Some time ago, I had the insight that as I interact with my children, I am significantly influencing the voice they will hear in their mind as they grow and experience life. Particularly, as they struggle, my voice, even when I am not physically present, will be one that they hear.
Wow! Sit with that for a moment. The influence we have as parents is intense and it oh so humbling.
If you are doubting that we have as much influence as I am suggesting, pause for a moment and think about what it’s like when you are stressed. Think about the messages that are firing off in your mind. Try tracing them back. Try thinking about who else speaks in a similar manner. It’s more than likely someone you knew early in your life.
Obviously, there are the other voices that factor into one’s internal dialogue mash-up…the other parent, caregivers, peers, teachers, grandparents, coaches, one’s relationship with God, etc. But how our voice is represented…that is what we have the most power to influence.
If we lived and chose our words with our children today like we knew that our words will some day become a part of their internal dialogue, would we speak with a different tone and would we choose different words?
Let me be real for a moment. I am not a perfect parent. There, I said it.
Some time ago, when I had the realization that my voice is one my sons will hear when they struggle, it was because I heard my words come out of their mouths. For one child, it happened when he was working on a preschool assignment of writing his alphabet. “These aren’t good enough”, he said. And he’d erase them…over and over again. And then, it morphed into expressions that he would never complete the task but somehow needed to hurry to get it done. I recognize I am providing an example that may seem insignificant, but writing assignments for preschoolers are the types of challenges they face. I’ve also seen it play out as my kids have struggled through piano lessons, soccer games, homework projects, and relationships.
Before you go down the road of self-shaming and thinking you have already messed up as a parent in an unrepairable way, I want you to hear some really good news.
It is NEVER too late to ask for forgiveness.
We are wired for forgiveness.
I see evidence repeatedly as I interact with friends and as I engage with clients. The change when forgiveness occurs is observable. Crossing over the threshold of forgiveness leads us to peace and unity. It is a deeply emotional and spiritual process. I’ll talk more about forgiveness in the future, but for now, hear me say that forgiveness has intense healing power. Healing power that can even repair damaging internal dialogue.
So let me keep going with more good news. Even though asking for forgiveness is humbling and can feel fairly uncomfortable at times, it doesn’t have to be complicated!
When we mess up as a parent, when our words have been too harsh, too anxious, too critical, or too angry, admit it. Be specific. I have shared with my children that when I feel stressed, I can become impatient and hurried. I have shared that sometimes I do not offer myself the grace for things to be ‘good enough’. I tell them that I am sorry that I have spoken with the words and the tone relaying these messages to them. I give them a better option…reminding them what offering encouragement and compassion and kindness to myself sounds like. I ask for their forgiveness and 100% of the time they offer it.
I walk away more empowered to speak to myself with encouragement and compassion and kindness… because it’s more likely to pour out of me if I’m pouring it in.
And those words, that tone…that’s what I want them to offer themselves when they struggle.