Monday, August 2, 2010

Mothering Language

Me and Rog, family wedding, June 2010

Despite the fact that I can't seem to keep my house organized or my yard maintained (which fact is driving me crazy!), we are having a sweet summer. I find myself so enamored with sun kissed cheeks and watermelon juice dribbling down chins. I melt as I listen to Roger developing his vocabulary and watch Blaine become so independent. For someone who has historically had a hard time slowing down and just enjoying motherhood, I have felt blessed to slow down and revel.

Two months ago I reached a major low point in my mothering career. Then I had a paradigm shift that changed forever the relationship between my firstborn and me. And it's only because of my recent mistakes and the amazing changes that I have seen in my boy (and myself!) that I feel like I can say what I want to say today with any sort of authority or certainty--without sounding too audacious or know-it-all-ish.

I've been thinking a lot about the way we describe and label our children. And I think we need to be more careful. I think we need to be cautious of the way we think of our children, the way we speak to them, and the way we speak about them to others.

Here are some phrases I've caught coming out of my own mouth or have observed spoken by other parents:

(to a child)

"You always..."

"You never..."

(to others)

"He's my athlete."
"She's my brain."
"He's our artist."
"She's our sensitive one."
"He's just a naughty boy."
"He's always into trouble."

Of course, we can identify characteristics and talents (and even struggles) in our children, but thinking and speaking in such absolutes can be so detrimental. It can pigeon-hole our children and lead them to compare themselves to their siblings or others and draw negative conclusions about themselves.

I hear too many things like that. About small children and teenagers alike. I've said too many things like that. It's so harmful to our children and to us.

Maybe I'm getting too caught up in the semantics of it all, but I genuinely believe that we become who we are taught to become. I want my children to feel empowered and loved by everything I express to them (even if I'm doling out a punishment!). Language is powerful. I want to get mine right.

Your thoughts?

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Kalli Ko said...

ooh my gosh this cuts me like a knife...

you're so so right

Mickie and Matt said...

My husband erased never and always from my vocabulary right after our marriage. He said I could ONLY use those words if I really ment it because more often then not it wasn't the case.

Also, my mom did a great job of that second part you discussed. She was very careful to compliment all of us all the time. She picked out speacial things each one of us could do but made sure to say each one about her children with the same enthusiasm. She would also encourage us to share our talents with our siblings so that they were good at it too.

Rachael said...

Something else I've realized: I need to speak respectfully to my children. Even if they are being little stinkers, I still need to treat them with respect.

Anonymous said...

First thing that popped into my mind after reading this was Elder Holland's talk "The Tongue of Angels".

he says: May I expand this counsel to make it a full family matter. We must be so careful in speaking to a child. What we say or don’t say, how we say it and when is so very, very important in shaping a child’s view of himself or herself. But it is even more important in shaping that child’s faith in us and their faith in God. Be constructive in your comments to a child—always. Never tell them, even in whimsy, that they are fat or dumb or lazy or homely. You would never do that maliciously, but they remember and may struggle for years trying to forget—and to forgive. And try not to compare your children, even if you think you are skillful at it. You may say most positively that “Susan is pretty and Sandra is bright,” but all Susan will remember is that she isn’t bright and Sandra that she isn’t pretty. Praise each child individually for what that child is, and help him or her escape our culture’s obsession with comparing, competing, and never feeling we are “enough.”

Clearly you're in the right mindset! ;-)

Heather said...

I COMPLETELY agree! I have thought a lot about this lately. About speaking calmly and patiently even when my almost 3 year old is giving me brain damage ;) And I LOVE that talk by Elder Holland - "The Tongue of Angels" mentioned above. I think respect for our children is hugely important. I also think often times we forget that they are in fact just children. Learning and discovering this big world where everything is new, exciting, and sometimes stressful. Loved this! :)

Abbie said...

I went to a seminar before I had kids and I can't really remember all that the lady said, but she talked about this and said "if you call your child shy, she will be shy. If you call your child a monster, he will be a monster."

And Tongue of Angels by Holland comes to mind.

So true. I need to watch myself more carefully. thanks for the reminder.

danielle said...

Love are so right! I thinks its crazy to hear how people talk to and about their kids sometimes...thinking they are maybe too little to ways we'd never dream of speaking to others. I totally believe in self-fulfilling prophecies too.

Anyway, thanks for this good reminder.

Christina said...

I try and watch what I say about my kids, especially in front of them.

But I find it gets harder as my children get older and other adults are looking at me for explanation of my child's behavior. So I usually do say something like "he's a little shy" or "it just takes him a bit to warm up".

And I also don't completely agree with the self-fulfilling prophecy. Obviously we shape our children in some ways, but they definitely come with their own unique personalities too.

Cailean said...

This describes my philosophy exactly. My parents, and my mom especially, were very intent on not labeling us or speaking to us with any disrespect at all. They had a British upbringing so I think that was part of it. Because of this, I am very sensitive to how children are spoken to and sometimes too sensitive because kids are more resilient than we give them credit if and aunt or grandma speaks to them harshly they probably will survive. But this really has proven to be true - how we speak to children reflects how we feel about them. Sometimes people use words without thinking but it does reflect on how they feel whether they realize it or not. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

L2L said...

I just found your blog and have enjoyed every random post I have clicked on!!!! This is near and dear to my heart!!!! I once heard that when we label our children, we bind the hands of Christ to grow them and I think it is so true!!! They grow up thinking that is the way they should be and ignore Christ speaking into their lives growing them just how He made them!!!!!