Whenever I’m working on a memoir with an adult it is inevitable that the question of “how do I portray my kids?” comes up. As a parent I get it. My two older sons are doing a great job making their own paths, and my two little ones are – CRAZY… sweet, charming, MESSY, silly, playful, LOUD, OBNOXIOUS, generous, and love to give TONS of hugs and drawings that say, “I LUV YOU DADA” and “I LUV YOU MAMA.” They are cute and we, as parents, love them unconditionally. But, man…
So, how do we write about our kids in an interesting way? It’s not as easy as most people think. Below are two examples of writing the same story. The first is actually a common example of a story I see when coaching people on how to write their memoirs. The second has the elements that improve the story.
Story Example 1
“One time when I was alone in the house making biscuits my daughter burped. It was sooooo funny.”
Story Example 2
“Savannah was playing in the kitchen as I stumbled over her with a pan of biscuits. I tossed them on the counter and skirted sideways past her to grab a carton of eggs. Back and forth on tip-toes, sliding shoes, and even hurdling I walked from one side of Savannah to the next. She was small and innocent and I… well I was impatient. I wanted to move her into the other room (she’d cry), I wanted to call out for mom (she was at the store), I just wanted to go into my office, close the door and kick the printer. Savannah waddled over to me and tapped me on the knee. I looked down (what now?) She smiled, exposing tiny scattered teeth, and let out a massive belch. She smiled again and in her parent-can-only-translate language said, “I win.” Quintessential mom. And I melted.
Breakdown of Story Elements
Cute story, right?
When you are writing your memoir and telling stories about your children there are some elements of a story to keep in mind:
- Your story needs to be relatable to other parents
- Your story should have a personal “inside” story
- Your story should relay how you are feeling at the moment
- Your story (most often) will show the parenting dilemma of a child’s innocents versus an adult’s impatience.
Story one was simple in that it told the story. However, it wasn’t relatable and doesn’t show how the story was funny other than telling the reader it was funny. Yes, we’ve all seen our kids burp, and yeah, it can be funny. But, this story is missing elements that make it YOUR story about YOUR kid, which is why people are reading your memoir.
Story two has the four elements above. It is relatable about a child lingering in the kitchen and in my way as I was making breakfast. It relays my impatience, and frustration. It shows that my daughter had intent to do something in an innocent way even though I was being impatient. And, there was an inside story which is revealed in the last sentence, “She smiled, exposing tiny scattered teeth, and let out a massive belch. She smiled again and in her parent-can-only-translate language said, “I win.” Quintessential mom. I melted.”
While no one is rolling over laughing at this specific passage, what you probably can do is picture this scene in your own home. More importantly a reader can identify with how our children learn by doing things their parents do. In this story that would be Savannah burping and saying, “I win,” just like her mama does. That’s cute!
4 elements to improve memoir writing about your children
Relatable to other parents
Parents love to hear and read about stories that help them realize they are not alone. Yes, most parents will wake up to a crib smothered in poop at some point in their toddler’s life. Your child will be so good at hiding (and loving to hide) that you will call the police. Every parent will strap their child into a car seat only to realize your toddler snuk a toy or piece of candy from the store without you paying for it. These are inevitable of parenting and in those situations parents feel at their worst. But, when we realize other parents go through these same things, we feel at our best. We are not alone. And, in the end – it’s all funny.
Writing about the inside story
Do all stories need to have an inside story? No, of course not, but it really helps. Over thirteen years my coparent and I have several inside jokes and they come up often. One such joke is that since I’ve known her, she has always said, “I win!” after burping. It’s cute, and my sons picked it up, as well as our two younger kids. For us, its a fun way to bond. And most families have similar inside stories. These are a great way to involve your readers into your personal life. This is a great way to appear genuine.
Your story should relay how you are feeling
Every parent understands the gauntlet of emotions we travel through. The problem is that many parents are afraid to admit that they have negative thoughts and actions. Parents don’t want to say how mad at their innocent toddler they are. But, even though your child is cute and silly and well-meaning, they can still be frustrating. I swear, in our home, my seven and five-year-old can be just as obnoxious and frustrating when they are having fun playing together as when they are in an all-out tantrum. You know what? It’s okay to say how you’re feeling. Because – I bet you can guess it – a parent being frustrated and irritated at a cute kid is relatable.
A child’s innocents vs. an adult’s anxiety
In most good stories there is the battle between good and evil. You have the Yin and you have the Yang. When telling your story think about who the good is and who the evil is. I think for most parents, initially, our children are the evil protagonists. However, when you look at a story in depth it is evident that our children are always the good ones. It is a parent who takes the world too seriously. We have rules and order, and… we’re just all squares, man. Our kids go through life purely to learn, have fun, and show us how big they are – by acting like us. By showing that realization you are creating a real story, a relatable story, and a story that will draw a smile.
I’d love to hear some of your thoughts on the topic about writing for kids. And if you have a funny story to tell about your kids, share in the comments. Remember, all parents love to hear stories about other kids.
I am a full-time freelance writer specializing in memoirs and autobiographies on mental health, domestic and sexual abuse as well as other topics. I also write blogs, web-content, and handle several other types of projects. To see what I offer visit my rates page or contact me with specific queries and questions. I’m also available to help mentor you through your first book. I’d love to work with you, and if you know anyone else looking for a writer I offer a generous referral fee.