I have found myself lately stopping in mid-sentence whilst saying things around the kids, especially Li'l G the Parrot. It's not that I am swearing, but I find that I sometimes make comments or try to be funny or self-deprecating without thinking of the larger consequences. As I was really reflecting on what I want my children to know and remember of us as parents, I know that there will be the things that 20+ years from now will make them roll their eyes or think "I'm not going to do that to/with my kids." I just want to be intentional in trying our darndest to make sure that their list is mighty short.
1) Disparaging words about them from our lips. We have amazing kids. They are littles. They are tough sometimes, but they are amazing. In our sarcastic, self-deprecating nature, it is easy to extend that deprecation onto our brood. I have found myself mid-sentence when someone pays us a compliment about how polite our Li'l G is about to tell them the dirty secrets of our sometimes tantrum-filled home. Then I remember how much it bothers me when my mother repays a compliment about me with a "if you only knew" comment or look. Our children have been created in the image and likeness of God, and like us, they are working their way back to Him. That comes with some rough steps, but it's our job as parents to help them get through those without holding it against them or publicly embarrassing them. Li'l G IS very polite. She is gentle and kind and expressive and beautiful inside and out. She is 2. That comes with some acting out - she is not a Stepford kid. So, thank you for noticing how sweet and gentle she is.
2) Comparisons to their siblings (or anyone) as a negative statement about them. Having been an only child, I never really got to see the developmental differences between siblings. Friends, yes, and I heard those comparisons. I also made those comparisons in terms of parents, truth be told. Now having two very different children, I find that it fascinates me to compare their developmental milestones. One talked much sooner (and hasn't stopped). The other is definitely more physically adept at an earlier age. Neither is better. Yet, it is so easy to speak in terms of comparison. For instance, it took our Li'l G awhile to give up her bottle. Baby J is already trying to sip from a cup. Yes, he is light years ahead of his sister, but I found myself actually saying that aloud. It really bothered me to think that she might have heard that and thought that she was somehow not as good as her brother. Kids are different, siblings or not. God has wired each of them to his special purpose, and I need to encourage each of them in their strengths and not affirm them by degrading the other. My bad.
In a similar vein, I never want them to feel that I am comparing them to their friends or anyone else for that matter. If we are having any serious issues in development, then we will address that head on with our pediatrician - not because Suzy down the street is doing things faster, but because there is a problematic delay in growth or development. There are going to be a lot of milestones in these young years, and many opportunities for achievement in the years to come. Our children need to know that none of that carries any weight when it comes to our love. We have to make them confident that we love them as they are, even while trying to get them to where we know they should be. Isn't God doing the same for us each and every day? He doesn't want us to be like anyone else he has made. He wants us to discover the potential and gifts he has bestowed on us in His time, not in ours. These kids, these very specific children with their very unique DNA, were given to me. To be graphic, God chose that egg and that sperm to come together at that specific time to create this life and bring to fruition beyond the womb. Why would we possibly want them to be like someone else, when God has specifically designed them for us?
3) Self-deprecating humor or comments about myself. If I want them to know and love themselves as precious children of God, I cannot treat myself any differently. This will take work. I don't always see myself through Christ-colored glasses. My hearing is not always attuned to blocking the devil's soundwaves. I'm getting better, but I have a long way to go. It will take intentional focus to not see myself as the Pillsbury Doughboy (or even if I do, to swat that aside and see instead Jesus radiating through me). It will take focus not to see every blemish. I want to do it for my children. These littles are ridiculously observant of even the tiniest detail and behavior. I don't want them to remember me always struggling with my weight or fixated on what might make me feel better about myself. How droll. God made me in his image just as much as he made them. I need to work on owning it and proclaiming it about myself, not in a pompous way, of course. Rather, if someone compliments me I need to be grateful and not guffaw or roll my eyes as I normally do. (And yes, I just used the word "guffaw.")
4) That's stupid/silly/dumb [enter non-validating word here]. I want my children to know that all their thoughts and emotions are valid. They may not be rooted in reality, but they are feeling whatever it is that their minds have concocted. I want them to know that as they grow, they can bring their fears and desires to me without ridicule or dismissal. Sure, some of it is going to be a bit off the wall. They are my kids. They will figure that out on their own, though, or I can talk them through it. I never want them to fear being laughed at by us for anything, however irrational. I want them to know I will hold them through their fears and encourage their dreams, grounding them in reality and faith.
