The power of sharing our stories

Catherine a few years back, with her kids.

As we approach the three-month anniversary of the Whole Family Happiness Project (yay all of us moms), we wanted to discuss why this is important, and our motivations for connecting here. Catherine Connors helped start this project, and has a long history of using storytelling as a vehicle to create change and impact. Here’s why she thinks that when we raise our voices and tell our stories, we can change the world.

How did you start using your voice to create an impact?

The whole reason that I got into blogging a million years ago, was that I was studying women and the family in the history of political thought, and one of my focuses was on the question of where mothers are in stories about the family. Where were their stories? Throughout human history we would only rarely hear family stories from the point of view of the people who are at its core.

I came across mom-blogs when I was on maternity leave from teaching at the University of Toronto and my head blew off, because here were moms telling their true stories of family life and breaking down the wall between the public and private sphere. This was January 21st, 2006, and I was like, “Oh my God, this is the first time in human history that we are seeing a democratic platform for moms’ storytelling.” And I thought, this could totally change conversations about the family and how we think about the family in the context of society.

Turns out that I was right. I fell down that rabbit hole and became more successful and started earning more from my blog than I was from being a sessional lecturer. My question turned to how do moms’ stories then affect how we talk about children with HIV in Africa, or how we talk about children with disabilities, or post-partum depression. Those were the three cause areas that I was most interested in, but later on it became about how do we raise girls.

My hypothesis, the whole time, was that moms’ storytelling matters. Moms care on a very visceral level. You go from a universe where it’s just you, and then you go to one where your heart has been torn from your body, you have this other life in your hands, and the way that you look at the world around you changes. You can connect with other human beings in a different way because you now know what it feels like.

The biggest cause campaign I did with moms was for the United Nations Global Fund in 2010, and my strategy for that was based on the theory that moms’ stories were the ones that were going to matter. If other mothers could hear the story of a young mom in Lesotho with a one-year-old HIV+ daughter who just wants to believe in a better future, that hits all of us where it counts. We, as moms, get invested in these stories, because we can relate them to ourselves. So, when we talk about storytelling winning over the hearts and minds of moms, it’s winning over hearts that mobilizes action.

This is the why the mom space was a driver of the first large content marketing economy. So many innovations for things that we now take for granted started in that space, because moms got invested on a deep personal level and were compelled to tell and share their stories, and get connected in communities of storytelling.

And it’s why around the world, including Canada, mothers are always on the front line of social change. Because we care about our childrens’ futures. And we worry about the things that get in the way of us providing care for our families — access to affordable medicine, clean water, fresh air, quality food. So we’re willing to act to preserve or protect those.

How have things changed since those early years of mommy blogging?

Well, people still roll their eyes at the notion of mommy blogging, and it is still hard to get people to take things like post-partum depression seriously, but we are still the cohort that pushes and pushes, and drives these conversations.

One thing that has changed is that we are no longer only telling these stories through blogs. When I started, Technorati estimated that there were 8000 mommy blogs. There are now somewhere over six million in North America alone. And it’s so much more than blogs, now: moms are telling stories on Medium, on Facebook, on Instagram. There are many cohorts of different content creators that tell their stories on various platforms, and if you added them all up the numbers would defy counting.

And there’s a reason why we share so much on Facebook etc, because women are storytellers who thrive on personal connection. This is how ideas spread, and now that we have this space, we have greater influence.

Many causes in the past, whether that be smoking, driving under the influence, seatbelts, all of these were significantly driven by moms pre-internet. Now, in the age of the internet, we should be able to move mountains.

How much of a difference can we make through sharing our stories here?

First, there’s a power in looking at ourselves and realizing, “I have stories worth telling, and my voice counts.” For millennia we’ve been told the opposite. We’ve lived in the private sphere, and our lives have been contained. Just the act of speaking up and saying, “I have something to say and my story can make a difference,” is a powerful assertion of purpose in itself.

Secondly, it’s an assertion that the concern that the world our children are growing up in matters, that that concern has a weight and a value. We are concerned about more than the next 20 years, and are looking beyond that. We worry about clean air for example, and climate change, and all the frightening things — hurricanes, fires, floods — that are connected to that. I may not be alive in 40 years but my son and daughter will be, God willing. There’s a future that I care about that goes beyond me, a future that I am invested in, and all sorts of things trickle down from that.

As a mom who is willing to tell her stories, I can assert the value of investing in the future and mean it.

This isn’t just some scientific experiment, this future matters to me and it should matter to you. I can know that if I’m speaking to another parent or mom, they’re going to get that, we’re going to share that value. We have a power of cultivating stories around shared values that I don’t think any other cohort has. Showing the different ways that we are enacting change matters, and showing that caring about our future matters, this is how change gets made.

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