Powerful Words – Why Did I Say That?

Words Move

Words Move (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Words are powerful. I have been paying attention, and it seems that many people have trauma attached to words spoken by caregivers. It seems that “sticks and stones” is only true when the words are “you’re a poopyhead” and it is said by a peer. Although these words can still hurt, I don’t think anyone needs therapy for sibling insults like this. And I think it is because no value has been assigned to that.

If a parent said “You will never amount to anything, you have poop in your head, not brains, I don’t know why you even try”. Wow, yes, that one would hurt. And if similar messages were given regularly, would the child stop trying and believe they were stupid, or somehow incapable? I think Yes.

I need to discuss something I said casually at dinner the other night to my kids. It sounded like my mom coming out of me, and I don’t know why I said it, and even worse, I don’t know if I hurt my kids. Setting the scene.

We’ve been struggling for money for many years. Losing my job, filing bankruptcy, therapy and medication bills all on one little income was a rough way to start a family. We learned to cut costs in so many ways, and certainly never ate out at restaurants. And never nice restaurants. And then felt guilty after eating out, so it was pointless really.

So with our 2 incomes now, and both of us a few raises and promotions, we are comfortable now. Not rich, but we feel good about an occasional family restaurant trip. A few days ago we were all eating at the restaurant, and my daughter was clearly enjoying her food and talking about how grown up her meal was, and healthy. I said yes she made a great choice – Turkey, carrots, mashed potatoes. She stole a fry from daddy’s plate and dunked it in her gravy payfully, saying Yumm! Then I told her how I used to pretend that my potatoes were a dam, and I would eat them in a circle making a thinner and thinner wall to contain the gravy until it burst, and then move all the carrots to safety from the flood. She giggled and gave it a try. Then she asked if I ordered this meal when I went to restaurants as a kid.

I told her “We rarely ate out in restaurants in my family, and I was never able to choose my own food, my Dad always told us what we were allowed to get”.

Usually it was the grilled cheese, since it was the cheapest thing on the menu. I never questioned that he got steak for himself, I knew I was “just a kid” and was happy with my grilled cheese. Only now do I see that wasn’t so nice.

Anyways, I asked hubby after dinner, if that comment seemed weird, and should I have kept quiet about that? My reason was, I was afraid my kids will feel guilty for having something that I didn’t. Every time my mom bought me something, she would tell me how lucky I am for having a new bike, that she never had a bike. And I would feel guilty, because she still didn’t have a bike, she spent her money on me now. So I’m thinking it is close, but a bit different, because we were all sharing a happy meal, I didn’t sit there without food while my daughter ate. My mom did that as well. She would order me something for lunch, and not eat anything. So I think the guilt came from her not having it too at that moment, not that she didn’t have it as a kid. But I’m not sure if I had any intentions with that comment to my own kids, or I was just stating a factual comparison.

I am so afraid of having my kids feel any of the guilt, shame, fear and pain I did and do – that sometimes I analyze my own intentions and look for hidden meanings, and gauge my kids’ reactions later to see if I’m on the right track or need a followup or apology.

I’m guessing if she had felt badly, she would have stopped pretending her fries were high-diving in to the gravy pool, and would have shown some sign. I think. I hate the responsibility of the power of my own words. I don’t want to carelessly hurt anyone. I have so many good intentions, but we all know where that road leads.


8 thoughts on “Powerful Words – Why Did I Say That?

  1. The way you’ve written this it sounds like a simple sharing of history. And I think you’re right about her not continuing the high-dive with the fries. Which sounds fun. I’ve never done it. It’s so hard to share yourself when you never know how it will affect others. I remember talking to a friend and noticing she was in tears. She was horrified about the things I was saying, talking about my past. I was very matter of fact. I didn’t care anymore. It was “Yeah, it happened. So what?” It still happens, but it’s usually with strangers. In the case of your daughter, she already knows your growing up was lousy. If you had used your story to guilt her, then it would have been a repeat of the past. If she was still happy and having fun, then she took your information and accepted it without owning it. Do you realize how huge that is? You taught her she doesn’t own your past. Well done!

    • Wow, that is huge! Never thought of it that way. But HOW did I teach her that? She knows nothing of my abuse yet, and doesn’t really know my growing up was lousy – just that we never see Grandpa, and when she asks how we did things when I was little, she can see it was different. I don’t know when I’ll share more details with her, but it hasn’t seemed right yet, for either of us. But I think you are right, if she is secure in herself, then she immune against guilting, she just wouldn’t feel guilty about it. Just like I tend to own and feel guilty for things that I should not. Excellent discussion!

      • My sister didn’t have healthy boundaries of her own, but she taught them to her children. Her mantra was “Whatever NM did, do the opposite.” It worked. Sounds like you’re doing the same thing.

  2. you’re thinking too hard about this. Just live. You know you and your husband are providing your kids with wonderful moments full of the right stuff. As parents we all make mistakes. It’s part of raising kids. But kids are resilient and if they didn’t hurt every once in awhile (like you saying no or them having to do without something they think is so important) they wouldn’t build up that resiliency. Quit comparing your childhood to theirs. Completely different. You are raising your children with love. Believe it. Live it.

    • This comment made me cry. Seriously, I wish I was as sure as you. But even the hope that you may be correct is so comforting to me. I know their childhood is different from mine, but I think a few other things are going on here. I want to protect them, from my pain, and also from causing them similar pain. I know little hurts and frustration are good, and I say NO all the time, and discipline with timeouts, give them rules, demand respect, all that stuff that was missing from my childhood. I THINK they feel secure and valued, but how do I know? And then, as they get older, I feel I have to teach them about the bad parts of life, teach them to protect themselves without worrying them overly. It is all so complicated! And then, I guess, I still don’t trust even myself. I was afraid I wanted my kids to feel guilty, but really I want them to feel fortunate, because I feel proud about what I can offer them. I just know what I hid from the world for so many years, my inner turmoil, and I don’t want my own kids to slap on a happy face while they wish to die. Thank you. I needed this discussion and perspective – can move on now.

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  5. It wasn’t until I was in counseling that I mentioned my childhood, even the good parts since my mind shut them out. Interesting thing was my children shared that me saying nothing they felt I shut them out and wouldn’t share. Through experience I learned some of my kids will talk to me about my past, some do not. Some are supportive, some just don’t want to know. Passing a casual statement allows watching their reaction, which you did. She kept playing. It was ok. The hardest discussion I had was about a relative that wasn’t safe. I mistakenly thought he changed. My girls talked to me that he made them feel uncomfortable. I told them straight out that if they didn’t want to be near this person it was a good idea to stay away. I learned a lot along the way. You are too. You are example gives me so much hope. By the way, my children reassure me that my mother is just crazy. It makes me smile just to think about their comments.

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