Shit Parents Say – Our Unschooling Journey Part 7

in #parenting4 years ago (edited)

Think before you speak

As a lover of words – big words, small words, odd words, written or spoken words – I am sometimes amazed at how little thought I really put into the words I used to use with my children. It’s especially shocking when I consider how minutely I parse every word said to me by employers, my kids, and - of course – my husband.

So then said he liked my hair cut, and I'm like, "So you didn't like it before?!"

I’ll spend long conversations with my bestie examining every nuance of what might have been meant by what is likely the most innocent, throw-away of comments; yet when speaking to my children I almost never considered that they too might be reading into my words some criticism or carelessness that wasn’t even there. Or worse yet, was there.

Here are some of the phrases that make me cringe now even though I am 100% guilty of having used them in the past.

All I can say is, "Yikes!"

If I let you, you would [insert horrible choice here].

This is a big one and it isn’t only said to children, but very frequently about them. It’s one of the most oft-stated reasons people reject the principles of Radical Unschooling. It’s said out of fear and – let’s be honest – a very dim view of children in general. It says that no matter what the situation, you expect your children to make bad choices. It says you can’t trust them and they can’t trust themselves.

It’s not only destructive to a child’s spirit to say this to them, it’s also destructive to the parent’s ability to bond and build trust with their child when they use this derogatory statement about their children. This is science, yo. What? Come. On. I can’t be the only Breaking Bad fan out here. Anyway, the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis suggests that the language we use can change our thinking and I don’t believe anyone who has ever spent time verbally wallowing in the depths of despair can deny that this is true. Talk negatively and your negative thoughts snowball. Start talking about rainbows and unicorns and your mood lifts. So when you discuss your kids as if they are the dumbest of animals – seeking only the most despoiling of pleasures with no regard for moderation or reason – well - that’s how you’re going to think of them and that is so very sad for you both.

Like, this sad

Because I said so.

Argh! Seriously, was anything so blastedly insulting and infuriating to you when you were a kid? And yet now it trips off our tongues and tastes like – victory! Now we are the grown-ups and whatever we say goes! We put in our time being bossed around and having to follow arbitrary rules and now it’s our turn to be the boss and why should we have to explain ourselves to a child?

Maybe that’s not every parent’s reasoning. Maybe some just feel too tired to explain every little rule and why it must be followed. Well here’s the thing: If a parent doesn’t have time to explain the rules, they probably have too many rules. That’s why Radical Unschoolers embrace principles instead. One principle: Be kind, can cover so many rules. Don’t bite, don’t hit, don’t grab, don’t poke, don’t pull, don’t break, don’t throw, don’t scream, etc. Even more importantly - back to Sapir-Whorf - the principle, be kind, is a positive, while all the multitudinous prohibitions are negatives.

It takes very few principles to partner with children in a loving and peaceful way: Be kind, be loving, be respectful, be safe, um… I actually think that covers it all. If your child is asking you “Why,” and you can’t respond in a way that links one of these principles to the answer, maybe you should reconsider that answer.


Do as I say, not as I do.

I really think this one has started to die off – or maybe that’s just wishful thinking. It seems impossible that any remotely reasonable person would say this to their kids. You might as well just call yourself a hypocrite and pack it in.

While saying the words might be more rare, actions by parents still overwhelmingly scream this message. A few common examples would be:

  • Spanking children and telling them not to hit
  • Cussing, then punishing children for using cuss words
  • Eating snacks at will but telling the children they must wait until after a meal
  • Spending money on frivolities while telling children they must be frugal
  • Treating children with no regard for their feelings but expecting them to respect the feelings of adults

I could go on. And what parents fail to see – or simply ignore – is that children are the most discerning of hypocrisy-detectors. If you are engaging in a parenting model that says “Do as I say, not as I do,” strap on your seatbelt and don your helmet because the teenage years are going to be a bumpy ride.

Like this, but add puberty

Children are resilient.

Maybe because of how many regrets I have over the downright cruelly ignorant choices I made when I was a new mother, this one is my particular pet peeve. When I hear someone say this I want to break things. It’s almost always used by a parent to downplay the negative consequences their children have suffered as a result of their own selfish decisions, and the rest of the time it’s being used by someone trying to comfort a parent whose children are suffering for their selfish decisions. The “I’m okay, you’re okay” circle-jerk that defines most parenting advice columns, parenting books, and parenting support sites, is directly responsible for the continued abuse, neglect, and disregard of millions of children.

