“When do I get to be family?”
We have all heard the saying “out of the mouths of babes.” We have all thought it cute when our toddler mimics something we have said. But have you given much thought to how what we say impacts our children?
I share custody and parenting time of my eleven year old daughter. It is not easy, and neither of us are perfect parents. I strive to always do my best by her; her needs and wants are a priority. I also strive to make her believe in herself, to have self value, and feel that she is a very important part of our families. Again, I am not perfect and I make mistakes in parenting just like I make mistakes in other areas of life. But even I didn’t realize that something we may say could have such a powerful impact on a child.
The example that comes to mind is a time when my daughter was trying to convince her dad and stepmom to take her to a competition in a city three hours from our home town. She is a competitive figure skater, and even though most competitions are within our surrounding area, there are a couple a year that require travel. Our son happens to attend college in the same city as the competition, so I was going to visit him as it was parents weekend and the bonus was the ice competition being the same weekend. She asked and asked and asked to go, reminded them when registration was, and talked about it all the time.
My ex and I also have an older son who is married with two little girls, our granddaughters. On said weekend of the competition was a birthday party for one of our granddaughters. As I had already committed to parents weekend for the college son, I expressed my regrets to my son and daughter-in-law and made a special date on a different night for us all to celebrate the birthday girl.
However, my daughter was told she would not be allowed to compete because of the birthday party. When she expressed her disappointment she was told “family is important, and family comes first” as their reason for not allowing her to compete. Well as a general statement that seems okay. But…
When my daughter came to my house next she was practically in tears telling us of their conversation. When I tried to comfort her and explain that we all have to make tough decisions and assure her she would have fun at the birthday party, she looked me square in the eyes with tears flowing and asked, “yeah, but when do I get to be family?”
Well, that just ripped my heart out. As much as I dislike much of how my ex parents, I was pretty sure that was not how that statement was intended to come out. But I had to admit, my daughter had a point. The statement was made, and intentional or not, my daughter now felt like she wasn’t part of their family, or at least not an important part.
Even though I tried to explain that was not what they meant, she was still crushed.
To this day, two years later, my daughter remembers that comment and still has lingering ill feelings about it. If there comes a time when she is not permitted to skate or compete while at her dad’s, she will tell us it is because she isn’t important or isn’t family over there.
I will never be able to change that for her. No matter what I say or how often I tell her that is not true, or assure her how important she is. I cannot talk to her dad about it; the relationship isn’t there, and he would simply blame me for putting those thoughts in her head. So I don’t go there.
I just continue with building our daughter up and making her feel important. And for myself, constantly trying to be more aware of how what I say may make the wrong impact on my daughter or anyone else, for that matter.
Photo Credit: Madeline Linahan