What we say to our children is important. Not only what we say, but how we say it makes a huge impact on them. Not only do we have to be concerned with the content of what we are saying, but there’s also this thing called ‘interpretation’ that scares me just a bit. Our kids certainly hear our words, but it’s also they way they interpret what we are saying that makes a life-long impact on them. What I’m saying and what I mean needs to be in sync. Essentially, I want to make sure my messages are clear and as free from negativity as possible. Simple, right?
According to Mamma Bear Berenstain, the English language is full of wonderful, creative, and interesting words. We are incredibly lucky to have so many options. So why limit ourselves or our messages by using easy-to-say but easy-to-misinterpret words? I know what my internal compass does when I hear certain words. I’m old enough to process them and make meaning of the message, but what happens when my 5-year-old hears them? What happens when she hears them from me? What messages am I sending to her? With all of this in mind, I herby declare my vocabulary rid of the following three words: Perfect. Just. Little.
perfect |ˈpərfikt| adjective. Having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be.
I use it often. Whenever Audrey shows me something she created, designed, wrote, whatever it is I often respond by saying, “I love it! It is perfect!” In my defense, she is perfect. In every single way from the top of her curls to the bottom of her feet she is absolutely perfect in my eyes. She is kind, funny, smart, and more considerate and thoughtful at five than most people are well into adulthood. But what message am I sending to her about perfectionism? I’ve been there and it aint pretty. The truth is, nothing and no one is perfect. Prefect is an unattainable, unrealistic and frankly, totally unnecessary trait. As a parent, mother, adult, educated person, I see no place in my life for perfection. I know I am not perfect and I rarely claim to be. So what message am I sending my precious daughter every time I tell her that her work or creation is perfect? What happens the next time when she makes something that doesn’t measure up? How will she handle the idea of just good enough? Am I giving her the skills to handle mediocrity?
Whether or not I am inadvertently putting unnecessary pressure on my child remains to be seen. I feel as though it is always better to err on the side of caution and simply stop saying it. There are tons of other words I could use to describe her work and give her feedback. I can ask her questions to reflect on the work herself. I can encourage her to explore new techniques and give her the courage to do better.
I can do these things, I know, it’s just that it is a teeny bit harder than simply saying “It’s perfect!” It’s at the worst moment when I’m carrying a basket full of towels headed to the laundry room, I can hear the oven timer beeping, and the phone is ringing that she comes running to me to show how well she wrote a sentence. It’s so easy to compliment her without so much as an honest glance at what she is waving in front of my face. It’s at this moment that I need to drop the basket, shut off the oven and sit right there on the laundry room floor and talk about what she has done. Who needs perfect now?
just |jəst| adjective. Simply; only; no more than.
In this context, I absolutely hate this word. Generally, I think people are well-intentioned and rarely mean to be belittling but whenever you put just in front of something it does just that. Let me ask you this, how many times have your heard someone say, ‘Oh, it was just a five car pileup with several fatalities?’ Or have you heard someone mention, ‘It was just tuberculosis.’ Of course not. You never hear that because using the word just modifies what you are saying into something meaningless or devalued. My personal favorite, which I have been hearing a lot lately is ‘Well, it’s probably just hormones.’ Can’t we take the just out of it? Why just? Using that word conveys a message of belittling. Look, maybe I’m just overly sensitive but after hearing ‘just hormones’ several times I started to feel like I was crazy. (Or at least like they thought I was crazy!)
Regardless, it’s an unnecessary modifier that I find I use too often with my kids. It’s just the closet door, It’s just the wind, It’s just a quick needle shot in your arm… I find myself doing this in an attempt to make my kids feel better. Somehow modifying what they are feeling has become my go-to response. The truth is, when you are two, loud noises can be really scary. At five, a shot really is a big deal. Throwing around the word just isn’t helping anything or anyone. All I’m doing is making them most likely feel like I do when someone tell me it’s just hormones. (Say it again and I will show you what ‘hormones’ really look like.) It doesn’t make me feel any better. If anything it makes me feel worse. So why am I doing this to my kids?
little |ˈlitl|adjective. Small in size, amount, or degree (often used to convey an appealing diminutiveness or express an affectionate or condescending attitude).
Need I say more? No. It has to stop. It’s nothing more than pure ridiculousness. There are hundreds of better words out there that I can use to describe things related to my children. Yes, technically my son is little. But only by the standard that he is the shortest member of the family. Outside of a conversation about the actual size of something, there is no use for this word. ‘Get her little pink bag.’ or ‘Her little friend.’ or ‘Her little Daisy Troop.’ It’s a modifier that I use simply out of habit and it has to stop. There is no room for condescension in a mother’s voice. That simple.
Of course nothing about motherhood is that simple. It’s a process and everything takes time. Of course, I do not aim for perfection, instead I aim for a good honest effort each and every day. Parenthood is an interesting paradigm because in many ways we are set up to be the experts, or at least, the ones who know the most. Yes, of course our life experiences have taught us far more than our children have yet to learn, and yet each and every day I realize just how much I really have left to figure out.