This I knew: everything would change. I was ready for the early mornings, the long days and the fast years, the change of footwear. Kids! They bring overflowing joy into my household, but often that joy has chaos attached like a barnacle. Inseparable. Prickly. Stinky. Take for instance, leaving the house.
When deciding to leave the house after kids, the routine goes something like this:
Outside voice: “Time to put shoes on!”
Inside voice: car keys, phone, wallet, tutu, gah! running late, gotta hurry…
Outside voice, “time to go! Do you have shoes on?”
Inside voice: it’s late! Time to leave. Gotta be driving. Get in car. Get in car…
Outside voice: “Get. In. The. Car!!!”
Inside voice: what the %# &%, how hard is it! Gah!
I open door with my pinkie finger because my hands are overloaded; fumble with keys. Close door. Re-open door because I forgot my girl’s lunch. Close door. Open door again because my girl forgot her jacket. Close door. Run to car.
In contrast, before kids, this is how I left the house...have the thought to leave house. Open door. Step through door. Close door. No inside voice. No outside voice. Just simple self-direction. End of story.
So yes, everything changes because as a mom, I am no longer a single entity. I have living, breathing appendages. Yet there is only one change that truly matters and I didn’t even notice it, much less know that it had to change.
My inner voice.
Why? Because the way we talk to ourselves on the inside, where no one else can hear, is fertile ground for shelf shame and regret that inevitably spills out onto the family as we spiral down. And no, you can’t build a shame dam to keep it from infecting your kids. Trust me, I’ve tried.
Why does the way you talk matter when no one can hear?
In the words of Brene Brown, ‘talk to yourself like you would to a person you love’ because you cannot give to your children something that you don’t have. Just let the weight of that sink in for a moment. Ouch. First time I heard that, I about choked.
Yet, the most compelling answer is this from Polly Ely and The LAB Method: the inner voice you use with yourself is the voice your child will carry with them, inside their own heads, all the years of their life. It’s up to the parent to decide what that voice will sound like.
Sure, as moms and dads, we can all fake it. We can try to keep the inner litany of insults and attacks confined to our secret thoughts. It’s a mighty task and one that takes up vast amounts of energy that could better be used handling day-to-day life. And in all honesty, you can’t 100% fake it.
Here’s an experiment – let’s see if you can spot the difference in inner voices…
“What is wrong with me? I’m so stupid! Why is this so hard for me when everyone else knows how to do this? I’m totally screwing up my kid. Maybe I’m not cut out to do this.”
“Wow. Tough morning. This is so new to me and it's so much to manage. No wonder I'm struggling. I haven’t done anything like this before and now as I look back I can see how much I’m struggling. Well, even if I’m making mistakes, at least I’m looking back and trying to figure how to move through it more smoothly. Maybe I could look for something I did right as I bumbled through the moment.”
Guess which one is my natural inner
bi&*ch, I mean voice. And while I see these words and I hear them in my head, and I know, straight away, which voice I’d rather wake up with, still it’s a struggle to pivot away from hammering myself. Maybe you can relate? But the payoff is worth the effort.
Enter my good friend and business partner, Polly Ely, who has paved the way for my own inner voice to change from crabby to compassionate. With The LAB Method, she has created scripts for parents (think cheat sheets for weathering tough times with grace, poise and compassion NOT threats, bribes and shaming! See above.) I lean on these scripts a lot to find my way when words escape me. Or, to be honest, when the words I can think of really shouldn’t be coming out of my mouth.
One change a parent can make to help their child thrive
Back to inner voices. Get this – the way I am even when no one is listening impacts my children. Forming bonds of attachment at home - that yes, start with my internal dialog with myself - is key to raising children who thrive. And, that, my friends, is something I can get behind.
Dr. Daniel Siegel, a clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine says that secure parent-child attachments result in “the most flexible, adaptive, energizing, stable mental state” through a process called neural integration. This is when the right side and the left side of the brain come together to meld emotions, autobiographical information, empathy and logical thinking. He says that the brain’s structure can actually be altered by experiences, and after a decade conducting research on the subject, advocates a process of compassionate communication between parent and child.
Ironic, no? I can’t justify changing my inner voice for my own mental health but I can absolutely justify changing it for the sake of my kids’ mental well-being.
Here's the rub - you can't speak compassionately to your kids while you rip on yourself. It just won't work. Period. End of story.