Children may be resilient, but only because they have no choice. Does mom need a spa day when little Suzy is begging for a trip to the park? Well little Suzy is resilient. She can take it. Because what the hell is little Suzy going to do about it anyway? Is daddy moving three states away to start a new life because his dreams aren’t being fulfilled by little Suzy’s mom? Little Suzy will survive; she’s resilient.

When we choose to bring children into this world, we can no longer be our number one priority, and comforting ourselves that kids can “handle it” won’t make the therapy bill any easier for little Suzy to bear when she’s grown-up Suzy with attachment issues.

Even if every mom on CafeMom says it is

Children want desperately to please us. They want us to be happy and happy with them. I encourage all parents to consider the words they use carefully, because children won’t always let us know when they are hurting or confused. They will grin and bear many slings and arrows in order to keep the peace in their small world. We should be ever cautious to minimize the number that come their way.

Thank you for again making it to the end. If you've got a story to share, I invite you to comment. Would you like to read more of our journey from fear to fun? I would be thrilled if you would follow. Do you think others might find help or hope in our story? I would be honored if you would resteem!


When I started explaining everything to my son - I was resistant at first - because there was soooo much explaining to do. At the same time it was quite a nice exercise because I started to realise how many things I couldn't explain - and how many things I was taking for granted. It has been a lot of work, and still is - but after a few years it really sure does pay off in so many ways. Sometimes I get asked 'woaw, he just listened to you and changed his behaviour?! How do you do that?' And it's because of all the explaining, of having established that trust that I won't ask anything unreasonable of him, that there is no urge to rebel or throw a tantrum.
Thank you very much for sharing, one resteem on the way!

You might like this video, it's an interview with Jean Liedloff, author of the Continuum Concept. She lived for several years with a native tribe in Venezuela and wrote a book on her observations - as she was astounded by the level of harmony and cooperation between adults and children. She mentions many of the points you covered in this post:

Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, resteem, and sharing your experience with me. I'm saving that video to watch when I have time. I'm fascinated by that sort of thing (aboriginal studies) and can't wait to see the parenting discussed. I really appreciate it!

Cool, looking forward to hearing your perspective on it

Thank you for the comment and the video. Excellent!

Behavior is mutable with willingness in anyone when reality is respected more than authority.

As a father who is 100% unschooling and my son on our farm that is a community and cool setup is being unschooled, well he is 3.5 years old, but he's not going to school, this was a great post thanks. we project ourselves and our experiences onto our children and live in the expectations of the wort the whole time, this is demeening and condesending and in general we are simply re-creating ourselves in our children through acting out our distrust, fears and how we judge ourselves. I follow and voted - nice connecting here.

Thank you, I agree that much of the time we are projecting onto our kids. By shifting my focus to partnering with them, I found that many of my deepest wounds from childhood healed. The two best pieces of advice I ever read on parenting are: Be the parent you wish you'd had, and When your child becomes more important than your vision of your child, life becomes easier.

Good luck to you, I followed you back.

Oh, man. I am guilty of some of these, and my little dude is only two! Today he said, "what the heck!" I told him not to say that and then asked him where he learned to say it. He said he learned it from me. Big face palm. Lol!
Thank you for bringing these things to my attention. I love my boy more than anything and always mean well, but sometimes I fall short and I want to try harder and be more aware. :)

Thank you so much for sharing that. I have come a long way and have done waaaaaay more damaging things (see my "Confessions" post from a few weeks back) and what I most want from these posts is to help other parents maybe catch themselves earlier on in their children's lives. Every parent is going to regret some things; I hope to help other regret less than I do :)

It means a lot to me to know that what I've written gave someone pause to consider where they might do things differently, so again, thank you and I wish the very best for you and your little dude. Having a parent who cares so much puts him ahead of the game already!

I appreciate your goal! Helping others by sharing what you have learned through your mistakes is super commendable!
I already have so much to improve on, but I know that loving him and doing my best is the only place to start. :)
Thank you for your reply!