5) That's gay/retarded/[enter attribute of person here to mean undesirable]. It's just not okay. I know there is a lot of controversy around it. I know people think we're all getting bent out of shape. The deal is that these terms we now know define characteristics of individuals who are disparaged in society. We know that these words are hurtful when used to insinuate that something is wrong, bad or not-smart. We also know that it just doesn't articulate what is really being said. It's become a colloquialism that, much like swearing, uses disparaging terms to convey an emotion without actually expressing what the emotion is. I never want my children to hear or say such things. Never.
6) Just go away. Ohhh, this one is tempting. When you are in the midst of simultaneous meltdowns and nonstop chatter for 8 hours, this one is so tempting...and so very damaging. There is not one shred of me that ever wants my children to think that I do not want to be in their presence. I need to teach them that they cannot and should not demand immediate attention during every waking hour, but I want them to know I receive great joy in being with them. Even in the midst of angst, I rejoice in them. God rejoices in me even when I'm a pain. I need to be sure they know I delight in them through thick and thin.
7) You're ugly/fat/undeserving of love. Boy oh boy if I ever hear someone say this in any of its forms to my children, you had better watch out for mama bear. It comes out in many forms not so overt as the words themselves. I never, never, never want to be the one who insinuates such things. I actually remember hearing my own parents talking about me gaining a little weight. Want to know how old I was? Six. That's right. Six years old. And then again around my teenage years. I know they never meant it to be hurtful, but I believe there are certain things you say that no matter your intention are damaging. This is one of them. I do not believe it is isolated to the young ladies out there. There is just as much pressure for boys, and sometimes less opportunity for them to express their hurt. I find myself brushing Li'l G's hair or pretending to put powder and lotion on her face and then saying "oh, pretty girl!" Then I cringe. She IS pretty - she is BEAUTIFUL! Not because her hair is done or there is powder or lotion on her face, but because that is how God made her. There is so much she will have to fight in society to retain her dignity and a solid self-image. I do not want to contribute to the notion that exterior things make her more or less beautiful. My job is to help each of them claim and own their beauty as children of God so when the evil one throws the poo at them through the mixed messages of the world, they can throw it right back and say "no, thank you." They will be polite about it clearly - it is part of their beauty.
8) Parental arguments. Yes, they happen, even in our perfect and always happy home. (cough). Our children should never be embroiled in them. We should never use them as a bargaining chip. They should only know that mommy and daddy love each other dearly, and love them dearly. Yes, sometimes mom and dad disagree on things, but that does not lessen our love for each other, or our love for our children. El fin.
9) Constant complaining. Yes, I am guilty of perhaps seeing the glass as half empty or just another one the Hubbers will have to wash. I want to nip that in the bud while the kids are young. I want our home to be a home of joy, where we count our blessings, not mope over what we do not yet have. We are blessed beyond belief. God is always faithful and that is what I want our children to know. To quote Annie, "the sun will come out tomorrow." Even in Michigan, it's not cloudy forever. To paraphrase Blessed Mother Teresa, we should never let anything fill us with such sorrow that we forget the joy of Christ risen. We are an Easter people, a people of hope and a people of joy. Complaining betrays our heritage as adopted sons and daughters of the Most High. Will I still complain a little...as in did I go on a tirade about our house just an hour ago? Probably likely. I hope very much, though, that this will not be the prevailing characteristic for which I am remembered or known.
10) Condemnation from judgement. This one is a little bit more of a "things I want my kids to differentiate between." I never want my children to hear someone criticize them or correct them and think that because they were wrong, that they are worthless or inherently bad. I want them to know that as sinners we all stray from the path, but our identity is in our redemption as children of a living God. I want them to know they are loved not for what they do (right or wrong), but because they exist. I want them to know how to take criticism and judgment in a way that they can discern God's voice in what is corrective and know the voice of the evil one enough to dismiss him. I want them to know that others will tell them not to judge, but it is good for them to judge right from wrong, sacred from profane, holy from evil. It is good to judge, but never to condemn - that alone belongs to God. We can judge an action for ourselves, but the person should never feel anything but our love. It is a tricky line to toe most of the time, especially when we talk about touchy subjects like sex. It is good for them to know they can toe that line with confidence and with our support. It is good for them to know that when they make mistakes, we will judge what they did as wrong, but we will love them just the same. It is good for them to know that we will set boundaries for them and instruct them in the faith in ways that will likely get us labeled as "judgmental," but that it is okay only if we live out that faith in love and service of our neighbors indifferent to their failings (hello, did you see the log in my own eye?). It allows us to live in the blessings of the beatitudes:
‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.' Matthew 5:11-12
I want them to live as much in the Beatitudes as I want them to obey the Commandments. Perhaps that is another post for another time, though.