I have long been a fan of the “how-we-met” tale, especially as told by my mother. She paints her first meeting with my father with exquisite detail, right down to the Peter Pan collar she wore. According to therapist and relationship expert Dr. John Gottman’s research, a couple’s tone in their “story of us” is the single most important tell for relationship success.
The “story of us” carries well beyond “how-we-met.” It’s the entirety of longing and pursuit, all the confusion, unanswered Facebook messages, or bad kisses. It extends well past the “aha” moment of recognizing your life partner, on through a tearful wedding dance, on and on until you’re standing side by side, nightly, over dirty dishes, covered in baby spit-up. The positive or negative lens through which you view all of this, respectively, builds or dismantles your goodwill and love for your husband. Stories are fantastically powerful creators!
Since your lore has such power, why wait for a cocktail party to tell it? My kids are a little young for the adult version, so I jazzed our story up with pixie dust. Our story qua fairy tale has become one of my daughter’s favorites. Because it’s her story, too! Drawn from my long love affair with fairy tales of all cultures, here are a few tips to get you started telling yours.
Get over your “princess” allergy.
You absolutely must give you and your husband royal titles. You can go with prince and princess, or longer titles, like “Seventh Daughter of the Architect of Michigan Lower” or the “Gangly Baker of Daffodil Ridge.”
An important note upfront for those allergic to princess language is that I am, too! But there are princesses and there are princesses, you hear? We can and should reject a sentimental, fussy, and self-entitled vision of femininity and romance while maintaining the natural hierarchy within family life and a healthy love of whimsy and glittering symbols.
To your children, you and your husband are king and queen. You have invisible magic with them. The fairy tale you’re weaving makes the magic visible and tangible. By embracing the significance of your role—with its duties and privileges—you give your children untold security and a developing sense of their self-worth.
Characterize the hero and heroine with beauty and virtue.
If you’re like me, some days you only linger at the mirror if you want a good laugh. Muchas gracias, sleepless nights! Nevertheless, as you begin your “once upon a time,” be sure to think of yourself as a heroine and introduce yourself as beautiful. Then add a couple of other physical details and one or two virtues. Same goes for Prince Charming.
The virtues you choose could be simply “sweet,” “keen gift of humor,” or a special knowledge or skill. Animal friendship, in particular, is a common fairy tale sign of the true bride or groom. Kids also love musical and artistic gifts, physical feats, and anything else you can bestow with strong imagery. That half marathon you finished was a wild run from trolls. Your husband’s knack for picking the best dish on a menu becomes the gift of prophecy.
Think suspense, false suitors, and obstacles over the strict villain.
Three key moments satisfy us in a love story: the lover’s recognition of the beloved and vice versa, the communication of this love, and the consummation or wedding of this love. The narrative running between these events should be filled with various tensions: false suitors, a lover’s blindness to the beloved, separations, momentous tasks that prove mettle, and perhaps, villains—caped and over-greased, twirling mustaches or clicking long red nails over blueprints for your ruin.
I love the bold villains and gritty justice in fairy tales like Grimms, but a big “however” here is that you’re telling a real story with immense personal weight for your kids. Be sensitive and creative in conveying weighty injuries or real people whom you perceive as villainous in your lives. This could even be an opportunity to change how you see them. Alternately, invent a ridiculous, hyperbolic, and symbolic bogeyman.
To build suspense throughout, mention each party’s longing for a king or queen, followed by surprise and peace in recognizing each other. Translate or omit anything too messy or confusing for your kids’ ages. “Taking a break” becomes one person going on a journey or quest. If one of you dated someone else when you met, he or she could have been under a spell or blinded. No need to paint the ex, especially if it’s someone your kids know. You want to create the sense that your marriage is a win, yet without defaming any real person.
Embellish striking images and play up patterns.
The glittering river of tulle, story-high buttercream cake, and kiss in the church on the moon are brick and mortar for your children’s imaginative castles of their life’s love. Don’t feel obliged to emphasize the standard or expected things. Throw pixie dust on the things that matter to you. And use what your story provides.
Big is BIG. Small is teeny tiny. Don’t forget smells, textures, and tastes. You ought to have a least one mention of special food or drink. Linger over dancing.
Find patterns and play them up. They can give rhythm to your story. Threes, sevens, and twelves have a magical potency. Did you say “yes” the first time he asked you out? If not, what changed each time? Hold your fingers up for “three.” In fact, use your hands and arms as much as possible. Use your face. Change the pitch and volume of your voice.
Your story ends with your kids, not your marriage.
Many fairy tales begin with a king and queen who possess everything imaginable to give them happiness, everything except children. Therefore, when the child comes, she heals their sorrow and lack. She has a certain potency.
After your wedding dance, a new longing arises for children—the natural outpouring of a couple’s love. Was there doubt or trouble in conceiving? You can mention this. We certainly experienced some, and I include “prayers to God” as part of our response to this test. There’s magical intercession for you.
Your kids might already know some of the stories of their births. The wide eyes and grins when they realize Mom and Dad are King and Queen are incredibly gratifying. I usually bring our story right up to the present with whatever we’re doing, which my child enjoys. Plus “happily ever after!”
If your first telling has stops and starts, don’t worry about it. I’ve changed my own details and delivery many times based on what my daughter reacts to. Don’t overthink getting rules right. This is your story and you know it. Let yourself have fun. The gift of your telling it—however it changes or solidifies—imbues your kids’ existence (and yours!) with lasting goodness and love.