Our 'culture' as the product of the state education system is the reason for the prison population of two million plus and growing. It is the reason for antisocial behavior seen on a scale never before guessed possible during peace time. This is why trolls exist.

Now we have several generations of poorly learned people who have been engineered into sociopathy. The children are actually the future. This is not an empty platitude. Children learn by example, not by enforcement. Enforcement breeds resistance. Cooperation is the path to a functional society. Cooperation cannot be enforced, it can only be invited.

Very true. This reminds me of the first time I thought about the word "discipline" and the fact that it shares the root of "disciple." It struck me that when we think of disciples we think of voluntary presence; of people coming alongside one another and partnering to better one another. Yet "Discipline" is considered harsh and controlling. I would rather disciple than discipline ;)

There are many more instructive pairings of words that are useful in understanding the larger picture. for instance the words, violence and violation, also ignorance and ignore. The words disciple and discipline are not positive and negative variations on the root, they are interpreted differently because they have been misused, and the original meaning has become obscure. Think of the meaning of discipline, not in the context of a beating, but in the context of a discipline being a practice. It is something engaged in to better the self. We practice because we want to get better at something. The modern meaning of discipline has been bound together with enforcement. The concepts are separate unless there is force involved, this is apparent in the connection between enforcement and force. Each word has a meaning in context if we lose the meaning it is always instructive to go back to the root and find other words to inform on the nature of the lost meaning.

Strangely enough, the word "discipline" does not appear in English usage until 1200 years after Christ popularized the notion of "disciple" as a pupil or student. When "discipline" first appeared, it already meant a harsh punishment, generally physical in nature such as flagellation. Although the Latin root does mean "instruction" or "teaching" it has a military connotation and found its way into English by way of the French "descepline" which referred to physical punishment, even martyrdom.

The meaning is still similar. The teacher or the student, or both believed that they were improving the self by the practice of self flagellation. The Dominicans did not burn people at the stake out of malice, ostensibly, they believed that this was the only way to improve the chances of certain people of getting into heaven, so they were doing it for the good. They were just misinformed. The self flagellation is much the same. That is why it is 'self' flagellation. If it were simply flagellation, or punishment, then someone else would be doing it.

When I discovered I was pregnant with my first child, I read every book I could get my hands on, because I wanted to be the best mother I possibly could. Most of those books described discipline in such a way that it was really behavioral conditioning in the vein of BF Skinner. While my intentions were good, the resulting emotional damage suffered by my children was not. My hope is that these posts will reach people who have good intentions but are doing harm inadvertently, and help them to find a better way.

This is an admirable goal in the land of the conditioned. If you find frustration, try to be patient. Harriet Tubman found a similar frustration in freeing people who did not know they were slaves.

Fredrick Douglas also wrote about this after having argued with slaves over freeing themselves, and having the slaves say they could not, because to do so would be theft of the slave owner's property.

Behaviorism is the new slavery. When education is replaced with indoctrination, we end up with 'human resources departments'. If a human resource is not a slave than I fail to see what is. Anyone can be conditioned. It takes freedom to learn how to be free.

Children are definitely good hypocrisy-detectors! Well said :)

Absolument d'accord !!!!!!!!!!!!!
Absolutely agree !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

You write very well.
And what you say makes absolute sense.
Hopefully many parents will read it.
I love

Thank you so much for being a frequent reader and always making such kind, positive comments as well!

You are welcome!
I just decided that I should resteem this -- I hope that you get some more views and votes now.

Wow, thank you again!

Most of the time when we are not in the mode or when we are angry, we have to avoid casting any words, lets better shut our mouth because when a person is angry, stupid things are just coming to our mouth. We need to consider the feelings of our children, how our words can affect our relationships with them and how it can affect in their growth.

Absolutely right! Thanks for taking the time to check this out :)

Thank you for this excellent post. I am following you already. I read through all the comments and your comment "Be the parent you wish you'd had" made me realize how lucky I was because I could not have asked for better parents. Although I had a few spankings in my life but we thought nothing of it, it was just the way it was and I can count it on one hand. I myself as a parent did not read a lot of books on parenting, but I think I was just blessed by God with lots of common sense and tact and the Holy Spirit leading me. I engaged with my kids on all subject since they were very little. And they also had a spanking or two but really not much. I tried to prepare them for everything in life by discussing life with them. My daughter is now 32 and my son 30. We still have that good communication going, no subject is taboo, everthing goes as it was when they were growing up. We had our problems in the teenage years but nothing major. I only now read about this parenting styles and the un-schooling etc. Steemit has been very educational to me. I am looking forward to read more of your posts.

