Family lies? The value of the single story

Last week I wrote about ‘priming effects‘- the ways in which Caroline and I influence each other’s behavior towards the boys.  After writing that post I watched a TED talk by the Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie which introduced me to the concept of a  “single story”- a story that describes a person or a group of people as just one thing (like a stereotype).  

That prompted me to think about how single stories operate in our family and families everywhere. Caroline and I tell a single story about who Jay is (spirited, willful) and about who Wally is (cheerful, content).  It occurred to me that single stories can be limiting within families (kids especially can’t await to escape them), but that they also have value in terms of giving kids a sense of themselves.  I expand on these ideas in an essay published this morning on The Millions called “Family lies? The Value of the Single Story.”

It did occur to me, though, that there is another kind of single story — very different from the single stories that Adichie talked about — that I do have experience with. These are the single stories that develop within intimate relationships. Unlike the narratives that dominate colonized peoples, this version of the single story creates both challenges and opportunities for the people subjected to them.

My wife, Caroline, and I have two boys — Jay, who will be three at the end of May, and Wally, who just turned nine months. Like all parents, we are tantamount to a colonial power in their lives. We define the moral world in which they operate. We dictate terms of value. We command them physically. We situate them within single stories.

All parents tell single stories about their kids and all kids wish they didn’t. Single stories are the principle reason that, eventually, kids become so eager to leave home — they want to escape the simple narratives told about them since they were born, to jar their parents into recognizing that they’re no longer (and maybe never were) the person they were made out to be when they were eight years old…[keep reading]