What are your 'words' saying?

By Maria Bailey

I remember watching a segment on the T. Berry Brazelton show one day while on maternity leave with my second child. The show producers placed hidden cameras in the homes of three working mothers to capture the morning activities of each household. Each mother went through the same list of "get-out-the door" challenges that each of us experience every morning. They packed lunches, searched for lost library books, assembled gym bags by the door and put on lipstick while microwaving waffles. The memorable and amazing part of the show was when each mother watched the tape of their morning.

In astonishment, each saw themselves transferring an incredible amount of stress to their children. Typical dialogue included, "If you don't hurry, I'm going to be late to work," "You are going to slow, hurry up," and worst of all, "Mommy is always late because you don't eat your breakfast." I'm sure each of the mothers are good parents and didn't realize what they were saying to their children when they were saying it but when the conversation was replayed, it was an eye opening experience for each.

The fact of the matter is, it wasn't the and never is the fault of our children that we are late for work. Work is a choice each of us has made. It's up to us to make it work with our family.

While listening to Dr. Brazelton describe how the stress of working is ours as mothers to bear and how damaging it can be to transfer it to a three year old, I vowed to always listen to the words I spoke to my children. The show taught me that there are times during our crazy lives that we say things to our children that we would never say to an adult colleague, friend or even a stranger. Can you imagine telling your adult girlfriend, "I'm not going to listen to you complain about your sister again?" Of course not, if you think about it, 50% of your conversations with your best girlfriend are probably about complaints she has.

So why do we say such things to our children? We are so busy doing multiple tasks that we don't pay attention to what we are actually saying or how what we are saying can be interpreted by another human being, even if it's our child.

Just to prove my point at how cruel parents speak to their children, listen to what parents say next time you visit Disney World or any amusement park. It always amazing me that Disney is the happiest place on Earth to go with your children, yet parents say the meanest things after a day of fun. Here is my list of skin-crawling dialogue:

  • "Your behavior is so bad, I regret coming here."
  • "I wish we had left you at home."
  • "I never want to bring you with us again."
  • "If you don't behave, you will never go anywhere with us again."
  • "I don't care how good you are, you are not getting that toy, after the way you behaved today."

I'm not professing to be the perfect mom. In fact, the point of this article is to confess that I recently broke my rule. It was the end of a long day while my nanny was on vacation. My 16 month old was crying inconsolably because she had refused to nap. The tears just kept pouring out while my other three children engaged in their late afternoon bickering match over who had broken the red crayon from their box of 50 red crayons. I caught myself saying to my crying baby, " I don't care if you cry for an hour, you are going to take a nap." Ouch! I actually said, "I don't care" to my child. Nothing could be further from the truth. So, why would I want her or my three older children to hear my say such a thing, even if I didn't mean it? Of course, I care and of course, I realized I was only human too. At least I quickly caught myself in time not to repeat it.

As terrible as I felt at the moment, it was a good, no-harm-done lesson for me. It helped me to remind myself that I'm not perfect. As hard as we try, it's simply impossible to always be right in our actions and words. The moment also acted as a warning symbol that I was approaching my breaking point and it was time for a mommy time out. A quick splash of cold water to the face and a sip of Diet Coke with lemon did the trick. Most importantly, I was reminded of the importance of words especially when we are speaking them to our child.

My advice
Listen to what you are saying to your children every time you speak. Whether you are complaining to your husband in the evening about work while your children are in ears distance or you are on your car phone. Just as child will repeat saying something you've said before, he will imitate the attitudes and emotions he hears in your words and conversation. Do you think a child who grows up listening to his mother complain about work will grow up to have good work ethics? Respect his career? Or strive to achieve professionally? Chances are he won't.

We must remember that we shape our children not only by the love we give them, the examples we set, and the education we provide but also by the words we speak. Turn the next negative dialogue into one with a positive message. I'm sure you will find a new enjoyment in your role as a parent and your child will reap the benefits.

Also see: Teaching your children values

Maria Bailey is the CEO and founder of BlueSuitMom.com and a mother of four children under the age of seven.