Some phrases we say in families are powerful. For instance, “I love you” can energize your loved one, lead to deeper connection with them, and change their day for the better. In a similar manner, “How can I help you?” is a question packed with the power of intimacy and connection. But there are some phrases I hear in families that kind of irritate me. Well, they do irritate me. They’re pet peeves of mine. Let me share three.
“I have to babysit the munchkin tonight.” I generally hear this phrase spoken by a father, although I have heard mothers say it as well. Either way, you are the parent, not the babysitter. The babysitter has momentary responsibility and acts under the authority of the parent. A babysitter watches another person’s child. You are the parent. Calling a parent’s role “babysitting” minimizes the responsibility, gravity, and privilege of the parental role. Parents have a responsibility that endures for a lifetime. The gravity of that responsibility is enormous. Our children’s future and our society’s well-being depend on how seriously we take the role of parent. And being a parent is an amazing privilege filled with long-term delight. Parents don’t babysit their children. They have the privilege of caring for a special life that was born out of their love for one another. What a joy. “I have the privilege of spending time with my children (munchkins) tonight.” That’s a better phrase.
“I have to….” You know, “I have to make dinner for my spouse.” “I have to go to my kid’s game tonight.” “I have to wash dishes for my family.” “I have to… (fill in the blank with some household or family task).” It’s true. There are tasks that we must do to keep our home and family running smoothly. But, “I have to” makes it sound like we grudgingly do it out of obligation…and that does not lead to a happy family life. Nor does it set a positive example for our children (who we want to participate in household tasks). In reality, doing my share of household tasks is an expression of love. We can make the task more of an expression of love by changing the “I have to” to “I want to.” “I want to” wash the dishes because I love my spouse. “I want to” help with the laundry because I love my spouse. “I want go to” my child’s game because I love my child. This moves the task from an obligation or a duty to a privilege and then to an expression of love. It moves the motivation from the external reward of task completion and a smooth-running home to the internal motivation of love. That is the basis for a happy family. By the way, “I want to clean the kitty litter.” (I’m practicing.)
“Just calm down” or some variation of minimizing a family member’s emotion. Yes, statements like this one minimize how our family members perceive something and how they feel about it. It focuses only on their outward expression and dismisses what might be happening to them internally, in their mind or heart. And it shuts down the opportunity to learn important information about our family members. We only get excited or upset or angry about those things important to us. So, when a family member is excited or angry enough that we feel the need to tell them, “Just calm down,” they are probably reacting to something important to them. A statement that will lead to greater intimacy (and that is what we long for) is, “I see how important this is to you.” Or “what’s going on? What makes this so upsetting to you?” Get curious. Find out the value or priority behind the emotions. Discover what they see as so important that it leads them to have such a strong response. Learn about them. It will help you have a deeper, more intimate relationship.
Sadly, I have made all three of these statements in my life. We all feel like we’re “babysitting” because we “have to” at times. We get overwhelmed by other people’s emotions and want them to “just calm down.” Still, these phrases are not helpful, and I wish I had never said them. They can be hurtful, dismissive, and damaging to our relationships. Each time we say them, we have to repair the relationship we damaged. So, they are pet peeves of mine…even when I say them. Join me in putting in the effort to say healthier phrases like “I want to (clean the kitty litter or whatever household/family tasks you do),” “I have the privilege of spending time with my child tonight,” and “I see how important this is to you. Tell me more.”
If you have an infant in the house
and want them to develop strong language skills with a larger vocabulary, then
you want to learn a new language. I don’t mean French or Spanish, Chinese or
Japanese, or even Swahili. I mean you need to learn “parentese.”
That’s not “baby talk.” I’m talking about “parentese,” the
language in which a parent talks slowly and clearly with exaggerated vowels and
inflections. Parentese still uses real words as opposed to the nonsense
syllables of “baby talk.” Parentese involves fully grammatical sentences spoken
with an exaggerated tone of voice that sounds happy. Ironically, in this world
of division, parentese crosses all boundaries. It is used in all languages and benefits
children from all cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds. All children who are
spoken to in this language are engaged by it. They listen more intently. They
even respond more often. At least that’s what researchers at the University of
Washington discovered. Specifically, they found that infants of parents coached
in parentese when their children were six- and ten-months-old babbled 43% over
two days, whereas infants of parents not coached in parentese babbled only 30%.
In other words, those who used parentese got more engagement with and responses
from their infants. And, at 14-months-old, the children of parents who used
parentese produced significantly more words than children of parents who did
not use parentese. That’s the result at 14-months. The impact of learning “parentese”
continues even into elementary school and beyond. Other studies have shown early
language skills predict a child’s learning to read and success in school.
So, if you have an infant at home…or if you have a family friend who has an infant, why not learn the language of infants, parentese? (If you need a little tutoring lesson on parentese, check out this short video.) When you do, you will help them learn the flow of conversation and the art of engagement. You enhance their production of speech. You contribute to their future reading and success in school. Who knows, learning and practicing parentese might just start a whole learning revolution.
You have likely read articles implicating the smartphone in various types of disasters, like car fatalities, bullying, marital problems, or physical accidents. You may have even watched videos of mishaps caused by smartphone usage, some funny and some disturbing. (That Was Awkward describes my own experience with cellphone distraction!) But did you ever think about how “smartphone distraction” impacts a parent’s ability to parent. An article entitled The Dangers of Distracted Parenting outlines some of the research showing how parental smartphone use impacts parent-child relationships and, as a result, child development. The author sites several studies. Some show outcomes as simple as child ER visits increasing as cellphone usage increased. Other studies suggested more disturbing outcomes for parental cellphone usage, like decreased verbal and non-verbal interactions with their children, increased negative behaviors as children make increasingly demanding bids for parental attention, and children’s decreased ability to learn language when a parent is on the phone. Over the long run, these outcomes translate into poorer academic achievement and poorer social skills if the parent develops a pattern of placing smartphone usage (sending/answering texts, playing games, checking news, etc.) over their relationship with their children.
I remember visiting a local amusement park and watching a father stand in line with his young son (maybe 5-years-old). The father was busy on his cellphone while his son tried desperately to get his father’s attention.(Read A Carnival of Parents for more.) At the time I thought the father was missing a wonderful opportunity to build a relationship with his son and communicate how much he valued his son. And, in fact, his son may have come to believe his father valued his cell phone, the person on the other end of the cell phone, or the game he played on the cell phone more than him. But, now I know that this father being distracted by his cellphone may have done even more damage. If this type of distraction became a consistent pattern, his son may have developed less effective social skills and exhibited poorer language skills.
This all begs the question. What really is more important, your children or your phone? Of course, we all know our children are more important; but, do our actions coincide with that value? Or are we so addicted to our smartphones that they have become a wedge in our relationship with our children. I do know a way to put the question to rest once and for all, a way to discover if you cellphone has become so important in your life that it interferes with your relationship with your children. Put the phone away. I mean turn it off and put it in another room. Then, leave it in the other room while you enjoy dinner and an evening activity with your children, no smartphone even in sight. Then, make this practice a habit, a regular occurrence in the life of your family. Do it nightly or 3 times a week. If doing this sounds hard, or even impossible, it’s very possible that your cellphone has become so important in your life that it’s interfering with your relationship with your children. Don’t let it happen. Take action now. (You have a superpower to use against this problem. Learn about it in A Sense of Belonging “Phubbed”)