Thoughts on Story Sharing

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Sharing stories is a two-part process - sharing and listening. For a long time I mainly focused on the sharing aspect. During that time I craved the validation and acceptance that comes from sharing. But recently I have been developing my listening skills and have learned that listening is equally important. Being on both sides of the story sharing process has taught me some valuable lessons - mainly those in humility, acceptance, and the importance of stories.

Sharing

I have thought about sharing my story a million times and 99% of those times, I never do. It is dang hard to sit down and put your life into words that actually mean something to someone.


Part of my hesitation to share is that I feel like I have to start at the beginning to give perspective on my life. That's especially hard for me because I've had a fair share of potentially shameful experiences. I personally don't have a hard time sharing those but I am afraid of hurting people in my life by doing so. In moments of bravery, I remind myself that storytelling is extremely personal and that there is a place for my perspective, too. Finding myself between the sensitive consideration of other people's privacy and the burning drive to share has been a refining experience for me. It has forced me to take ownership of my feelings, my thoughts, and my pain instead of trying to blame others.

Secondly, I feel like I have eight million types of stories. Which would you like to pick from? I have a story about:

  • surviving abuse
  • my journey through yoga
  • healing a broken marriage
  • recovering from trauma
  • natural birth
  • exclusive pumping
  • losing and re-gaining my faith
  • being a mom
  • having OCD

Like, seriously, which one would you like to hear? I don't know where to start or which details to include. Some of the topics are easy because they were positive experiences or the pain has healed. Others, like being a mom and having OCD, don't really have an ending. Do I just stop in the middle? I never know.

I love writing because it allows me to practice being vulnerable. I feel like it works in stages - I am brave enough to write. Then I have strength enough to review. Finally I am brave to share. Each stage I am sweaty and shaky at the keyboard. Each end of the cycle brings a sense of relief and weightlessness.

So when I say that story sharing is a sacred calling, I mean it. Its not for the light-hearted. Story sharing is heart-pumping hard work. No wonder I'm sweaty when I'm done.


Listening

Telling the story is only one part of sharing. Listening is a valuable skill to have and its unfortunate that more people haven't spent the time developing it.


The two parts feed each other. Without a witness, story sharing is simply gives a voice to the words inside your heart. And while that is sufficient for a while, my experience tells me that the words become empty and stale without someone to listen to them.

Listeners (or readers, in this case), you are an essential part of story sharing because you give it meaning and purpose. This is no small task.

The best listeners do the hard work. First, they allow a safe, neutral space within themselves to allow the story to simply be told. Free from judgement, the words unfold themselves to show a full and detailed picture.Secondly, excellent listeners appreciate. They appreciate the artistry of the story, the unique voice and personality of the story teller. Then, they appreciate the weight of the story and the bravery required to share it. Finally, they respond. Maybe they have questions. Maybe they have support. But their most important role to play is simple.

"I hear you. Thank you for sharing."

The best listeners are quiet until the very end. They ask questions to understand, not respond. They allow the story to just be. No "At least...". No trying to make it better. No "one-upping" with a story of their own.

I have not always been a great listener; however, with age and experience I've gotten better. The best way I've figured out how to hone my listening skills is actually through listening to podcasts. Its impossible for me to respond in real time, so I am forced to just sit back and enjoy the ride.

One podcast in particular has been life-changing for me. Briana Johnson, hostess of The Life Beats Project, has perfected the art of the interview. I am absolutely blown away with her ability to collect the stories of her guests and then share them in the most compassionate, complimentary light possible. Just this year she has shared stories of people overcoming trauma from human trafficking, healing from a particularly bitter experience of domestic abuse, and discovering their incredible talent for inspiring creativity in others. If you want to perfect the art of listening, you pretty much need her podcast in your life.


Why is story sharing so important?

Its a huge question and there are five million unique answers. For me, story sharing is essential for developing compassion, understanding, and empathy for others. By learning and appreciating the unique journeys and experiences of others, I've realized that people are not always as they appear. More importantly, I've learned that I understand others through the lens of my own experiences instead of their reality.


I briefly talked about my goal of sharing other mother's experiences here on Whole Heart Mom in my previous post Less Judging More Loving. I hope that by providing a platform for story sharing that this can become a place of understanding - a place to destroy judgement and shame, allow them to compost, and let acceptance and empathy grow in their place. So moms, if you have a story to share, I want to hear about it. Your story - long or short, finished or not, well-written or full of spelling errors - is important, valuable, and worthy of being shared.

If you're interested in sharing your story with me, send me an email at channing.parker at wholeheartmom.com and I will send you my submission guidelines!

Moana and Motherhood

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

When I first saw Moana, I rented it and put it on for my kids while I put groceries away one hot Phoenix afternoon. I made it about 15 minutes into the movie before I was completely sucked in.
Its one of those movies that afterwards I say, "Dang, I wish I had seen that in theaters!". But when you've got little ones at home and limited babysitters, movies at the theaters is not a thing. Heck, I didn't even get to see Rogue One when it came out for that exact reason, and its actually a grown up movie!

