Storytelling: The Punk Rock of Parenting

by ParentCo. February 13, 2017

father and son  on top of a hill together enjoying the view

In the mid-seventies, authors of the fanzine Sideburns posted the following, "This is a chord. This is another. This is a third. Now form a band.” And Punk Rock was born.


Music was no longer hemmed in by virtuosity, by production value, by promotion, or by...being able to play actual music. Punk rock asked only one thing: authenticity. A simple, real exchange from one person to another. Parenting involves a lot of exchanges. All day long we “exchange” with our kids. We tell them the rules, we explain why one food is better than another, we encourage cleanliness, we discourage pinching, we talk, we demonstrate, we enforce, we measure things every other minute until they are asleep. And then we discuss what happened with another adult. It is hard work, it is tiring, and most of the time, we don’t think we are doing it right. So…we look to the experts. We read books, listen to podcasts, attend workshops, maybe listen to our own parents — and does this make things better? Usually not. Usually, it makes us doubt more, wonder more, and then search harder. Enter Punk Rock. Free, authentic, real parenting can be found in the punk rock of our time: storytelling. Free, authentic, real parenting can be found in the punk rock of our time: storytelling.Now – to be clear – I’m not talking about the fancy-shmancy storytelling, the children’s album storytelling, the one-man “Odyssey” or “Lord of the Rings” storytelling, or even the wandering bearded folk-tale-spinning storytelling. I’m talking about you...making stuff up. Simple, unpolished, and clumsy storytelling – that is where the punk rock lives. And this is how you do it in five easy steps (and by the way, this works for children ages 2 ½ all the way to 11. Older than that … is another article):

Set an intention.

Say to yourself “I want to help Caleb go to sleep without my help” or “I want to understand why Lillian is so mean to the neighbor girl” or “Help me stop getting angry every time George smacks his lips when he eats.” This is important because it helps you really understand what you want. Is this story for him? Or is it for you? What do you want to learn?

Forget the intention.

Do something else. Go to sleep. Meditate. Do whatever you need to let the intention go and move on. This is important because the best way to ruin a good story is to try to control it. Once you start steering the story toward relevance or sounding good or being intelligent or interesting, you start pushing it around. And stories like to be free. They are punk rock – stop telling them what to do.

Say, “Once upon a time.”

To begin, you need to surprise yourself and start telling a story about whatever comes to mind, or whatever you see in that moment. You can even ask your child to say an animal or a funny name or a place in the world. Be surprised and then immediately launch yourself into the story.

Keep talking no matter what.

Let the story be a bad story. Let the story wander around aimlessly. Let the story be boring. Let the story make no sense. You will want to be interesting because you’ll feel you are in competition with video games or netflix. Try to let that go and just be brave (and I know this is truly an act of bravery) and trust. Try to keep going - because something will happen — it always does. If you pay attention to this wandering, boring, incomprehensible story, you will suddenly hear yourself say something that is actually pretty interesting, possibly even profound. You will see your child take note and a sparkle will appear in their eyes.
Get wild and go tell your child a story.
But here is the thing: after you hear yourself say something interesting and profound, do whatever you can to continue to get out of the way. Return to boring if you have to, but resist the need to control the narrative and wrestle it to the ground — that’s not punk rock. Let the story smash its instruments and when it seems like it is time to end the story, end it. Walk off the stage with no apologies. Say “The end.” Leave the story alone. The story is smarter than you are, so resist the desire to rationalize it. Don’t ask your child questions like, “What did you think about that armadillo – it sure was angry, huh?” Just say “The end” and then do something else. Later – maybe even a day after — something will float to the surface for you or your child. And something will change. The fear of dogs will be less intense. There will now be sympathy for the annoying kid with the trick bike. Your child will be less worried about the first day of school. You will understand her better. The two of you will be closer. It is magic. It is genius. It works. It is punk rock. So get wild and go tell your child a story.



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