A while ago my 6-year-old was exploring the power of the phrase, “Stupid idiot”. I don’t know where he got it from. Maybe he heard it at school or something. But when he started to say it I was less than delighted.
I didn’t make a big fuss at first, just told him that words have power so we need to choose the words we want in our world. ‘Stupid’ and ‘idiot’ are words that have no purpose that I can think of other than to hurt people so he’s please not to use those. Gentle, calm, thoughtful I was. A proud parent moment.
Didn’t bloody work though, did it?
He carried on using those words – to everyone. His brother, us, his toys – everyone got lashed with “stupid idiot”. And he was very feisty about energising it with meaning.
I tried ignoring it, addressing it, reflecting it back to him in different ways but no effect. Zip, zilch, nada! It became something he said when he felt chastised. If we told him off about something or he didn’t like what we’d said he shouted or muttered, “Stupid idiot!” as he went off in a huff or angrily kicked or threw something.
I know children are our mirrors so I got to thinking; ‘Where is this mine? How is it reflecting me? What is this actually about?’ And suddenly I was struck with a sad pain in my chest as I realised that something about the way we discipline him must be making him feel like a stupid idiot. He feels shamed. Oh owwwww! That hurts. It really does.
He is the most amazing person, sweet and kind and beautiful with strong emotions, an impressive will and a very firm sense of righteousness (granted it’s sometimes a little biased towards his own benefit but still…). He does NOT in any way deserve to be shamed while he learns about the world and how to be in it. But there it is. I’ve been a stupid idiot.
So then I had to look – I didn’t want to but if I want to do different I must – where does this come from? Where do I believe in shaming as a form of discipline? I know my adult self is really against it but there I am unconsciously doing it. Where did I learn such a thing? Most importantly, when have I also felt like a stupid idiot?
And oh, ouch, ouch, ouch! As I write this I get my answer. I suddenly know just where that stuff is from.
I don’t want to remember it so clearly, I’ve packed it away, rationalised it, my head knows it’s not true but faced now with my own child’s pain, my compassion for him opens my heart to the child I was when that happened to me. And now I can see a part of me that is very young and still standing there frozen in that feeling of ‘stupid idiot’. Feeling judged and shamed for doing something or another. Mostly because I was triggering my caretaker’s own pain, insecurities and anxieties – just like my child is doing for me right now.
I see her, Little Me, frozen in shame.
In my mind’s eye I stoop down to her, gather her up close to my heart and LOVE her fiercely. She’s doing nothing wrong.
My son feels shamed somehow but I know it has nothing to do with him. The stuff he does pushes us, his caretakers, to feel and see things about ourselves that we would rather leave packed away, thank you very much. Like this shame business. So we push him away. Not on purpose and not with awareness. Just little moments when what he does hits too close to our pain for comfort and from deep within us a part shouts out, “Stop that! It hurts!” – and then he is left feeling terrible that he did such a thing to us.
But he didn’t do anything to us. He was just busy exploring his world and learning its rules. The pain we feel was there inside us from our own history.
I wish I could undo what I’ve already done – because I know how it feels when adults project their emotional wounds onto a child. Been there, done that. Most of us know how it feels and most of us do it to our own kids too. Because it’s what we’ve learned one does with pain – throw it onto someone else, get rid of it.
There are more constructive ways to deal with pain – especially as a parent. Open into it. Gather your real and your inner child close to your heart and LOVE them. There’s nothing wrong with them. They are just helping you to find your healing. Follow their guidance.
I wrote this post a while ago, and waited until I felt ok to share it, but right after I wrote it he simply stopped saying those words. Honestly. And that’s how this thing works. Maybe now that I’ve owned my stuff, he has no more need to say that horrible, hurtful phrase – no more need to remind me of my unhealed place. And even if he ever says it again maybe I’ll feel warm compassion in my heart rather than pain.
I taught him those words…..
Yes I’d imagine you could… 😀 You always make me laugh.
A great mirror, thank you.
Thank you too for relating. It’s very precious to get your comments.
Thank you for your vulnerable sharing that makes it ok for all of us – I say this because this piece ,like many of yours ,resonates as I experience the same with my eldest! Your courage to write each week strengthens me xxx Jacs
Oh wow thank you Jacqui. I’m looking fondly at you through the computer right now and feeling deeply grateful you told me that.
I am doing this for me first and foremost – y’all are keeping me sane and my kids better cared for; in other words your presence out there strengthens me – but it feels really good to get feedback like that and know that it does something helpful for others too. And now I’m gazing at ‘you’ a little teary-eyed and sentimentally.
My heart thanks your heart. It’s very special to make a community that strengthens each other.