I am often stunned by what I overhear parents say to their children. Carelessly, they will open their mouths and unleash all kinds of negative words on the very ones they are expected to protect. Our words have the power to build up or tear down, and they can have a long-term effect. Sadly, we all have been on both sides of that coin.
When we talk to our children, we should be mindful as to how our words are impacting them. Are your words hurting your children, or are they healing them? Wayne Dyer, a former motivational speaker, gave profound insight when he said, “I’d rather be kind than right.” Each child has a different temperament, so always strive for peace in conversations, not war. Grasping this concept will undoubtedly prevent an emotional showdown.
Some time ago, a young lady, her mom and Nana were riding in the car heading to an event. Her Nana was discussing something with her mom, and she was passively listening to the grown-up’s conversation until she heard her name mentioned. No sooner than she could fine tune her ears, she overheard her Nana say that she was flat out ugly.
Can you imagine your grandmother, someone you love, stating that you were “ugly?” You are waiting for the punchline, but there isn’t one. No one is laughing. In fact, everyone is quiet now with stern faces. You are within hearing distance, trying to decipher the conversation. You are all in your feelings, thinking what did my Nana just say.
The child was crushed by those words, and tried to process it, but couldn’t. The pain was too great, and she did not understand why her Nana would say such a thing, and why her mother allowed it. Could it be true? Was she actually ugly? What did that mean anyway? She wanted to look in the mirror to see if it was true.
Those words impacted her life for the next 30 years. That day, a little girl’s world did a summersault. She rehearsed those words again and again. They played in her mind like a broken record, and eventually, she believed it too.
The young lady went from being sweet and care-free to a chick-on-a-mission. The mission was to prove that her Nana was wrong. Resentment set into her heart, and little miss innocent became a promiscuous girl.
For the next three decades, she suffered from low self-esteem, inferiority, depression and bitterness. She had a train wreck of a marriage and was never happy in love. She was miserable in life, but didn’t connect the dots as to why, until she sought therapy and got to the root of her behavior.
After many counseling sessions, she began to renew her mind with truths about herself that counteracted and uprooted the old thoughts and corresponding actions. Eventually, she was healed from the hurt and began to live a vibrant and enjoyable life.
Although the lady no longer believed what her Nana said, she wanted to know why her Nana said it. Her summation was that Nana called her ugly, not because she was an unattractive kid, but because she didn’t pass the “brown paper bag test.” She was darker in complexion than all the other grandchildren, and that automatically made her an ugly duckling. It was a twisted mindset. In the olden days, if you were darker than a brown paper bag, you were considered physically unappealing.
I want to believe this story would be different if the times were different. Certainly, Nana would rather have bit her own tongue than harm her granddaughter and yet Nana’s reckless use of words caused decades of suffering. Her mother does not get a pass either; although her silence was not an act of agreement, it was displaced loyalty in showing respect to Nana and not defending her daughter.
Through the years, parents and guardians have spoken terrible things about their children. Sometimes their words were intended to hurt, but more often, their insults were just ignorance. On those occasions their words were so out of order and divisive that it brought contempt and rebellion. Then they stand wondering why their children react to them in such an adverse way.
As parents, we need to watch our mouths so that we do not harm or tear our children down. I’m not only talking about the obvious things like using profanity, angry tones and derogatory words. I am also talking about the way parents respond to their children’s dreams, ambitions and desires. In the day to day arena, if you do not have anything good to say, just say “WOW!”
Marnita Coleman is an author and host of “The Marnita Show,” a parenting show heard daily across the globe.