Monday, June 23, 2008

A Word on Words

Ever hear that saying 'Sticks and stones will break my bones but words will never hurt me?' I never really thought about it until recently, when a seven-year old I know called Leo told me that it was a completely dumb statement. Words can hurt more than anything and unlike a physical cut, they don't really heal that fast.

I know, I know, you've had the kid, read the book, paid for the preschool through college, and now they're out of the house, you're done with parenting, but don't you ever wonder if somewhere along the line you might have furnished fuel for therapy? How do you or did you rate as a parent? I only ask because I was witness this weekend to what I consider the worst kind of parenting which involves the two big sins -- shaming and labeling. A mother who I have come to know quite well, and have tried to talk to about such issues since she raised the problem herself, as in "I know that I'm doing exactly what my mother did but somehow, my mouth opens and those nasty sentiments just come pouring out." It's a reflex, like running from an open flame and it's completely learned, at the aprons of our own fair parents, and unless it is consciously unlearned we are doomed to inflict the assault on our kids. So I watched in horror as this woman, who is a very funny, sharp soul, who is under an enormous amount of pressure these days, yell in frustration at her two girls, very publicly, in front of several of their friends. Words such as idiot and moron were bandied about, and then, the big question: "Are you a baby or are you almost 11-years old?" followed by "Do you want to go home or are you going to behave?" Guess what? Kids can't answer those questions. They're way too busy crawling into a quiet, safe space inside their own head where they might stop feeling like a leper. On the outside they just grin and bear it and often, they'll even repeat the behavior, just to prove that they are as bad as you say they are. Isn't that weird? Inside they want the earth to open up and swallow them. So I'm begging you, asking you, pleading with you to listen to yourself when you speak or yell at your kids. Listen to what comes out and decide how you would feel at the receiving end of it?