Kids hear everything. Even when they pretend not to listen, they are taking in every word and tone and nuance that comes out of our mouths as parents.
I have a two-year-old daughter, and it becomes more and more obvious to me every day how much she is soaking up the world around her like a sponge. It is truly magical to watch her learn and explore and develop as she becomes more independent in her own little toddler body.
It is also really scary, because I’ve realized that I’m a huge part of that development.
Everything I say gets repeated back to me right now in a beautiful, two-year-old voice. It may be a phrase I only said in passing, but she holds tight to it and repeats it over and over again for practice. She mimics my tone, my personality, my expressions. She is forming her own personality and views of the world, and, whether I like it or not, my words have a huge impact on who she will become and how she will see herself.
Here are the six things I refuse to say to my two-year-old daughter.
1. You won’t like that
I don’t want to decide for my daughter what she will and won’t like. I can assume she may spit out that bite of raw broccoli or spicy curry she’s asking for, but I want her to make the decision on her own. The same goes for listening to new music or reading a new book. Too often we make decisions for our kids, assuming we know what their preferences are. Unless it’s a safety issue, I will let my daughter explore and try different things so she can develop her own tastes and ownership over her decisions.
2. Your daddy forgot to…
Maybe it was daddy’s turn to wash her favorite pajamas or pick up her beloved crackers from the store, but nothing good comes from me putting blame on my partner in front of my daughter. If there is something my husband and I disagree on, I’ll tell my daughter, “Daddy and I will talk about that and make a plan.” Our daughter needs to know our home and our family are constant and safe. When I talk to my daughter about mommy and daddy, it is always “we”.
3. That makes mommy look fat
About six months ago I was doing a quick check in the mirror and, without thinking, said, “Mommy has to change clothes really fast, honey. This makes her look fat today.” I wanted to pull every word back in as soon as it left my lips. I will never again say a disparaging word about my body in front of my daughter. Our society promises to inundate her with plenty of visions of what she “should” look like physically. I want her to see a mommy who loves her own body, appreciates women of all shapes and sizes, and works out to be strong rather than skinny.
4. Act like a big girl
Just this morning my daughter was crying and whining at the table, and my husband and I said, “Honey, do big girls cry at the table? Does mommy cry at the table?” Well, I have, actually. Does that mean I’m not a big girl? If I don’t know what big girls do, then I shouldn’t be asking my daughter to be one. Instead, I’ll use words and explanations with her to explain why I want her to change her behavior. “Honey, we are done eating breakfast now. There is no need to cry, because we aren’t having any more food. Let’s go play with our toys, instead.”
There are days this will work, and days it won’t, but at least she won’t have a confusing image of some other “big” girl she thinks I want her to be.
5. You are growing up too fast
While I may spend my days wishing I could slow down the clock and soak in this time just a little longer, I will not tell my daughter that. She is too young to understand the sentiment attached to this saying. Instead, she will simply think she is doing something wrong and that I want her to change. Time is moving perfectly in her world, and she is progressing exactly as she should.
6. I love you more than anything in the world
I knew my parents loved me, but I never really understood how much until I had my own child. I think this is the way it’s meant to be. My daughter needs to know she is loved, that she is my priority, that I would do anything to protect her, that I believe in her, that I support her, and that I am always here — no matter what. She doesn’t need to think she alone is responsible for my happiness. She doesn’t need to think it is her job to make me happy. Instead of saying the truth of “I love you more than anything in the world”, I tell her “I love you this much!” and spread my arms as wide as they will go. Then, I hug her tightly while she giggles in my ear and asks for “more, mommy!”
The words and communication styles I use with my daughter will evolve as she changes and matures. I’ll openly discuss body image and eating habits with her when she’s established her confidence and love of her own body. I’ll be open with her if her dad and I disagree, so she can see that a difference of opinion has no bearing on our love for her or our love for each other. I will look forward to the day she holds her own child and finally grasps how much I really love her.
Until then, I’ll keep these phrases tucked away and out of reach of little, hungry ears. I’ll continue to do my best to navigate this crazy world of raising a daughter. And, after she falls asleep at night, I’ll happily whisper to her, “I love you more than anything in the world.”
Featured photo credit: Greg Westfall via imcreator.com