Parenting with a Story: Real-Life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share

Parenting with a Story: Real-Life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share

by Paul Smith


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780814433577
Publisher: AMACOM
Publication date: 11/12/2014
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 928,017
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

PAUL SMITH is a dedicated father of two and an expert trainer in leadership and storytelling techniques. As the author of the popular Lead with a Story, he has seen his work featured in The Wall Street Journal, Time, Forbes, The Washington Post, Success, and Investor's Business Daily, among others.

Read an Excerpt


The destiny of the world is determined less by the battles that are lost and won than by the stories it loves and believes in. —Howard Goddard

Perhaps the most memorable lesson I ever learned about becoming an adult occurred at the most unexpected place and time: in a crowded restaurant on Secretary’s Day, April 1986. Still a teenager and a freshman in college, I had a part-time job at a local furniture manufacturing company.

My father was an executive there, and he helped me get a job as a file clerk in the personnel office. I discovered that each year on that day a all the bosses took their administrators and clerical staff out to lunch.

That meant a free lunch for me.

To make it easy, the company reserved every seat in a local restaurant.

About fifty managers and more than a hundred “secretaries” showed up that day. In preparation for so many guests, the restaurant prepared only two meal options: a club sandwich and quiche lorraine. It’s important to recognize that this event happened shortly after the publication of the bestselling book Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche by Bruce Feirstein, a tongue-in-cheek look at the feminization of the American male.

So as the waitress was making her rounds taking orders, it was no surprise that all the men ordered the club sandwich and most of the women ordered the quiche. Until they got to my dad, that is, who was sitting within earshot of me. He looked up from the menu and said,

“Hmm . . . I’ve never had quiche before. I tell you what, why don’t you bring me half a quiche and half a club sandwich. That way, if I don’t like the quiche, I’ll still have the sandwich.”

Within seconds, the abuse began. The men at the table called my father’s masculinity into question in more creative ways than I had imagined possible at that point in my life. Awkward and embarrassing don’t begin to describe how it feels for a boy still in his teenage years to watch his father be ridiculed in such a manner. Needless to say, when it was my turn to order, I quickly picked the club sandwich.

After ten or fifteen minutes of ribbing, my father seemed to have had enough and called the waitress back over. “Thank God!” I thought. “Just pacify these jerks and let’s get on with lunch.” The waitress arrived and

Dad said, as expected, “I’m sorry. I need to change my order. I ordered half a quiche and half a club sandwich.” Howls of success and a round of high fives erupted at the table as the other men celebrated their victory.

Their aim had been to break my father’s will with their ridicule, and appar-ently they had just done it.

What came next, however, shocked me and everyone else. He continued,

“Take back the half a club sandwich and bring me the whole damn quiche!” A stunned silence fell over the table of now slack-jawed men.

To this day, I still don’t know if my father likes quiche. But on that particular day he ate every bite with a smile on his face.

My respect and admiration for my father rose to a whole new level that day. He showed everyone at that table that he was man enough to eat anything he liked and didn’t care what they thought about it. He showed them that he refused to be defined by social norms. And he showed me a his son, something of what it means to be a real man.

Twenty-eight years later, I have two sons of my own. I’ve shared this story with both of them on several occasions when I saw them confronting peer pressure. My goal, of course, is to give them the courage to stand up to that pressure, but also to give them a successful way to respond.

If a classmate teases my son Matthew that his pants aren’t sagging off his waist enough, as is unfortunately fashionable these days, now I simply prompt him, “Eat the quiche, son.” Recalling the story, he’d then follow the example set by my father. Instead of doing less of what he’s being teased for, he’d do it more! He’d pull his pants up even higher and say,

“There, is that better?”

You can imagine the confused look on his tormentor’s face and the retort, “No, you dummy, I said they’re too high!” Another tug and his pants are now up to mid-torso, followed quickly by “How about now?”

You can see how his adversary would rapidly become exasperated and give up.

But notice three other things about this story. First, I hope you can see how simply advising children to “stand up to peer pressure” or to “be yourself” is less likely to help them navigate this situation. Platitudes that seem profound in a pithy piece of prose are surprisingly unhelpful to child-ren in a real-life situation. They’re too vague and abstract. “What exactly does it mean to ‘be myself’ or to ‘stand up to peer pressure’? Should I walk away, start a fight, or just ignore them?” At the other end of the spectrum a telling children exactly what to do in every situation is overly prescriptive and doesn’t leave them room to think for themselves. But a story like the one above gives them a concrete idea for how to respond without just telling them what to do. As keenly observed by Hannah Arendt, “Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.”

Second, the story does something else platitudes and advice won’t do.

It shows the hero in the story succeeding, a success that could be theirs if they follow the hero’s lead. My experience with children (and especially teenagers) is that they have a natural distrust of advice doled out by old people (i.e., you!). So why should they believe that “standing up to peer pressure” would have an outcome they’ll be happy with? But after hearing that story, they can judge for themselves and won’t have to take your word for it.

Last, notice that the story represents an unexpected moment of clarity in someone’s life, in this case, mine. I was just having lunch. I wasn’t expecting to learn anything, much less anything important in my journey to manhood. Almost thirty years later, after spending most of my career as a consumer researcher and the last five years as an author, conducting hundreds of interviews and documenting more than 1,500 personal stories,

I’ve concluded this: To most people, these unexpected moments of clarity represent their most meaningful, insightful, and memorable experien-ces that have the longest-term impact on their lives. When such a moment is shared with a loved one, it can become one of that person’s most impactful moments as well.

Table of Contents


Acknowledgments ix

Introduction 1

PART I: Who You Are

1. Ambition 11

2. Open-Mindedness 20

3. Creativity 28

4. Curiosity and Learning 33

5. Courage 43

6. Integrity 55

7. Self-Reliance 64

8. Grit 74

9. Hard Work and Struggles in Life 83

10. Self-Confidence 93

11. Self-Discipline: Money and Delayed Gratification 98

12. Health 110

13. Positive Mental Attitude 118

14. Dealing with Loss 131

PART II: How You Treat Other People

15. Kindness 143

16. Patience 157

17. Fairness and Justice 165

18. Humility 172

19. Respect for Others 179

20. Friendship 192

21. Social Intelligence 208

22. Forgiveness and Gratitude 216

23. Appreciation of Beauty 226

24. Getting Started 231

An Invitation 239

Appendix: Story Matrix 241

Additional Reading 249

Notes 251

Index 255

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Parenting with a Story: Real-Life Lessons in Character for Parents and Children to Share 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
ScottMautz1 More than 1 year ago
So I was wondering exactly how I'm going to get through to my daughter with the host of distractions, exasperating emotions, and sudden omnipotence she's been blessed with.  Then it occured to me to turn to a time-tested art form - the story, and the foremost expert of the craft, Paul Smith.  Smith is on top of his game in helping you to accomplish your goal with story, this time for parents looking to bring home points of poignance and character.  I've broken through with stories of patience, kindness, and respect for others.  You'll create your own moments of clarity, guaranteed, as the book serves up a smorgasbord of well-woven, character fueling options.  Bravo Mr. Smith.