I was sitting at the park with a new group of moms friends one time. We were chatting as our children played on the nearby playground. A few minutes into our conversation I noticed that one of the moms started talking about things she didn't like about her teenage daughter. Several other moms chimed in and started down this path. What the moms couldn't see, was their daughters, sitting in a group, not talking, and listening to every word their mothers were saying about them. The conversation changed, but I will never forget the attitude those girls had as we left the park that day. Back-talking, disrespect, and hate exuded from those girls and their mothers had no idea why. I learned that day how important it is to speak positively about our kids.
I left the park that day truly sad for those girls and their mothers. What if they had died on the way home? What if those bad words were the last words they heard from their mothers? Then the next day, I caught myself complaining about my daughter on the phone to a friend. I stopped mid-sentence. Was I unintentionally damaging my daughter as bad as those moms had damaged their girls? I decided right then and there that I was going to speak positively about my family from then on.
This experience has caused me to reflect back on my years of working with teens and their parents. In every case I can recall, where the children were behaving badly or against the parents wishes, I can vividly remember the parents having that conversation with me in front of or within eavesdropping distance of the child. I have come to the conclusion that children are "bad" because we, as the adults, label them that way. Especially our teenagers. If you were to hear someone talking bad about you, just a few feet from you, all the time, how would you behave toward that person? I know, for myself, I definitely wouldn't be very nice.
As people, I believe that our words have power behind them. Not just the power to uplift or hurt someone; but the power to create something from nothing. Think about your family you love. Or the home you have. Did you tell someone about all the plans you had to make it what it is? Or Did you grow up talking about how you were going to raise your kids, name them, things you would do with them? Perhaps you drew, talked about and planned the décor details of your home with people around you? I’ll bet you did. Those words you spoke created exactly what you see before you. Maybe it isn’t finished yet, but I’ll bet you’re telling me about all the things you still have left to do. We also have more power in creating good children when we talk good about our kids.
I have learned the same words we speak about others have that creative power too. One of the things I have noticed as I’ve aged in motherhood is how, when you talk to other mothers, they always seem to say something along the lines of “Just wait until she’s a teenager!!” “It only gets worse from here!!” The phrases almost seem like warnings of what is to come by well-meaning mothers. I have started to wonder if they are manifestations of what moms are expecting to happen. Do children really have to get harder each stage they go through? Or is it because we expect them to get harder that they do? What would happen if we started to speak positively when we talk about our kids?
When my husband and I first got my “hard teenagers”, all we ever heard from anyone was how hard, bad, etc. they were. I wonder how differently those kids would act for other adults if they would only hear how amazing and wonderful they are. My husband and I took this approach by choosing to speak positively about our kids telling our teens every chance we got how amazing they were. When people would ask us about them, we made sure we had nothing but nice things to say about them. The results were surprising. All of our teens behave well around us, even the most challenging ones. Even our teens who never stopped telling us how much they hated us, to this day will tell everyone how much they love us.
I know for some parents they will think that venting and sharing our frustrations of parenthood is totally validated. I don’t disagree with you there. This is what I do know about venting too, though. It serves no one. I find every time I vent, it just makes me see more of the worst in that person. Does that mean we can’t express our feelings of frustration? No, I just believe that it should be done in a way that is constructive and up lifting. The old adage goes, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” (Name that movie.)
Look at it this way too. If you walked in on a private conversation your teenagers were having about their moms and heard your child talking about you the way you vent to your friends, how would you feel? Would you be upset? Could you feel helpful? Would you feel loving toward that child? Odds are, you would feel deeply hurt, angry, frustrated, and probably react badly. I can tell you your children feel the same way when they hear the things you’ve said about them.
What can you do to change? How can you stop yourself from this cycle? The simplest method I have done is this: For every bad thing I say about my kids, I immediately tell them to their face, looking in their eyes, 10 good things I love about them. If I vent and complain about my husband when he’s not around, I make sure to tell anyone around that was listening 10 good things about him. I then text him, 30 things I love about him. If that’s too much for you, start by writing a list each morning or evening of 5 things you love about your kids. Make each day different. You will start seeing a difference, not only in your mood, but in how much more love you have toward your child.
Eventually you will only have good things to say about your child. My friend, Ralphie, always tells us to “Water the Flowers, not the weeds.” I believe this is true. I know this though: before we water the flowers, we have to first plant the good seeds we want to grow. Once the good seeds have grown, then we can water the flowers. Those seeds can only be planted if we start by looking for the good in everything each day.