a peek inside the fishbowl

20 Mar, 2013

The stories that bind our families together

Posted by andrea tomkins in: Easy ways to make kids happy|parenting

Photo booth familyA couple days ago Toronto-based blogger/writer/traveller Heather Greenwood Davis posted a link to a thought-provoking New York Times article that immediately sunk into my brain and has been percolating there ever since. It brings to mind something I often think about… and that’s my job as a parent and the Big Question that comes along with it. How do we, as parents, raise happy and healthy children?

It’s a biggie, and it’s almost too overwhelming to think about when you’re the parent of an infant who’s not sleeping through the night, and it’s almost too overwhelming to think about when you’re chasing your toddler around the house, and it’s almost too overwhelming to think about when your kids get older and you FINALLY have time to curl up on the couch and read the newspaper and drink your coffee WHILE IT IS STILL HOT.

But we do need to think about it, we do.

How can we make sure we reach our desired destination if we aren’t taking a moment to think about the journey?

This article gives us a peek at a road map that might help:

“The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”

Part of this is defining what kind of family you want to belong to, and then letting your actions speak for themselves. Are you sporty family? Well, Just Do It. Are you an artistic family? Take in a concert or art show… bonus points if it’s totally weird and new and slightly outside of your comfort zone. Are you a green family? An outdoor family? A birding family? A literary family? All of the above?

The article talks about the importance of your family history. Your kids need to hear those stories because it strengthens their feeling of belonging. It makes sense. We all need to belong to a tribe. The number one thing you can do to strengthen your narrative is to share your stories. The other thing you can do is to let your visuals tell your stories and keep those stories alive.

We live in the perfect time to do this, technologically speaking.

  • The vast majority of parents have thousands of family photos on their computers. Get them out of iPhoto and onto your bigger screens. Use Apple TV to project them on the TV. Set up a screensaver on your computer that displays a random assortment of family photos. Get one of those digital frames (I’d love one of those!) and get those photos rolling. You will be amazed at how many times your kids will stop in their tracks, point at the screen, and say “remember when…”
  • Paper-based albums are good too. Every Christmas we give my inlaws a memory book that features a highly edited selection of that year’s photos. They have about 6 years worth now. It’s great to flip through them together and remember all the fun things we did together as a family.
  • Display those photos around the house! The photo booth photo above is from a recent trip to Funhaven, but I need to be better at this part. I’m working on it, I just find it really hard to find the time to go through my photos and order those prints. The problem is I just have too many to choose from and it’s paralyzing. But there are companies doing interesting things out there. Posterjack.ca does metal prints for example, which I find intriguing.

What else?

I recently found another fun way to keep our stories alive. I found a neat kind of shadow box at Michael’s the other day. It slides open at the top so it’s very easy to put things inside. I’ve decided that we’re going to put all of our “souvenir” tickets in there. As we continue to clean out our office I’ve been finding more and more of them, so that’s where they’re all going:

Tickets please

It’s kind of like scrapbooking, but a heck of a lot easier. We’re going to hang it up in a place we can all see it and easily access it.

Right in front is a ticket from one of the stops on our honeymoon, and there’s another from a family visit to the top of the Empire State Building. There are ticket stubs from great movies we’ve seen, museums and galleries we’ve visited… all great stories I want to keep in the forefront, not buried away.

Anyway, I’d love to hear what you think about the article, and about how you’re keeping your stories alive.

10 Responses to "The stories that bind our families together"

1 | Javamom

March 20th, 2013 at 1:03 pm


You know, I keep two blogs active: the one I post to as Javamom (javaline.wordpress.com) and another one that I keep ‘somewhat’ private. That one I don’t tweet, I don’t advertise, I don’t do anything with it other than post photos of our family, and especially the children, along with words in either English or German (my native tongue). It’s this blog link I send to my family and friends who then can sit back in their native countries (Swtizerland, Italy and a few other places) and feel connected to us. It’s like a virtual photo album.

I can’t agree with you more. Sharing our photos, our candid, non-posed photos and videos with our friends and family has not only allowed those who are far away to share in our lives and watch the children grow up, they have also allowed those who live driving distance to us but can’t meet with us regularly to keep an eye and an hand in our lives. The children themselves love to share their activities with extended family within our city this way…a quick snapshot on the Blackberry while shopping because they were reminded of their aunt for some reason, another action shot to grandma just to say ‘hey, I was you were here to see me do this’, it’s just fantastic.

Thank you for reminding me that this is time well spent. All my photos, all my anecdotes. The kids, and various friends and family, appreciate it and I personally often go back and remind myself of days past.


2 | Louise

March 20th, 2013 at 2:31 pm


I read that article a few days ago and was immediately reminded of why I started blogging….to keep a family history, to join the generations before and after me. To keep our story vivid. To let my children know “who” I was at each stage of their journey. It really resonated with me, too. As for being paralyzed by family photos – I HEAR YOU! AHHHHHHH!

3 | Jayda

March 20th, 2013 at 2:34 pm


I love the shadow box idea. I have all these little things tucked away in a shoe box, which gets forgotten:(

We also have a private blog where DH and I both write stories, record things we want to remember and post photos. A digital scrapbook.

4 | Lenny

March 20th, 2013 at 4:05 pm


Hi Andrea,

So many photos – so little time but found this great – and easy – idea courtesy of Martha.


It’s specific to travel but you could label the boxes by family name, year etc. too. Plus it looks great in a bookcase!


5 | Jen

March 21st, 2013 at 8:41 am


This is exactly why I ended up having kids.

For years, I knew I didn’t want children. Then, at my husband’s grandfather’s wake, as everyone sat around telling stories about him, his life, and their shared experiences as a family I had an a-ha moment: When my husband and I died, who would tell our stories?

In our hi-tech world, we sometimes forget the simplicity of oral history. In my case it had such an impact, it changed my life’s path.

6 | Sarah McCormack

March 21st, 2013 at 9:31 am


i had read that article as well and it hit a key for me. I have a terrible long term memory so much of what i remember is through photos. Not that I have kids, i work hard to preserve all of our special memories. I make photobooks for every holidays we go one ( i have MANY!) and we look at them together often..one of my favorite things to do. i love the idea of the frame with all the ticket stubs……. fabulous!

7 | andrea

March 21st, 2013 at 10:33 am


Thanks for your comments and ideas! Three cheers for family storytelling!

8 | Heather Greenwood Davis

March 24th, 2013 at 4:01 pm


Love that you took the ball and ran with it Andrea! I’ve got a box with all of our playbills and ticket stubs but the Michael’s box sounds a lot neater. :) So glad I could bring you and the article together. Three cheers for storytelling in all of its forms.

9 | A bit about our birthday party at Funhaven in Ottawa (plus a giveaway!) >> a peek inside the fishbowl

April 15th, 2013 at 12:58 pm


[…] cleaned out of people. (Mental note!) At the end of the evening they discovered the photo booth (where we took the photo that’s pictured in this post) and they went to town. Hilarity ensued – with fantastic and memorable […]

10 | Taking Instagram to the next level >> a peek inside the fishbowl

September 25th, 2014 at 2:27 pm


[…] that I’m thinking about it, the spirit behind this project totally reminds me of this past post about preserving our family stories. From a parenting perspective, there truly is a benefit to […]

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My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark and our dog Piper who is kind of a big deal on Instagram. We also have two human daughters: Emma (20) and Sarah (18). During the day I work as a writer at The Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999. The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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