Have you ever said something sarcastic to a kid and realized they didn’t get it? Like this…
Me, “These sweet potatoes are terrible. You won’t like them at all.”
My daughter, “Dad! They are not! And don’t let mom hear you say that!”
Or another time, also my daughter, when she was 5. “Dad, do you love me and Jonah the same?”
Me, “No sweetheart, I love you the most.”
That timely piece of sarcasm granted me the strangest look I’ve ever gotten from my little girl before or since. And I quickly revealed the truth.
I love that. Kids believe what you tell them. And even more, they say what they mean and mean what they say. I’m not sure when they’ll grow out of that, but I wish they wouldn’t. It would save them a lot of trouble trying to fit back into it when they are old like me.
I was reminded of the sweetness of sincerity in parenting last week as my oldest son (7 yrs old) was getting ready for school. He was being an uncharacteristically twerpy pain, dawdling and pestering and skulking and not minding his tone. It wasn’t total rebellion, but eventually I got tired of correcting him and pulled him aside.
We stepped into my room and I got down on my knees and asked him if everything was all right. He said yes. I asked him if he was ok, and he said “Really, I’m fine.” I asked him if anyone were picking on him at school or if he was having trouble with any of his teachers. He said, “No, everything’s good,” and he even gave me a smile and a thumbs up.
I said, “Well, I just want you to know that you are a super kid. You are funny and fun to be around, and you’re also loving and tenderhearted, and really smart, and courageous too. You’re a caring brother to Livi and Ben and a great son to your mom and I. You really make us proud, you know that?”
He gave me another thumbs up and left the room and totally changed. He was still all arms and legs and water-bugging everywhere, but he wasn’t going out of his way to annoy his siblings, and he was respectful and quick to obey for the last five minutes we had before we loaded up the car for school.
But honestly, about halfway through my little monologue, I almost balked. I started watching for any sign of embarrassment or reluctance to receive all that shining praise and encouragement. Even to me, it seemed like I might be going overboard… like sunlight too bright or honey too sweet, but it wasn’t. Jonah swallowed it up like tasty medicine and walked away healthier.
To recycle the metaphor, it seems like children’s eyes are still used to the brightness of total sincerity, and their eyes don’t need to adjust. They see things in full color and accept what they see as true. Sadly, we parents learned long ago not to trust the light, and to operate in more murky surroundings… In as much as we’ve grown sarcastic or conventional or we’ve learned to feel afraid or guilty or ashamed, our language has deteriorated as well. It becomes a struggle to simply speak plainly.
I almost kept from speaking some of these simple truths to Jonah because it seemed too sincere. It was a great affirmation for me that kids need to be told who they are in no uncertain terms. They speak the language of sincerity, and if I don’t drive it out of them, they may yet re-teach me.