There is a fine line that we constantly walk as parents. There is a fine line between being too strict and too permissive. There is a fine line between holding unrealistic expectations and too low of expectations. There is a fine line between giving them room to fail and making sure they do not do something that they regret. There is a fine line between speaking words that lift up and ones that tear down. The fine line is a delicate line to walk and sometimes we come down on one side more than the other.
There is a book that I read out loud to students called, “My Mouth Is a Volcano!” by Julia Cook. The character’s words are very important to him. So important, that his words begin to wiggle, and then they do the jiggle, then his tongue pushes all of his important words up against his teeth and he erupts… yeah…join the club. My mouth is a volcano.
Daughter A comes down and is in tears. I ask, “What is wrong?” She shrugs her shoulders and says, “Nothin’”. I stare at her knowing the nothin’ is something and I just wait. After the stare down, she begins to talk about how jealous she is of her sister. This is an ongoing conversation that has been going on for over a year and a half and IT. MUST. STOP. I tell her this. There are more tears, a motivational moment, a hug, and I send her to bed. I am in my parenting groove.
Then there is daughter B. She is crying after a tough loss. As she processes the game and her feelings, I ask, “Where are these negative thoughts coming from?”, thinking this isn’t how she normally responds. And she says, “Last week you said….” And in an instant I know. In an instant I see that my 5-10 words from last week had taken root in her mind and began playing a tape of negativity and doubt. 5-10 words. The hurt and pain on her face was caused by me speaking death instead of life. That sounds dramatic, but that is exactly what happened.
I was instantly taken back to being an 8 year old child, hearing words that were said to me over and over. I became those words. Those words were what I believed about myself and were the inner scars that I fought against for decades. And in that moment, not only did I see her hurt, I felt that hurt.
I took her by the shoulders and looked her in the eyes.
“I am sorry. I am sorry MY words hurt you. I thought they would motivate you, but they did not. They crushed your spirit. They made you doubt yourself. I was wrong. I say I am wrong. I am so so sorry. Will you forgive me?”
And in that moment her expression changed. The heaviness lifted and I saw an expression of relief. In the words, “I am wrong. I am so so sorry. Will you forgive me?”, I told her that she mattered. I also said that her feelings mattered. She mattered. She will always matter.
I never heard those words. Not from the people that said them. But, I say them often to my daughters and husband. Those words, when expressed with humility and remorse can heal and change the course of relationships. “I am wrong. I am sorry. Will you forgive me?” can uproot the words we plant with pride and maliciousness, whether intentional or not.
We have a saying in our house.
Once I ask for forgiveness, I need to make it better. And that is what I plan to do. Yes, my mouth can be a volcano. It is one of my many flaws. My words need to speak more love than hate and once I ask for forgiveness, I am always on a mission to “do better.”