I've made up for missing Moana on the big screen by watching it almost every day since it was released. I'd blame it on my kid's obsession, but the truth is that I can't get enough. The music. The story line. The perfectly dynamic characters. The imagery. I didn't think it possible, but its my new favorite.

Moana is my "soul movie". My husband laughed when I told him that. With a smile he asked, "What is a soul movie?" Well mamas, I'll tell you. A soul movie is a fine piece of film art that speaks directly to your heart. It holds multiple layers of meaning to you personally. It may answer your deep questions. It may give you comfort during difficult times. It might give you inspiration or peace. Over the years, favorites may change, but a soul movie will always speak to you.

There are many lessons in Moana, but some of my favorite ones are about motherhood. I know, I know. The story is not about motherhood, but that doesn't mean I can't glean some pearls of truth from it anyway.

***Spoiler alert! If you haven't seen the movie, why are you even reading this? Go watch it and come back!***

Lessons on motherhood from Moana

My children are not mine. 

Since she was young, Moana felt a calling to sail the ocean beyond the barrier reefs of her home island. Her parents, afraid of allowing anyone to sail further for safety's sake, discouraged her from exploring the water for her entire childhood. Moana grew up understanding that every person played a role on her home island. She even wanted to embrace her role as the daughter of the chief and find content there; however, the pull of her dreams of the sea only got stronger as she aged. Watch the scene here. 



My children are no different. They have their own personalities, their unique mindset. They have their own dreams and goals to reach. Even if they aren't aware of it yet, their souls have a purpose that is specific to them. I have my children for a time only - to teach skills, to show love, and keep safe. In the end, while I may be their mom, and they may be my children, they are not mine to keep. They are their own person. Moana reminds me that no amount of discipline or distraction can drown the sound of dreams.

Parents can't meet every need.

My favorite character is Gramma Tala, Moana's grandma. Every story needs a wise old guide, and she is absolute perfection. Tala has a close relationship with Moana and ultimately is the catalyst for Moana to embark on her hero's journey. Throughout Moana's life, Tala is a constant source of guidance, encouragement, and wisdom. As the self proclaimed "village crazy lady", she is the quiet, constant force of teaching in her own way - through dance, storytelling, and her connection with nature. 

One of my favorite parts of the whole movie is right after Moana attempts to sail beyond the reef for the first time and completely fails. She takes this failure to mean that she isn't meant to sail the ocean and decides to stay and embrace her role on the island. When she tells this to Gramma Tala, who has always encouraged her to listen to her heart, Tala simply says "Okay!". Moana is confused and asks, "Why aren't you trying to stop me?" and Tala says, "That's what you said you wanted!" Watch the scene here.


Oh. My. Gosh. Can you guys even handle the wisdom? I would trade all the chocolate in the world for someone in my childhood to have loved me and encouraged me no matter what I decided to do. 

As parents, it is so easy to be so busy simply keeping our kids alive and functioning that we miss the nurture part. Moana's dad, Tui, was so keen on keeping Moana on the island so she would be safe that he missed nurturing her heart. As parents we need people that can fill the roles we cannot. 

Don't feel guilty mama. The makeup of modern motherhood implies that moms can be everything to their children all of the time. Not only is this belief a lie but it is literally impossible. Don't try it. I have and I'll be the first to tell you that it doesn't end well. Instead, I want us mamas to try relying on wise people in our lives. For a lot of moms that means relying on grandparents and family. Some moms have to function without those built in social constructs, but that should not stop us from finding good role models in our community. Teachers, church leaders, parents of friends, and coaches are all really awesome people to rely on.

Storytelling is an essential part of parenting.

One of the main themes of Moana is the importance of stories. Stories of ancestors connected Moana to her soul's purpose of "wayfinding" and bringing the tradition of voyaging back to her people. Watch the scene here. Mythology of her culture became a very real part of her life as she met demi-gods, monsters, and goddesses on her journey. Understanding an experience her father had with sailing increased her understanding for his unbending nature when it came to her fascination with the ocean.


Stories teach in a way that empty words cannot. Myths and bedtime stories provide a rich environment for exploring and teaching new and difficult concepts. Ancestral stories give a strong sense of deep connection to family and community. Personal life stories makes adults human and approachable, which are two great characteristics of a peaceful parent. 

Mama, don't be afraid to tell, give, and share stories with your children. I personally believe they are an essential building block of childhood. Read Harry Potter with your family. Tell your kids about the time you got in trouble because you snuck back out of the house after checking in for curfew. Give your budding reader a beautiful copy of your favorite book from your childhood. Watch Moana together. These are moments and gifts that connect you and your child in a way that nothing else can.



