Connecting In The Chaos: Not That Funny
People who know me would say that I am fairly outgoing. Normally, I would agree. However, as I get older, I have noticed a shift in that part of my personality. In the last several years I have felt more introverted…shy even. But, that is just on the inside. My “outgoingness” runs so deeply in me that it can function on autopilot. This shy feeling hit once, several years ago, as I attended a child’s birthday party at a skating rink. I only knew the parents of the birthday boy and so I felt a little out of place. Ergo, I found a piece of cake and a corner and tried to stay out of the way. As I sat in my little corner, I watched the other families there and caught an exchange between one of the dads and his young son. The son was proclaiming what an awesome skater he had become in the last hour even though it was his first time to try it. The dad responded by asking if he could do flips. When the boy answered no, the father replied (in a joking manner), “then I don’t want to hear about it.” The boy complied…and didn’t talk about it again. When I saw that little boy later I told him what a wonderful skater he was. He hung his head down and said, “I can’t do flips.” So, I asked him to let me see how well he skated. He refused. Children NEVER refuse to show you something they think they are good at… ever. With one “joke” his dad had completely deflated him.
We have all done it. We have all chosen to take the moment to sound really witty instead of using the moment to build our child up. Watching that moment as a bystander and seeing its full effect showed me just how damaging our “jokes” can be. The boy’s father didn’t mean to hurt his son. The problem was he didn’t purpose to do otherwise. He was “just joking.”
We have opportunities all day long to interact with people. In those moments we can use our words to play the comedian in the room, hoping to gain the approval of those around us, or we can use them to build up others. As I think about my own choices, I cringe at how many times I choose to come across as “wonderfully witty” rather than building up the other person. Often that person is my child or husband. When we do this with our children it can be terribly destructive… and terribly instructive.
When our children become the punchline to the joke, it doesn’t just hurt their feelings. It sends a very powerful message that exposing others in the form of a “joke” is totally appropriate. As an elementary teacher I have often had to correct children for this very behavior. What did not come to mind was how common it is for adults to do the same thing. In group settings there can be a lot of pressure to connect with others and feel liked. Being funny is often a short-cut for that. What is critical to remember in those moments is that our families should not be the comedic material we draw from. Those sweet little ears hear all the things… and those precious little hearts hold onto what we say about them. For better or for worse.
Since that birthday party I have tried to be more mindful about my responses. Now, when people compliment my children, I agree. As a southerner we sometimes think it is rude to appear to agree with someone’s compliment because it can sound arrogant. If the compliment is about your children (especially if it was given in front of them) agree with it. Also, I do my best to stay away from public retellings of children’s embarrassing moments. This can be a tough one as many of us parents find camaraderie in such stories. I am all for camaraderie and connection… just tread softly so that we don’t tread on their self-worth to have it. Lastly, when I see my children acting this way, I don’t just tell them to stop. I walk them through what it feels like to be on the other side of that joke or story. That is usually enough to help them see the reasons to change the way they are communicating.
So often we think they aren’t listening, and yet, so often they are. Let’s do our best to make sure they hear our heart in what we say and be careful not to break theirs.