You never listen. I have to refrain from saying this to my kids eighty-five times a day. Even though it may feel true in the moment, it is not a never, it is a right now. You must have forgotten to turn your good listening ears on. That is what I say instead, in good parenting moments. In worse, I command: Listen to me right now! In between, I try for a silent pause – anything to prevent me from saying you never.
Why are you always such a messy eater? I think. Owen makes accidental messes from eating with speed and gusto. His chunky, 2-year-old fingers can’t quite pull the foil off the top of a yogurt cup without toppling it, but really insist on trying. He also makes mischievous messes: turning over a cereal bowl on top of his head, throwing slobber-covered bread crusts, and rubbing food on his neck (I have no explanation for that one).
You always make such a mess. I try not to throw the words at him. I know they will not help. Be a neater eater, I say instead. Use your napkin, like Addie does. He will get there. Owen will (probably) not be a pigpen his whole life.
You kids always fuss when it’s time to get ready in the morning. I do say this one, but does pointing out their flaw help? Are they suddenly better about getting ready because I toss out a label? Quite the opposite. I say they are fussing for no reason, and they dig in their heels and commit to the fussfest. There is nothing I should say instead. If they fuss about getting ready, so be it. There are lots of ways I can still get us out the door. And if I keep you always out of my mouth, eventually they will get over the fussy mornings. Or maybe not – everyone has issues.
In these long days of motherhood, repetitive, but temporary, little things get under my skin. In order for me to not lose my mind during these phases, I need to let go of you always and you never.
Why can you never go to the bathroom by yourself? I mean really, sometimes I cannot leave what I’m doing to watch you pee.
You never agree on anything. Obviously not.
You always kick me during diaper changes. Maybe it’s time to potty train.
You always fight at Costco. Like every other kid, and most adults.
You always splash water out of the bath. Only sometimes.
You never eat that, so I’m not making it. Except really, I will.
You never keep your hands to yourself. Almost never.
You always run away from me. Only most of the time.
The list is endless.
The danger (to the kids) in you always and you never, is hearing absolutes that they have to live up to. They internalize the labels, they feel bad, and they keep it up to save face. It backfires a hundred percent of the time.
The benefit (to me), in letting go of that vocabulary, is I can skip getting panicked into tunnel vision about little behaviors. I can avoid making catastrophic plans for how to deal with their (genuinely atrocious) issues FOREVER. In letting go of you always and you never, I leave room for the frustrations to become distant memories.
No good can come of making someone relive, and pay again, for minor instances that collectively turn into an always or a never. And so my new mission (among all of the many in progress) is to drop the labels from my kid related vocabulary.