The Power of Words

thank you in many different languages

A person I regard highly had a bad day this week and wrote about it on her blog (warning: language alert in link). IttyBiz – When You Feel Like A Raging Failure. As of the writing of this post, there were over 50 comments from readers offering support and encouragement and sharing times when they had similar days. I haven’t seen one discouraging remark.

It takes a lot of courage to write honestly and be transparent about our failures and mistakes and imperfections. Because honestly, people can be pretty mean with their responses.

I wrote about some difficult times earlier in the school year here on this blog. A group of women started commenting on the posts several weeks later and things got pretty intense there for a while. I haven’t said much about the whole thing here on the front page of the blog because I felt like I’d just be highlighting the discussion to be petty. Enough time has passed and I believe that a lesson can be taken from the experience….so here goes.

One woman’s first comment (ever!) on my blog looks like this:

From what little I’ve read of your blog, I can tell that your God is unmerciful, and unforgiving. Why else would you want to be that way to your children? Lucky for me and my children we know that God is more merciful and forgiving than we could ever be, but we sure do try! God gave us all free will, and I question why people feel it’s okay to deny children theirs. The only conclusion I can come to is that it is because that is how they were treated, so they feel it is proper to pass it on to their children. How sad that people refuse to use the brains that God gave them to be more creative in their child-rearing practices.

This because I wrote in a post that I had sent the boys to bed early for being grumpy and was going to use the strategy again.

Granted, a great deal of online communication is hampered by the lack of body language in the text. I’m pretty sure I would have gotten the same impression from her in person as I did just reading her words.

At one point in the discussion I was told by a commenter that she’d been in a hurry and dashed off her response, and that’s why it was so hurtful. The point I made at the time still holds true: barring a nuclear EMP event, it’s likely the Internet will still be here later on today or even tomorrow, and a comment can be made just as easily then.

Another commenter told me that she’d been purposely harsh with me because she was hoping to trigger a Complete Paradigm Shift. The saying “you can catch more flies with honey than vinegar” springs to mind.

The women who attacked me verbally all seem to have come from a single group. What it boils down to is that I don’t choose to structure my homeschool under the same philosophy as theirs. I think this caused them to view everything I said negatively. The sad thing is that they are self-described Christian homeschoolers, and on their own group’s home page is the statement ‘All “flavors” of Christianity are welcome and doctrinal differences are respected.’ My Christian worldview is the structure upon which I base my choices as a parent and homeschooler. Yet because I am not the same as them, I am somehow not deserving of their grace or empathy.

What do the words that come out of our mouths or keyboards say about us? Are we demonstrating love and support, or are we instead tearing others down? If we describe ourselves as loving or understanding individuals, do our words (and actions) reflect that?

Now. I write this as someone who has made more than one harsh or dumb (or both) comment in her own life. Fired one off last week. Then I re-read it, and had to send a second one clarifying and apologizing. Because words are important.

Sometimes we think we’re anonymous and that no one will know what has been said. Other times, it is a case of hurrying or not thinking through what we’ve typed carefully. It’s true as well that what we mean as a very positive or supporting thought can be misconstrued.

Reading Naomi’s post and the resulting outpouring of love and support struck me today. Not only was there encouragement for Naomi and each other, so many of the commenters confessed to their own days of feeling like failures. And let’s face it: none of us are perfect – we all have bad days. The great thing about online community is that we can share that together and not feel so alone.

What does this have to do with parenting? Simple. Our children take in everything we say, holding it in their little hearts forever. Are we filling them up with love and encouragement, or are we making them objects of scorn and belittlement? Are we putting careful thought into what we say to them? Are we taking the time to consider how our words will be received? Will a harsh word really do more than a loving one? Occasionally the answer to that will be yes; more often though, it’s no.

Take a few minutes today and think about how you interact with your children. If you realize you’ve been too hard on them, then go tell them that. Apologize. Explain how much you love them, and ask their forgiveness. Try to find something positive to say to them. If you choose to give a compliment, make it about the child personally. For example, say “You look good in those colors” rather than “I like your outfit”.

Trust me. Your relationship will be better for it.

Earnest Parenting: advice for parents who know that words are important.

The editor-in-chief of Earnest Parenting, Amy is the mother of two sets of twin boys. Yes, they drive her crazy, but they also make her laugh occasionally. Amy enjoys writing, quilting, reading, and working on her burgeoning cyber empire.

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  • Naomi Dunford February 1, 2008, 11:57 am

    You, Amy, are amazing. I was all fired up to say something VERY strong about the Complete Paradigm Shift – (?) – but instead I will say that your words on how to think when you speak to your children should be tattooed on the body of every new parent on the planet. What a lovely post, and thanks, as always, for your support.

    Reply
  • office space philippines April 12, 2009, 11:09 pm

    Some words are said harshly that’s why children become hurt easily. If they had done wrong, we should teach them to do what is right, not shouting at them or saying bad words. If we have hurt our children with our words, it will be better if we would apologize and talk to them gently.

    Reply
  • Amy April 15, 2009, 12:14 am

    I responded to Naomi at the time via e-mail, which is why nothing showed up here. 🙂

    office space philippines that is a very important point. Apologies are difficult to produce, but very important.

    Reply
  • aleks February 20, 2010, 1:24 pm

    Someone don’t think about the meaning of words. But it says about the egoism of this person.

    Reply