You are so right on this score. I have said so often before

There are so many great things I need to say about your post. So I'm just gonna go with a good 'ol bulleted list:

  • Your writing is beautiful and entertaining.
  • Your use of GIFs is perfection 👌
  • It says that no matter what the situation, you expect your children to make bad choices. It says you can’t trust them and they can’t trust themselves.

I remember my dad saying a phrase to me (repeatedly) that I'll never forget. "Brittany, if you continue to (insert action here), you're never going to have any friends." I don't think he realized how often he said it, but it led me to have low self-esteem and friend issues for years...hell, it's probably still affecting me today. In the back of my mind, that little voice was always telling me that anything I did would be the reason I didn't have friends. Such a toxic application of words and I wholeheartedly agree with your statements on that.

  • As a lexophile, grammar geek, etymologist, and content lover, I couldn't agree more on how powerful words can be. They are knives, or they are healers. They are corrupting, or they are uplifting. Thank you for challenging people to think differently about how carelessly they can be used when we're not being mindful.

Thank you very much for your thoughtful comment. It means a lot when I can tell someone has read, lol! I really enjoyed reading your post "Invisible Thieves are Stealing from You", not only because I needed to hear it, but because you have a terrific style, and I'm flattered you enjoyed my writing as well!

Warm fuzzies all around. :) Seems we've both gotten some moments of joy and knowledge from each other today.

Great article! And you're so right. Only since I started home schooling my kids did I really start to think about what I was saying and how I said it. At least, most of the times. For instance when a small child is climbing at the play ground, the number of times you hear: Don't do that! You'll fall! You can't get more self-fulfilling prophetic than that! The child automatically thinks they will fall every time they climb, making them insecure. I've had to stop myself from this a few times and instead say: Be careful climbing honey! Sounds a lot better and the child knows to be careful while building confidence.

I'm glad you brought up words that aren't necessarily unkind but can also be damaging even if only to a child's self confidence. That's an important category as well.

Congratulations! This post has been upvoted from the communal account, @minnowsupport, by jrhughes from the Minnow Support Project. It's a witness project run by aggroed, ausbitbank, teamsteem, theprophet0, and someguy123. The goal is to help Steemit grow by supporting Minnows and creating a social network. Please find us in the Peace, Abundance, and Liberty Network (PALnet) Discord Channel. It's a completely public and open space to all members of the Steemit community who voluntarily choose to be there.

If you like what we're doing please upvote this comment so we can continue to build the community account that's supporting all members.

haha @jrhughes, fantastic post! I myself live with two very bright little daughter's of my own and yes at times I really have to think for quite a while... before serving them my comment on their little bits of sass :-D but you know what is truly beautiful to me is that both my girls can think for themselves and act on what they believe is right and at ages 7 and 4yrs olds I think it is simply fantastic!

Love the post. We do our best to follow our own principles but we aren't perfect. I'm guilty of blurting out the infamously annoying, 'Because I said so'. Usually out of frustration. Posts like this are great reminders that we've gotta keep ourselves accountable if we expect it from our kids. I've noticed a lot lately that the way we interact with our kids is very different than how our parents interact with them and us. We've learned that breaking the habits or behaviors that we were taught as children is not easy to do as adults so we want to do better for our kids so that they don't have the same bad habits we were taught. We don't spank, we listen when our kids talk and actually have real conversations with them, we value their opinions & feelings and when we do mess up we apologize and talk about how we could have made better choices. :)

Everything you said, those are all the things we also felt were important to do differently :)

Thank you for the visit, the comment, and for working to raise loved and respected children!

I'm still not a father yet

Haha, so stupid. Not your article, understand it, but the concept. You wrote it really well. ;)
Cheers from Switzerland.
Feel free to check my Guitar's Artwork, maybe you’ll like it! <3

It's exactly that. I will follow you because you are intelligent and I like your articles. Good job