Parenting is hard. I will be the first to admit that I make a lot of mistakes. I say things that I told myself I would never say to my kids. Lately, I’ve been practicing what I call mindful parenting. I have been trying to remain acutely aware of the way I am interacting with my kids and how I am communicating with them. What I have discovered through this awareness is that I have a lot of work to do. So I’m starting with this.
Here are five phrases that I am going to eliminate from my vocabulary.
1. What is wrong with you?
I heard this a lot growing up and vowed I would never speak those words to my kids. The first time it slipped out of my mouth, it felt like I had an out of body experience. It was as if I was sitting in the corner of the room watching myself say those words to my child, as he looked at me with a look that I had seen hundreds of times. It was the look that I used to see every time I looked at myself in the mirror. It was a look of shame. And I was absolutely horrified that I had been the source of that shame.
I wish I could say it only happened that once but I’ve found myself saying this, and other phrases that communicate shame just as clearly, at least a handful of times. It’s so easy for me, when my child isn’t listening, or when he’s doing something that he knows is wrong, to yell out, “what’s the matter with you?”
I often don’t understand why it is so hard for my child to follow simple instructions or to listen the first time when they know that consequences will ensue if they don’t. But my inability to comprehend what happens inside of a three or four-year-old brain does not justify shaming my child. Nothing will ever justify shaming my child. My job as a parent is to build them up so that when the world tears them down, as it inevitably will, they are left with solid ground to stand on. Each time I communicate shame to my child, I am chipping away at their foundation and shaving off a piece of their armor. I don’t want to be that parent. I want to be a parent that gives my child a chance in this big, brutal world, not one who destroys them before they even meet it.
2. Why can’t you be more like your brother?
Granted, I have never said those exact words but regardless of how it’s relayed, the message is the same. I get frustrated with one child so I highlight whatever good behavior their brother is showing in an attempt to motivate them to change their behavior. What I’m really doing though, instead of motivating, is tampering with their sense of self by inviting competition and comparison into our home.
I have three very different boys with three very different personalities. Their brains are uniquely theirs and the way they process information differs from each other. They each have strengths and excel in different ways. By comparing them to their brothers, I am essentially communicating preference or superiority of one child over the other.
This comparing just has to stop. We are a society that lives and breathes for a competitive edge. For something that makes us better than, smarter than, faster than everyone else. The way we define ourselves, our value, our worth, is entirely dependent upon our relation to others. Comparing my children to each other is fostering a dependence that strips them entirely of their independence, weakens their innate strengths and downplays their uniquenesses.