My youngest is leaving for university in two weeks. If you had asked me a couple of months ago how I was feeling about the prospect of living alone for the first time since 1996, I would have swallowed hard, teared up and said, “It’s going to be hard. I’m going to be lonely.”
I was imagining all sorts of sad scenarios, like waiting at the door for her to come home from, twisting my ankle and having no one to help me, and long rainy evenings with no one to talk to.
And the way I was talking about it? My choice of words was setting the stage for it to be a negative experience. And creating a trajectory toward a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So today I want to talk about the power of language and how, as parents, we can use it to perpetuate old patterns or create new ones.
We are hearing increasing reports from psychologists and neurologists that the unconscious mind is always listening. And it interprets things quite literally. Everything we say and everything we think is received by the mind as if it were truth. And then it shapes our experience to match that truth.
But long before scientific investigation, language has been known to be powerful and sacred. Ancient peoples honoured their story-keepers, bards and orators. Epics, prayers, ballads and mantras were repeated with precision and reverence. They knew that the words coming out of our mouths were creating the reality in which they resided, the world they have passed down to us.
“Your word is the power that you have to create; it is a gift”.
Don Miguel Ruiz
Your choice of words facilitates or hinders change within yourself as you grow as a parent. Regardless of which qualities you are intentionally shedding or acquiring right now, your words matter. The way you speak about your aspirations impacts the likelihood of realizing them.
First, let’s review the language of doubt and impossibility, particularly how it sounds in our parenting talk. You might recognize yourself in some of these scenarios, but there’s no need for self-criticism. I invite you to be open to learning.
CAN’T: For example, you might say, I can’t be the one to break the silence; I can’t just accept that he quit his job; I can’t stand by and watch her fail.
· These phrases assert that something is impossible. There’s no potential for change and, worst of all, there’s really no point in trying. Are there situations in which you tend to fall into this kind of language, either internally or out loud? How does this impact the energy of your personal growth and the development of your relationship with your child?
HAVE TO: I have to make sure she is prepared; I have to be there in case he needs me; I have to take care of that.
· How quickly such words steal your agency. When are you assuming you have no choice in your parenting?
SHOULD: I should be listening to him more; I shouldn’t yell.
· Intentions, intentions. Your mind doesn’t hear any commitment to doing things differently right now so it’s not going to put resources into it.
ABSOLUTES: Our conversations always end in stand-offs; He’s never reliable; I’m just not a patient person.
· Absolutes are like rules; anything else is already out of the question. They close off the flow of new possibilities. Where are ‘never’ and ‘always’ getting in your way of parenting?
TRY & MAYBE: I’ll try to control my temper; Maybe I won’t complain to her next time.
· This language plants doubt. It’s like dousing the flame of your intention before it even gets crackling.
CONDITIONAL LOOPS: If I’m feeling calm, I’ll say what needs to be said; I can only ask her if she’s not yelling.
· Ah, yes, the escape hatch. Let’s set things up so we can easily excuse ourselves for not following through because some other condition wasn’t met.
As I went through this list, I could hear myself clearly: “I can’t be happy living alone. I’m going to miss her terribly. I’ll try to embrace it.” I saw the road I was on and the destination I was creating. And it’s not where I want to end up.
So I went looking for some alternative language.
Words that create possibility
Here’s an example: I know I can be the one to break the silence.
· Can you feel the expansiveness of this language? Try saying it right now. Feel it open your chest and calm your belly. There’s a truth here. And that’s what your unconscious mind hears. When you say you know you can do something, it starts selecting strategies and watching for opportunities to make it happen.
I am choosing to do this to prepare her for adult life; I have the option to listen to him more closely.
· Your right to choose is a sacred privilege. Those are your own vocal cords and you control them. What expressions do you want to come out of your mouth?
INVITING THE HOW
I don’t know how easily I can accomplish this; I wonder how quickly I’ll respond.
· There are two parts to this: 1) I can do this and 2) I don’t know yet exactly how I will do it. See that? It’s already half done. In contrast to how the word ‘can’t’ closes energy off, this language creates space for possibility. You open to what’s next and your mind directs energy and resources toward the achievable task. In my case, I started saying, “I’m curious about what it will be like to live alone.”
ALLOWING FOR LEARNING
I’m practicing being patient with her; We’re learning to talk about uncomfortable topics.
· I love this self-compassionate language. Parenting is a long journey and we will be learning the whole way through. Let’s give ourselves credit for how far we’ve come and have faith in our continuing becoming.
Remember to take some gentle breaths when he arrives today; Show her you believe in her.
· Any dog trainer will tell you that when you say “Don’t jump,” Fifi recognizes the word jump. But if you say ‘down’, she hears what she’s supposed to do. It works the same with the unconscious mind. In this example, instead of hearing ‘don’t yell, criticize, worry’, your mind hears positive instructions to remember and breathe.
Shall I talk to her before I make dinner or after?; I don’t understand his viewpoint yet.
· Instead of ‘I’ll try to talk to her’, this clarifies that you will be both talking to her and making dinner today. There is room for both. Instead of “I just don’t understand’, your choice of words signify that you will understand at some point and so your mind continues to process the information.
The Magic Word
Most of us have, at some time in our lives, been mesmerized by a magician and their expression of certainty as they say Abracadabra with a great flourish. In that moment, we believed that we would, indeed, see the three of diamonds appear from under the handkerchief. Such is the power of a magic word.
Abracadabra is from the Aramaic phrase avra kehdabra, meaning “I will create as I speak”.
I love that.
I am creating it as I say it.
I am creating by speaking.
This is why language is so important to your development: you are creating yourself as a parent every day. You are facing new challenges, testing new approaches and expanding your perspectives. You are digging deeper within yourself for capacity you didn’t even know you had.
And in the moments of this bigger process, what are you speaking into being?
Is your language forming the foundation of what you want for yourself and your relationship with your kids?
Does your way of talking about your parenting correlate with your future self?
Personal evolution asks us to speak the language of possibility, just as our collective human evolution does. Our words invite our deepest desires into existence. It’s about using words to create our life experience.
If you’re envisioning a new version of yourself as a more connected parent, you can choose to facilitate that change by using words that allow you to grow into a formerly inconceivable version of yourself.
In my case, I’m consciously translating the sad empty nest into a chapter filled with freedom and discovery. Have I got it all figured out? Hardly. I’m just catching glimpses of it. I’m trying out new phrases like trying on new jackets, and some are starting to fit.
Present Moment Language
What I’ve come to know in guiding parents through personal transformation is that their new way of parenting isn’t so much newly created as newly emerged. What they were longing to be able to do was already within them. Coaching brought it to the surface.
And if what we desire to be is already present, then we will surely benefit from also shifting our language from the future to the present. Calling forth what lies just below the surface.
‘I will stop yelling’ becomes ‘I am choosing the volume of my voice right now’.
‘I’ll try to control my temper next time’ becomes ‘I am breathing in this moment as I feel anger rising in me.’
‘I should listen to him more’ becomes ‘I am currently listening to him.’
Because, as we all know, our relationships with our kids happen moment by moment.
Personal evolution is like chipping away the oyster shell – one word and one moment at a time - to reveal the essential parent, the pearl, that is you.
Abracadabra, dear parents. May your words express who you are, your love and your deep desire to support your child well.
With you on the journey,