched in a collectiveness that brought the experience out from the shadow of their little story and into the wide world, they were able to make it mean more.
So, I gave it a whirl with a distant horrific memory of puking purple grape juice on the cutest boy in fifth grade. Suddenly, it became a little less…nauseating…when placed with all the other puking elementary schoolers in the world. Go me.
So maybe I’m going to be journaling after all. I’m thinking that this is why “This is Us” is a hit show. Yes, this is us. Best of all, maybe this is also the trick to parenting. If I can talk my daughter through her teenage years with a mix of personal anecdotes: “Yes, those shorts are too tight. Let me tell you what happened to me when I tried to bend over in junior high in a pair just like that,” and general aphorisms, “you never know who else is feeling lonely at the lunch table,” then we might just make it through.
Maybe I can help her reframe her life enough with the power of this idea and she will remember she is not alone, that there are millions of “dear diary” entries much like hers, and that’s a good thing. Because, maybe it’s true like the article stated, “it’s comforting to remind yourself that other people have been, and will continue to be, where you are right now.”
In light of this shift in semantics and mindset, here are my top 5 aphorisms worth pinning to your parenting profile. Use them, rinse, and repeat:
“Remember, no one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”
– Eleanor Roosevelt.
Inner strength cannot be overstated in parenting. That’s the muscle I want my kids to work the most. Self-confidence is just that, something that originates within and Eleanor Roosevelt was one of the strongest women to take up the mantle of First Lady. I want my children to know that they have earned the right to take up space in this world simply by being themselves and no one can diminish that.
“Enjoy the little things in life, for one day you`ll look back and realize they were big things.”
– Kurt Vonnegut
The best memories I have of childhood are not trips to Disneyland or five-star hotels or even epic Christmases. They are Saturday mornings with blueberry cinnamon rolls and afternoons picking strawberries from the garden and evenings falling asleep wrapped in a towel at the beach. It’s a shift in mindset to train yourself not to live only for the big stuff, to instead find satisfaction in the small, steady miracles of everyday life.
“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not.” – Dr. Seuss
His rhymes have reason. Dr. Seuss was not just a writer of catchy children’s book, he was also an activist. He cared, an awful lot, about an awful lot. I want my children to care – to have views that they are willing to stand behind despite the tide of public opinion. I want them to discern what is worth fighting for and then fight for it because they believe it will make a difference and the world can change for the better.
“You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view – until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.” – Atticus Finch
To view the world from another person’s perspective is the key to compassion, sympathy, and empathy. It’s how we learn to love others well and not just for our own purposes. Atticus taught Scout to love this way in “To Kill A Mockingbird” and that is what I want for my children.
“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.” – Mother Teresa
If I could coin an aphorism, it would be: “Channel Mother Teresa in all things.” She devoted her life to serving others, to those who had nothing she gave everything. It’s easy to be kind and good when everyone is watching – in the big things where recognition is part of the deal.
Of course, kids are going to be good when the teacher is standing right in front of them, ready to dole out praise or punishment. I also want my children to befriend the kid who’s alone on the playground, or tell the truth when a lie would be easier, or listen rather than talk when someone needs to share. Faithfulness in the little stuff goes a long way in making a good heart.
We all have our sayings that bring us comfort and truth. We all search for the universal connections to understand our experiences so that we can be part of the whole, a piece of the puzzle. Use these aphorisms or coin your own and let them be part of the light by which your children steer their lives.
*This article originally appeared in Parent.co.
What’s your favorite quote to live by?