How many articles have you read about the impact of our words on those around us? I think most of us were taught young to always “mind what you say”, and to be considerate about another person’s feelings. Yet, in today’s era of unforgiving bullies as young as preschool children and as sophisticated as politicians, the havoc wreaked by poorly chosen words is not to be taken lightly. So what gives? Where is the missing link?
Well, let’s look at it from the viewpoint of a mother, whose life rejoices around her children. Suddenly, it’s not just about the choice of words, but also the timing! I cannot practice my constitutional freedom of speech around my children, especially when I’m having “one of those days”!
I am human, I get tired, I often want to just sit and stare into space, and forget about tracking how many steps I’ve walked chasing after the dog, or going back and forth to the potty. And sometimes, I just want to say, “what the BLEEP is wrong with you?” or “why doesn’t anything I say register in your head while you are swimming in your pool of legos in the middle of the kitchen floor?” But I don’t. Or do I?
A simple meme on social media, reminding me that “words can cut deep” is usually enough to send an electric spark down my spine…every single time. It hits home because I am the mother of two young, innocent, impressionable little children; more importantly, because I have mindlessly uttered stuff often enough to fear the damage of my words on my little darlings.
Yes, I painfully confess that I have at some point or other said things in the presence of my children, that I thoroughly regretted. And looking back, it seems like my utterance was always a careless release of fatigue or frustration.
Maybe as an attempt to self-heal, I’ve compiled a few examples of words that probably did cut deep. In each of these examples, I was either a bystander or a participant in the conversation. And every time, there was no indication of ill-will or aggression toward the child. These are phrases said by parents/caretakers/teachers in the presence of the child.
“She’s doing great at school. She’s just really shy. That seems to be her nature.” Mother said this in the presence of her child, and then looked at her lovingly. The child just continued to stare in space, storing these statements in her memory and yet unable to process them.
“She is almost 6 years old, but still scared of sleeping in her own room! It’s driving her parents nuts!” Grandparent said to another adult, but within hearing distance of the child. Child looked over hesitantly and then disappeared.
“Can you believe he is still wetting his pants at school? I’m ashamed every time I have to go drop off fresh clothes for him.” Mother said to her friend while child was playing just a few feet away. Then she followed it up with, “Honey, you’re not wet again, are you?” The child threw an unrelated and sudden tantrum just minutes later.
“I really wish we could take a trip. But she’s just so difficult, that I don’t know how she would take it. I can already imagine the plane ride.” Mother said this with a smile that begged for sympathy, while holding her three year old. Her daughter just soaked it all up like a sponge and may not release it for years to come.
“We dropped her off at school today but she simply couldn’t part with us. I don’t know what the matter is with her.” Father said to another father while children were playing nearby. His daughter looks over to him, clearly having heard the statement and her smile quickly fades.
“He’s such a picky eater! He won’t eat anything. I’m tired of having to chase him with food. … Here honey, I made you some mac and cheese that you like. Just take a bite.”
“It’s ok, she’s not hurt. She cries over everything.”
“No, we don’t want another child. This one is already enough to handle. And my pregnancy with him was just horrible.” Mother was holding this child and had a genuinely tired face; her son heard every word. Who knows when these words may hit him right back in life.
“Why can’t you just walk to the gate yourself? Look that little girl is holding her mom’s hand and isn’t whining about going to preschool!” said the father, sounding beyond annoyed by her two year-old stoic looking daughter.
“Oh honey did you put your shoes on backwards again!” Mother says to four year old in the presence of her child, her child’s school friend and parent. Then the mother lets out an awkward laugh and the other parent returns the favor by laughing back, almost patronizing the child’s dumb attempt to put on his own shoes.
In the case of the parents, I could see their plea for help in their eyes. They were begging for some insight on how to deal with their child’s developmental hurdles. Some looked worried, as if they were trying to ignore a back-thought that there may be something medically or developmentally wrong with their child.
All I’m saying is, it’s ok. We all have our moments when we do not make the best judgment call; BUT we can try to be more mindful going forward. We owe it to our children, who will soon be old enough to either project their pain on others, or recoil within themselves and continue to take the dagger from others. We also owe it to our children, who will one day be important sophisticated members of society, whose public statements can cause panic and fuel fires.
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