What did I learn this week?

“What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.”

I read this quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson today and it made me think again about how the inability (or unwillingness) to communicate how we feel, and to read and respond to others, negatively affects our relationships, especially with our children.

I was raised in a family which values conversation and interaction. Yes, talking, talking, talking, all the time, about anything and everything. No one ever raised a hand and said “too much information,” because, in our family, there was no such thing. No one ever raised their eyebrows, or ignored what was being said, or just plain refused to acknowledge that anything had been said at all. Of course, as I have learned, not every family functions this way.

I feel that I am stating the obvious when I say that communication is important. However, it isn’t just verbal – we communicate through our actions more loudly than through our words. When our actions do not reflect what we say, then eventually, our words will be ignored. How does this affect our relationships? Our words become meaningless because our actions do not reflect what we have said. One cannot simply say that “family means a lot” but at the same time, not make any effort to spend both quality and quantity time with that family. It is dishonest to say we do not like someone when that person is not around, but then continue to act as if we do in front of that same person.

What are the consequences of this disconnect between words and actions with respect to our relationship with our children? Disastrous. Children who are young and still learning to communicate are left bereft of the proper tools with which to do so. They will see no need to engage in sincere and honest communication with us, because we have taught them that we do not truly value it ourselves. When these same children become adults, we should not be surprised if they still lack the ability to engage with us honestly, and to form a healthy adult relationship with their parents.

Like other children her age (and unlike many adults), C is very astute at reading non-verbal cues and in assessing whether words are supported by actions. However, she has no ability to understand the many reasons why someone would say one thing, yet do another. As such, I try very hard to make sure that I follow through on what I say to her, and also, that I pay close attention when she is speaking to me (not always an easy thing with a 3 year old who loves to talk constantly!) I do not want my actions to teach her to simply accept it if I say I will do something, but then do not follow through. What I want is for her to learn to hold others, and herself, accountable.

Until she learns to do this, it remains my responsibility to hold others accountable when this becomes necessary, and to speak out on her behalf. What I am learning is that this is not always popular with the person I have to deal with, but I am also learning that, when it comes to my children, I will absolutely stand my ground, regardless of the cost.

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