Lessons My Kids Learned Without Me Teaching Them:
They don’t always listen, but they hear me.
I’ve been away on a business trip for four days. You’d think it’s a mix of hard work, nice dinners and good, uninterrupted sleep. It’s a little of that (no real good sleep, thanks to a strong body clock and a time zone change), but it’s also time to think about what impression my kids have of me, and how I can best instill in them the life lessons I so badly want them to absorb. What if I couldn’t get home from this trip? What would they remember and take forward into adulthood?
I took the chance on my 5-hour flight to start reading a book, something I never have time to do since I truly get approximately 20-seconds of waking me-time on a daily basis. I chose Sully, the story of pilot Chesley Sullenberger’s life and heroic landing on the Hudson. I figured it would be inspiring, albeit possibly an anxious read while 37,000 feet above ground myself.
I’m finding the book to be beautifully written, with a tissue-worthy, thoughtful account of the childhood that made Sully the man we know him as today. I see him recounting stories, like when his dad taught him to “measure twice, cut once,” how he never forgot it, and how that lesson helped shape his approach to life even in his adulthood.
Measure twice, cut once. I wonder if my sons have learned any important life lessons from me. Any simple tidbits that have casually rolled off my tongue through the years but which will shape how these little boys grow into men. Given that they rarely seem to listen when I’m talking, whether it’s asking what they want for lunch, telling them the plans for the day, or asking (begging? pleading? mandating?) 17 times that they please get their shoes on, I often feel a sense of invisibility in my home. Even the iron went into auto shutoff mode while I was using it the other day. Even the iron thinks I’m invisible? Why won’t anyone listen? Don’t they hear me?
It turns out, they do. As I sit on this flight, I remember some recent conversations the give me proof, make me smile, and remind me that words and actions matter and can be lessons, even without you knowing.
Here are 4 lessons my kids have learned, without me knowing I was teaching them:
Language and meaning:
“Mom, ‘except’ can mean ‘only’ and ‘not any,’” E said to me recently.
“That’s interesting. What do you mean?” I asked.
“Well, I like all fruit except grapes. So, all fruit but not any grapes. And nobody except you can see the picture I drew. So, only you.”
“That’s a really good way to describe it,” I said. “Did they teach you that in school?”
“No,” E said. “I learned it from listening to you talk.”
Well, alrighty then. Score one for Mommy. He heard me. A good reminder to choose words carefully, because our kids are internalizing them.
I was admittedly super-excited that E had learned something from me that I didn’t even overtly, explicitly mean to teach him, so I shared my joy: “That’s great that you learned that from me!” I said.
Knowing well how to connect with people, E replied with “I learn a lot from you, Mommy.”
I was drawn in. Can it be true?!?! He kept talking . . .
“Like taking a deep breath when I’m angry.”
AMAZING. Having gone through a feisty-redhead, 5-year-old-kid phase of getting frustrated with his brothers and punching them, I’ve been trying to tell E to keep his hands to himself, and to try to calm down by taking a deep breath. Ironically, I’m usually screaming this at him like a crazy lady so it’s loud enough to break through the high volume mayhem in my house, and he’s usually talking back or crying as I scream it. But apparently, he heard it. He internalized it. And by him reciting it, he reminds me to stop screaming and take a deep breath as well.
Use your time wisely.
Have you ever asked your kids to do something simple, like brush their teeth, and they go off ranting for 10 minutes about why they don’t want to, why it’s the stupidest thing in the world, why toothpaste (suddenly) tastes yucky? It happens a lot in my house, and I remind the boys, “You could have been done brushing your teeth by now and onto something fun, like playing, if you hadn’t spent so long whining about brushing your teeth.” Cue their eye roll.
But just the other morning, on a particularly high-stress day filled with a house of rowdy boys going rogue while I try to reign them in and get all of us out of the house by 7:15am, I found myself at a slight breaking point. I started listing, in a somewhat agitated tone, all the zillion things I had to get done that day, and how having the kids not listening and not cooperating was making it near impossible. R looked straight at me and candidly said, “You could have been done packing our lunches by now if you’d stopped complaining about all you have to do today.”
Touche. Nicely played, R.
I love you, too.
As you know from other posts, I send the kids off every day with an “I love you.”
And whether they respond with a hug or a quick backpack-fling over the shoulder as they run out the door, they hear me. Sometimes they say, “OK!.” And sometimes they say, “I love you, too.” If the only lesson they were to ever take from me is to show people you care about them, then that’s enough for me.
It’s hard to know if you’re making a good impression – or any impression — on your kids. These stories remind me that, even with what seems like too few hours in a day, while it may be frustrating that they don’t always listen, they hear me, and they are taking valuable lessons from me.
I enjoyed this, Karen! I only have one boy, but can soooo relate.
One or three — always an adventure!