Language… Literally. Do you care?
according to Google: lan·guage
the method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.
“a study of the way children learn language”
I’ve been writing for years, and despite the thought I put into what I say on paper — until I had children, I don’t think I ever considered the impact of the words in their literal form.
I’ve never done well with talking to people – I’ve always been painfully shy – until I learned to “fake” outgoing to succeed in my career – and now I end up in awkward situations or conversations – with my foot caught in my mouth frequently or me feeling like people are just avoiding me because I struggle with communication and talking — like, the words just don’t come out of my mouth. Relationships, friendships, conversation- they just aren’t things that have ever come natural to me–they never have.
So, considering that, I’ve spent a lot of time in my adult life trying to “make friends” or “fit in” (not very successfully in a lot of cases) with my colleagues, with my husbands groups of friends and coworkers, with my kids’ friends’ parents–with my own friends of many years. I have spent a lot of time thinking and rethinking what I am saying or what I have said. Thinking about the words, and if I said something wrong or it came out the wrong way….
What I’ve learned with this effort and with my communication is that it’s easiest for me if I am in general more passive – agreeable – on subjects that I am not invested in too deeply. I over extend myself, obligate myself, volunteer, say yes (because it’s easier than no), or just simply say– ‘I don’t care.” Because typically….I don’t. I don’t care about what we eat for dinner, or where we go or what time we go there. I care that the people around me are happy and enjoying themselves and doing what matters to them. What they “care” about….
And then today …. It occurred to me…. It hit me like a train… The literal meaning of the language that I have been using and what it implies with the people I talk to and am invested in the most. Now – I’m not talking about what it means to the adult across the table that’s offended because “I don’t care”. I’m talking about what really matters to me—my kids.
Walking my daughter into ballet, it took the literal mind of my 4 year old to make me realize what I was expressing to her when she asked me simple questions like, can I get some water – or can we go to our playroom – or can I sleep in your room tonight?
I don’t care.
Her dad was out of town and she wanted to sleep in my room—-Mommy, can I sleep with you tonight since daddy is gone?
I don’t care.
What do mean you don’t care? You don’t care about me?
So for years of considering ever word that comes out of my mouth-I had not stopped to consider the impact that the phrase “I don’t Care” has on a child.
I don’t care. I know I’m not the only one that uses this phrase. It’s so easy. It’s like a cop out to commitment. For people like me, a self defense mechanism. So why do we use it – frequently…? We say it when we are happy, when we are asked questions, when we are fighting, when we are past fighting, when we are preoccupied….
As adults that phrase can be stabbing, frustrating, or just understood for what it is, comprehended with the tone in which you use it…but as a child…the literal mind of a child that is still struggling to figure out language and communication, I was crushed at what I was communicating to her.
Yes – there are constantly cute misuses and misunderstandings with children – like last week when she said she wanted to be a bunny for Halloween and I said I could make her a “killer bunny costume!” Her eyes turned as wide as saucers and her face paled white and scared looking and emphatically said “No, no mommy! Bunnies don’t kill people!”
I, of course, laughed, but when those big blue eyes in her little pink tights and little pink leotard, looked up at me and said “you don’t care about me?” It flashed through my mind just how many times I have used that phrase with my kids in passing, without a thought ….and how many times has the thought crossed her little mind – that crushing idea that her mom doesn’t care.
Language – words. They are so complicated, but so simple. Now, while most people don’t struggle with communication in the same way that I do – everyone works constantly on relationships that they care about and are vested in. What relationship is more important than the one you have with your child? Yes – we watch our “language” in front of them – we tailor our conversations for little ears — but are we really considering the words and language we are using when we are talking to them that can be causing far more harm than the occasional 4 letter word.
Are we evaluating the phrases and words that have double meanings, or could be interpreted negatively? Are we thinking and rethinking what we say to them to make sure our feelings are conveyed correctly? That our interest in them, that their value is understood? Are we showing them that we “care”?
I can say, for me, with my kids or friends…I don’t care will never again be an expression I use – or an easy answer— when in fact, I do care.
Something so harmless or intended as such, can be so damaging. Something we don’t even consider or think about… There are so many relationships that fall to a misinterpretations of words or their meaning. Children understand language in it’s purest form – the most basic meanings of words. I don’t why we complicate this or make it more complex as adults, but it’s so critical to step back from conversation and think about what we are really saying to our little people. Do they understand what we are saying in the way we mean for them to understand it? Are we using words that express answers in a way they are capable of understanding. Or, are we saying we don’t care – when we do?
Say what you mean – mean what you say. Lesson learned. So easily, so innocently taught. Thank you again to my children for continuing to teach me, to open my eyes, to make me understand, and for forgiving your mom and caring for her without hesitation or judgement. I hope your hearts and minds are always so open and never stop caring.