Parents have their own language and, despite copious usage, rarely master it.
Instead, they struggle in vain to say one step ahead of the natives.
Question authority. For example, even the most erudite and well-spoken parent will find themselves speaking almost entirely in questions. I must often remind myself not to phrase as a question that which is not a choice.
“Are you ready to go?” (What is my option if my preschooler answers “no?”) “How about a bath?” “Can you get your coat please?” and “Can you please stop kicking your brother?” all fall into this category.
In this vein, I set myself up nicely when, exasperated, I asked my 3-year-old daughter (who was happily engaged in jumping on the bed), “How many times do I have to tell you not to jump on the bed?”
“Three!” she replied sagely, and in mid-bounce.
Clearly, I had that coming.
Don’t be a tattletale. On its own, it makes perfect sense. The world loathes a tattletale, just ask those Enron whistle-blowers.
However, this “don’t ask, don’t tell” message is too often compromised by the parental desire to send one sibling off in search of another: “Go see what your sister is doing” or “have you seen your brother?”
Relatively speaking, one parent’s tattler is another’s little helper.
A rather gray area, but one that bears watching. Your child becomes too adept at playing both sides of the fence, and there’s a real risk he or she will grow up to become a double-agent, a federal politician, or something equally embarrassing to the family.
Auto-pilots. Parental language is peppered with idioms distinct to the species. “Don’t look at me in that tone of voice,” “I’ll give you something to think about,” and the perennial fatherhood favorite: “Don’t make me turn this car around.”
The latter doomed to backfire. Perhaps in the dark ages of our own childhoods, the threat of cutting short an automotive outing was a dire warning. No doubt hearkening from the days when even piling into the Vista Cruiser for a trip to the auto parts store was an adventure for primarily housebound little people.
To today’s kids virtually raised in the rear of the family auto, a day spent at home is the real treat. Threatening our children with going home would generally be met with cheers of delight.
In fact, you risk a child poking his sibling in the ribs or aiming one last “are we there yet?” kick at dad’s seatback simply to secure the trip home.
Irony. For parents, it is not just what we say but how often we say it.
Irony is generally lost on a parent who will say “I’m not going to tell you again.” Then, inevitably, end up telling them again. And again. And again.
A real time-saving device would be a mini-recorder where, with just a push of a button, we could activate pre-selected speeches such as “I’m not telling you again, buster,” “don’t make me come over there,” and “no, you may NOT have a puppy” at timed intervals.
Parents, of course, speak like this – not out of a desire to appear inherently stupid – but from a real desire to protect their children (and their own sanity).
Don’t ask why. From “don’t run with scissors” which makes obvious sense, to “don’t sit too close to the TV,” which is a little harder to follow.
Has any study at any time ever proven the verified risk of sitting to close to a television? What exactly is the risk here? Why is sitting within 6 feet of a television screen dangerous but sitting 6 to 8 inches from a computer screen considered educational?
Inquiring, albeit nearsighted, minds want to know.
Of course, if your children should ever become savvy enough to question this themselves you can always whip out the granddaddy of all parental phrases: “Because I said so!”
(Kymberly Foster Seabolt asks that you refrain from sitting too close to this column. She welcomes comments c/o firstname.lastname@example.org or P.O. Box 38, Salem, OH 44460.)