The Power of Metaphors in Family Conversations
The Image of Strong Leadership
"Gather around,” the dying father said to his sons, “so I can tell you what will happen to you after I am gone.”
It was his last chance to influence his children toward the successful life he wanted for them. Based on what he saw in their character traits and their habitual conduct, the father predicted situations that they were likely to encounter. To make his descriptions vivid, he made extensive use of figurative language.
By the time he addressed the fourth son, his speech included some powerful metaphors (comparisons of two seemingly unlike objects to make a point about their likeness).
Metaphors are a great teaching tool for parents to use in the nurturing of their children's self-worth. The father in our story gave some great examples.
Metaphors are a great teaching tool for parents to use in the nurturing of their children's self-worth.
The Image of Youth and Naivety
Examples of Metaphors
- “Judah . . . you are a lion’s cub.”
- “Issachar is a rawboned donkey.”
- “Dan will be a serpent by the roadside.”
- “Naphtali is a doe set free.”
- “Joseph is a fruitful vine.”
- “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf.”
Judah might never have compared himself to a lion, but his father wanted to stress that his son's strength in leadership was similar to the strength of the lion's leadership in the jungle. At the same time, by referring to his son as a lion’s cub, the old man made himself the father lion, probably stronger, but definitely wiser. Eventually, the children figure out these hidden meanings in the metaphors.
The father called Issachar a donkey. The speech actually reads: “Issachar is a rawboned donkey lying down among the sheep pens. When he sees how good is his resting place and how pleasant is his land, he will bend his shoulder to the burden and submit to forced labor.” Not as unfavorably as we might think. He visualized Issachar's lean, bony frame under the loads he was forced to carry; but he also predicted time out for him to rest and refresh.
The story of the dying Jacob blessing his sons is recorded in Genesis 49. His speech is an example of how word images used by parents can convey deep meaning to the children in speech they will most likely remember for the rest of their lives.
- Tips for Healthy Relationships between Fathers and Adult Sons
These tips for healthy relationships between fathers and sons are primarily addressed to fathers, because the responsibility is theirs to initiate the positive attitudes which benefit their sons.
Suggestions For The Modern Parent
Word images make us think more deeply about the points they make, than if the points were stated literally. Use them to help the children focus on their achievements, on the fulfillment of their passions and dreams, not on the parents' wishes.
There are some outstanding examples of metaphors used in the Old Testament which can be used to teach self-esteem. The modern parent is free to make use of them or to create similar images.
- Sons are referred to as “well-nurtured plants.”
- Daughters are “pillars sculptured in place-style” (in Psalm 144:12).
- A young woman is considered "a garden enclosed" (in song of Solomon 4:12).
How do you suppose such images would affect the self-worth, the deportment, and the moral direction of the young man and young woman who are encouraged to think of themselves in these positive terms?
On the other hand, there is the story of the Hebrew spies who referred to themselves as grasshoppers. (See Numbers 13) They had no mental picture of their true identity and their worth. Parents can help to prevent such tragedies by planting positive images in their children’s minds as early as possible.
Positive Images For Relatives
heart of gold
the family glue
diamond in the rough
chip off the old block
apple of my eye
pillar of strength
The Image of a Family Provider
It would be wise for parents to create metaphors for themselves, and share with the children why they chose their specific images, and how it affects their attitude to life. It would also remind the children that they are expected to be fruits of whatever tree the parents choose to be.
For example, a mother wanting to impress her son of the weight of her influence told him, “You’re looking at a community icon.” The child replied, “That makes me the son of a community icon.”
Word images can force family members to figure out how they relate to and influence each other. It can be the topic of a family conversation occasionally.
- What does it mean to the rest of the household if the parent is a light, or a rock, or an evergreen tree?
- What message do spouses want the children to receive if they refer to themselves as belt-and-buckle or to the children as peas-in-a-pod?
Such expressions stay in the mind for a long time, if not forever.
Never underestimate the influence of the parents’ words to the children. Some words they remember throughout their entire lives. Take time to create word images worth remembering!
© 2011 Dora Isaac Weithers
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