Walk with Grace, and Other Shit to Say to Your Kids
Sometimes parenting is just what happens when you are doing other things. We snap “Put that down!” in the grocery store. We spell words for emerging writers while making dinner. We manage to squeeze in meaningful conversations while driving. But if we want to practice mindful parenting, it is good to have some phrases at the ready to convey our ideology. We may fuck-up a lot as parents, but my husband and I have collected some handy phrases to help out in tough moments. Feel free to borrow any you like.
Walk with grace.
This is a big one in our house. We say it a lot. In fact, we say it almost every time our kids are leaving to interact with the outside world. To be clear, this is not a phrase about polished manners. In our house, you can dance on the tables – but you can’t be a jerk. Our kids know that when we say this we mean we want them to leave the world better than they found it.
Are you thinking about what you do have, or what you don’t have?
Classic. This one applies to pretty much every situation you can think of. If you are thinking about what you already have, you probably need very little. It is a beautiful concept.
All colors are for all people.
This one is more specific, and applies when kids get caught up in gender marketing. When your three-year-old refuses to ride a bike because it is blue and she is a girl, remind her of this truism. It is nice because it also encourages out-of-the-box thinking.
Pick up what you drop.
You can say this 100 times a day if you live in our house, but it is more than just for objects hitting the floor. Pick up what you drop; fix what you break; clean up your mess; throw empty containers in recycling; replace what you consume.
Treat people the way you want to be treated.
Ah, the old standby. But this one can be tricky because if you if you have clever kids as I do, who might say: “She was mean to me, so that must be how she wants to be treated. I am giving her what she wants!” You have to shut that down right away. It does not matter at all how someone else acts. It only matters that you treat people how you would like to be treated. Always be true to that. Which leads me to:
Our choices are independent of others’.
We act in a way that is right for us, regardless of what other people do. We can still choose to respond with calm in the face of an aggressor, if that is who we choose to be. This helps shut down the “he did it to me first,” and helps each child recognize the actions they own.
Take responsibility for your actions.
If you did it, own up to it. Getting a lot of practice hiding or sneaking around when breaking the rules will only lead to more, bigger problems later in life. In our house the consequence for breaking a rule is small compared to what happens when you break a rule and try to hide evidence or deny your part in it.
Flexibility leads to happiness.
It sure does. Use this little gem for every argument over where to sit, what cup to use, what activity to do… I like this because I think about them recalling this wisdom as grown ups why don’t get upset over small things.
Sometimes it is okay not to talk.
Again, if you have clever kids who think they can talk their way out of anything (and often can) – it is nice to remind them that being silent and listening is a wonderful thing.
What is your part in this?
Yeah, this one is huge. Maybe the most important. I hear you saying your teacher hates you, but what is your part in that dynamic? Your friends are so mean to you when they come to your house? Huh. What is your part in that? If you want to throw in some math speak and you have more than one example, you can use this one: What are the constants and what are the variables?
We are here for experience, not acquisition.
A mantra you really need if you live in any civilization, especially one that holds the sacred well-placed gift shops. When you kids try to tell you the aquarium is not about how animals survive and co-exist in the water, it is about taking home a whale bracelet and a stuffed narwhal, shut that shit down right away with this pre-rehearsed phrase. Believe me, it will save you from having to have a yard sale in three years to thin out your stuffed animal herd. I like this because it will ultimately lead them to realize that stuff doesn’t make you happy, memories do.
I am your MOTHER.
My husband/editor frequently sits in shocked disbelief when I use this one, especially because it works so well. You have to get the intonation right here. You have to both increase the intensity (the amount of air you’re exhaling) and lower the volume with each word. It’s the semantic equivalent of “how dare you!” The overall effect should be one that inspires reverence, as in: “I hold a sacred and powerful position in your life that must be honored. Nay, worshiped.” This works because I believe this to be true, so they do as well. You get the respect you think you deserve.
[Editor’s note: I’ve been practicing the “I am your father” version of this, but still getting a lot of eye-rolls from the kids]
Is that the kind of person you want to be?
I like to use this one after summarizing what someone has just done – possibly with the slightest hint of hyperbole – encourages a reflection that we then hope changes their course. It is actually a phrase I think we all should use all the time. Lying about your kid’s age for a cheaper ticket price? Is that the kind of person you want to be? Avoiding eye contact with destitute people asking for help? Is that the kind of person you want to be? Hiding chocolate behind the washing machine? Is that the kind of person you want to be? For me the answer to the last one is yes.
[Editor’s note: Thanks honey for revealing the secret location of that yummy treat!]
Give your body what it needs.
We use this one because it covers the most ground. Because “you have to eat veggies to be healthy” leaves room for debate. Tired parents often give the stupidest advice you can imagine: “Eat your pizza and you can have some frozen yogurt”. When we don’t know what we are saying, it is good to cover the situation with a blanket statement and move on.
Are you being a gracious host?
It’s nice to remind everyone that it is a good idea to take care of others, especially when you have home court advantage. Make sure your guests feel comfortable and welcome. That is more important than having the first turn or the best seat or the biggest piece of cake.
More appreciation. Less expectation.
There it is, right there people. The key to happiness in one phrase. The more you appreciate life, the happier you are. The more you remove expectations about how you think others should act, the happier you are. This one is simple and beautiful and my husband and I use it as much as a reminder to ourselves as we do to the kids.
So what are you going to do about that?
Sometimes it is nice to just shift personal responsibility back onto the kid. This is especially useful for kids who use phrases like: “I don’t know how to ________”.
You’re smart. Figure it out. You Got this.
My favorite reply to: “How am I supposed to _______?”
You can do anything you want. Except pull on the curtains.
I love this phrase, and say it all the time to the young ones. You are powerful, but take care of your world.
We love you no matter what.
You’re safe, and you’re cared for. Deeply. It doesn’t matter who you choose to be, you will always be loved. This is the only phrase anyone ever really needs. Say it loud; say it often. Even when – especially when – you are mad at those little fuckers.