La La How The Life Goes On

Delivery Confirmation

Posted on: November 27, 2012

The words you speak to your children will become their inner voice.

I read that and it stopped me in my tracks. Hard.

I immediately ran through the previous 24 hours of parent-child dialogue in my head and, after hating myself for a minute, vowed to do better in the next 24 hours and 24 years. I had already done something similar with yelling. Realizing that I was yelling at my girls to “stop yelling!” I told them that I would owe them each a dollar for every time I yelled at them. Since July I am proud to say I’ve paid out just 6 bucks total. But it was WORK to stop. With a capital, screaming W. But. ridiculous as it sounds, behavior in the home has improved as a result, for child and adult alike.

And now we move on to the more insidious low-volume communications. There is, of course, an entire spectrum between calling your kids worthless and calling them consequence-free perfect, and I worry not about hitting either pole. But what about all the stuff in the middle? The stuff I say in annoyance without thinking. The stuff that Scottish Grandma (back when she was just my mom, She Who Must Be Obeyed) used to go on about ad nauseam: it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.

What inner voice am I giving my kids? And, equally as important, what am I teaching them to accept from others’ opinions and judgments? If I’m brutally honest, I’m teaching them that it’s more okay to use “tone” with family than with strangers. That if you are annoyed, you can use any tone or delivery you want to because your annoyance justifies or excuses it. (Worse, I’m teaching them that someone who says they love you can talk smack to you for frivolous reasons, which scares the s– out of me). And it’s wrong. I would never open my door, heave a big sigh, and lament –with visible irritation– to the mailman, “oh my lord! Why are you always making us late?!” And yet I’m certain I’ve delivered that line at least 50 times to Bambina. Yes, it’s because I have no emotional investment in the development of responsibility in my mailman, so obviously the exchanges with my child are more fraught. But why do I have the capacity to measure my response to the general public and yet not to my child? The answer is, of course, that the capacity is there in both instances. I have just been choosing (with fatigue and/or annoyance as my excuse) to ignore it at home. And guess what kind of 8 year old I’m raising? One who creates drama at small annoyances. Which is 1/3 personality, 1/3 circumstances involving a 5 years-younger sibling, and–sad to say– 1/3 “it’s coming from inside the house!”

Some people call it karma, energy coming back to you, garbage in-garbage out. My dad put it this way: Be careful what you dish out to others, because sooner or later, someday, you will have to eat your own shite. Well, Dad, get me a knife and fork. Because I am watching the results of my parenting bloom. Many of them wonderful and humbling and deeply-rewarding. Some of them, not so awesome, blooming with the help of nothing but my own manure.

So I’m taking a page out of the Shimmy Shakin Aunt Susan book. Back when Bambina was younger, she was being very annoying. I can’t even recall what it was, but I remember teeing myself up to say something in an irritated manner. SSAS just took her by the hands, looked her in the eyes like an equal person, and said, “Sweetheart, do you know what the word ‘annoying’ means? Yes? Well, you are doing that right now and so it’s feeling not fun to play together.” Bambina got it and pivoted almost immediately. No raised voice, no delivery soaked in disapproval and pique. Just an explanation SSAS could have been offering to anyone, adult or child.

So instead of shaking my head and going “grrrrr! You’re late again!” I’m just saying–once–“you know what you need to do to get ready. The car leaves the driveway at 8:20. Be in it or walk to school.” Don’t get me wrong. I’m still irritated, still in despair that I’m producing a lackadaisical, disorganized bum who will never keep a job or friends due to chronic tardiness. But I’m trying–as embarrassing as it is to say–to give my child the same respect I’m giving my mailman.


1 Response to "Delivery Confirmation"

Word! This very topic has been on my mind a lot — let me repeat — A LOT lately. Much much to say (but no time to say it) so I’ll leave it with: Thank you for your honesty, your humor and your thoughtful reflection. Your posts are always a pleasure to read.

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