Most of us have that someone we once dated who ended the relationship with something like, “You seem really cool, but …” My mind instantly responds with, “I must not be THAT cool or you wouldn’t be breaking up with me.”
Or maybe it was that boss who, after you worked for weeks on a project comes into your office and says, “I love what you came up with, but…”
Then there was the time you went to pick up your dog from boarding and the owner starts with, “He’s really smart, but…” Ok, maybe it’s just me with the dog who likes to bolt out front doors and through windows. But I digress.
Now imagine you’re four years old. And you’re whining without ceasing because apparently that’s something four-year-olds are really good at. Your mom says, “I love you, but I really need you to quit whining.”
“I love you, but if you don’t pick up your room…”
“I love you, but if you don’t go to sleep right now…”
“I love you, but if your grades don’t improve…”
I’ve always been very interested in and careful about the specific words I choose when speaking to my daughter. There’s no shortage of research in parenting books about how the language we use with our kids impacts their feelings and perceptions about themselves. About a year ago, I started noticing the frequency with which I used the phrase “I love you, but…” But nothing. I love you, period. Full stop. The feeling invoked by sticking a “but” in a sentence pretty much negates anything positive that came before it. When it comes after I love you, it can be particularly hurtful. It’s as if there is a catch to receiving a parent’s love, when in fact, there is none. There is never anything in the second half of that sentence that I would ever want to negate the first half. So, I stopped using it. “I love you, but…” became “I love you, and…”
“I love you, and it’s time to pick up your room right now.”
“I love you, and it’s bedtime right now.”
“I love you, and there is nothing you can ever do that will change that.”
Words matter. The way we speak to our children has a profound impact on their lives. This change was one of many minor changes I’ve made and will continue to make as I learn how to harness the power of my words as a parent. Intentionally making choices that empower and lift up is a priority to me, and I’m always looking for words or phrases that will help me improve.