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The Really Big Change I Had To Make For My Kids

Photograph by Twenty20

The other day, I asked my son if he was done eating breakfast. I explained that I wanted to clear his plate and clean up. He looked up at me and said, "Not on my watch!"

I exploded into laughter.

Here was this little 6-year-old saying such an adult expression. It was so adorable coming out of his mouth, hearing how serious he got about it. I told him that I would leave the plates on the table and that he could finish his breakfast at his leisure. I certainly would not be clearing the plates on his watch.

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He then asked what it meant, "Not on my watch."

I didn't just need to watch what I said, I had to watch how I acted, too.

Suddenly, I wasn't laughing anymore. He was repeating something I'd said earlier. Yes, I suppose it was funny, but it was also kind of scary. It made me realize something: I need to watch what I say. My kids are internalizing everything I say, everything I do, and it was helping to form their vocabularies.

I began to take note of other things they said, things that I knew didn't come from me. When I heard my 4-year-old say, "That's cuckoo crazy!" I texted his teacher. Turns out, that was one of the phrases she used in class that he was bringing home.

Harmless, yes. But interesting.

Because it was more than that. I realized my kids weren't just mirroring how I spoke, expressions they heard me use. They were also mirroring my moods. When I got frustrated, they got frustrated. When I was angry, they were angry, too. They'd get shorter with me—and each other. But if I was calm, they'd follow suit.

Sure, we want our kids to be just like us. But not in all ways.

I didn't just need to watch what I said, I had to watch how I acted, too. So, I tried to be calmer, quieter. More gentle. My aim each morning when I got up was to be more patient that day than the day before. Every day when they got home from school, I'd prepare myself. I'd let go of my work day and focus on being a calm, happy mommy.

But I'm only human, and sometimes I get frustrated. Sometimes I'm tired. Sometimes I don't have a ton of patience.

I'm trying to be better. I've cleaned up my vocabulary—no more F-bombs from me. We also outlawed the use of the words hate, gun, and kill. We've even established a little jar that we pay money into if we say any "bad words." (I'm embarrassed to admit how much is in there, just from me alone. Suffice it to say, it's a lot. A LOT. But it's less and less each week.)

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And I'm working on my moods. Even when my kids are misbehaving, I try to put a smile on my face. I try to speak in a gentle tone. I try to keep my mood upbeat, so that they have something positive to emulate.

Sure, we want our kids to be just like us. But not in all ways. Only the good ones. So, as our kids get older, we need to be the people we're trying to raise them to be. Which is a daily struggle. Some days the "bad words" jar is filled to the brim. Some days it doesn't see any action at all.

The key is to try.

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