There are so many inspiring lessons and positive values taught in Moana. I'm literally obsessed with it. My daughter and I love watching it together and singing the songs. A few weeks ago she started asking me if she could have a "heart of Te Fiti". I looked on Etsy to buy one for her and they are near $25 a piece! I refused to pay that much so I made my own out of oven-bake clay and paint. They turned out so dang cute! I love watching her play with hers.

I made a batch of these to give to a few young girls in my life. I have one left over and I would love to send it to a lucky reader. So, mamas, tell me in a comment what lesson you learned from watching Moana. Your comment here on the blog counts as your entry! I can't wait to share my heart with you! (pun intended)

*GIVEAWAY CLOSED.*

Less Judging, More Loving

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The running joke of parenthood is that you know how to raise a child perfectly until you have one of your own.



You probably know someone like that. All moms do. Heck, I was that person! Do you want to know the saddest part? I don't know how its even possible, but after I had my first baby my attitude about perfect parenting actually got worse. I was absolutely delusional that I knew how to be the perfect parent.

I exclusively pumped because I believed in breast milk. I organized my house in Montessori style so my baby could be raised in a "perfect" environment. I cloth diapered. I researched child development and parenting theories to make sure I was doing it perfectly. I bought all the right toys, fed all the right food, said all the right things. I vaccinated. I did play dates and library trips and baby singing class. I did everything right.


What's wrong with that?

Your question is totally valid! None of those things are inherently wrong. Some of those things are really awesome and backed by research and science. Me doing those things was not the problem. The real issue was my attitude about myself and others. I thought, because I was doing these "perfect" things, I was better than moms who weren't. And even though my mouth would say the words,

"Its okay, you're doing the best you can!"
"I know you're making the right decision for your family!"
"Don't worry about the haters, you do you!"

my brain would think the opposite.

"You're not trying hard enough."
"You're not making a good choice."
"You doing you is dumb, do it the right way."

Naturally, doing it the right way was always my way, because I researched everything and knew the perfect answer to everyone's problems. A lot of those feelings came from my OCD, which I was not aware of at the time, but it doesn't excuse the way I felt I knew better. This secret, inward judgement went on for years, right up until my second baby was born.

I used to think:

I could never have a baby in a birth center.

After a strange series of unfortunate events, I had no choice BUT to deliver my second baby at a birth center. The whole experience turned out to be amazing and overwhelmingly positive, but that did not change the fact that it challenged my beliefs about what a "proper birth" looked like.



I could never NOT circumcise my sons.

Before my son was born, I was strongly pro-circumcision. But after, I immediately doubted those convictions. Every time I looked down at his innocent face, his smile, his wide and trusting eyes, I felt that I could not submit him to such a procedure. For the days following birth, I wrestled with my decision. At the doctor's office, I cried tears of relief upon hearing that my little guy had some health concerns that prevented circumcision. I understand now why some parents choose not to. I know their struggle and pain.

People who don't vaccinate are uninformed and irresponsible.

While I still maintain my pro-vaccination stance, I no longer judge moms who don't give their kids shots. Like, seriously, is there ever really a "win" to that argument? Do I shoot my kid up with a chemical cocktail or do I take the risk of them contracting/spreading a serious illness? There will always be a loser in the vaccination debate. In the end, I can't claim to know what is the best choice for each family.

How to be less judgin' and more lovin'

These realizations all happened shortly after my second baby was born, and it has completely transformed how I relate to other moms. It finally clicked for me that I don't actually know anything about other people or their circumstances. I decided that if I was aware, if I knew their stories and understood the details of their life, I would be a lot less judgmental. 

This is a huge reason why I am starting a series called "Mother Stories" on the blog. I will occasionally feature stories submitted by other moms who courageously share their challenges, triumphs, and encouragement for others. I feel this is an incredible chance to provide valuable insight into the inner life of moms that doesn't often get talked about. Vulnerability and its accompanying empathy are powerful forces for change.


So, if you have a story to share about motherhood I want to hear it! I put out a similar call on my personal Facebook page:

"I feel that sharing stories is a very powerful way to encourage and support others in life's journey. Since I started blogging forever ago, I've been wanting to share stories from other moms about their unique experiences in motherhood. So if you have a message or story that you want to share with others, I want to hear from you. You can write it yourself or I can do it interview style if that's easier. I'd love to hear about any of these topics: postpartum depression/anxiety, mental illness, infertility, adoption, chronic illness (yours or your child's), parenting children with special needs, overcoming trauma, mothering through hardship such as job loss or medical school, divorce, death. You know, like, all the fun stuff. Story sharing is a sacred calling and I want to give a platform for it. This "story search" has no expiration date - as long as I am writing the blog I will be lookin' for stories to share."
I can't write it any better than that. So if you're feeling brave and ready to share, shoot me an email at channing.parker@wholeheartmom.com.


What do you think, mama? What kind of stories would you like to hear about? Would you ever consider sharing yours? Tell me in the comments!

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