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There’s always that moment when you hear yourself say something to your child and mentally cringe. For some of us mothers, it happens once every now and then; for others, it’s a lot more frequent.
It happens every time a "Mommy Motto" slips from your lips - all the sayings we heard from our mothers growing up and promised we would never use on our own children. But of course, one day we did. Here are a few favorites:
1. “Because I said so.”
Take note of the period at the end of that statement - this is because it implies finality. This “answer” is meant to fully satisfy the child’s simple yet always open-ended (and sometimes tiresome) question: “Why?” Why do I have to go to bed early? Why do I have to help with dishes? Why can’t I pick my nose? Some mothers sincerely try to answer these questions. But when their responses inspire even more “why” questions, even the most patient mom finally falls back on the “because I said so” answer …often punctuated with a sigh or the rolling of the eyes -- from both mom and child.
2. “There’s starving children in Africa who would be happy to eat that.”
The first time I heard this, I promised myself I would never repeat it when I had my own children. After all, guilt about someone else's misfortune doesn’t usually inspire an appetite. Two weeks ago, however, I heard it again -- this time, from my own mouth to my own son. There he was: sitting at the table grimacing at the cheesy potatoes I had meticulously cooked. “I’m full,” he said. This compelled me to educate him about third-world hunger in a mere statement. But note to self: some children don’t respond favorably to the idea of wasting food. If you do decide to use this line someday, be sure to have a response ready in case your child says, “Then give this food to them.”
3. “She's just being mean to you because she’s jealous.”
This one goes hand-in-hand with the sister saying, "He's ignoring you because he likes you.” No mother enjoys seeing her child being treated badly by another kid. And when we hear our children tell us that somebody ignored or made fun of him/her and we see the tears, we immediately shift into "mama-bear mode." The other day my younger son, eyes downcast and lower lip sticking out, whispered that two boys made fun of his Cub Scout uniform. They told him his patches were stupid. “They’re just jealous of you,” my husband told him. Apparently, this “Mommy-Motto” isn’t only reserved for mothers.
4. “I have eyes in the back of my head.”
It’s amazing what mothers can see without actually seeing it. We get to know our children so well that we can almost predict their moves before they make them. Of course, car rear-view mirrors are always an added bonus. Case in point:
“Don’t even think about it,” I say, driving, eyes on the road.
“I’m not doing anything.”
“You’re about to hit your brother.”
“How do you know?”
“I have eyes in the back of my head.”
And then I try not to smile as I glance in the mirror and notice him curiously studying the back of my head.
5. “Well, if your friend jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?”
We all want our children to be leaders in life, choosing to walk down the right path instead of succumbing to peer pressure. And when you hear your child informing you that all their friends are allowed to play violent video games or stay up all night, you sometimes can’t restrain from using the dramatic cliff example. Sometimes it works. Other times, it doesn’t. If, for example, they answer that cliff-diving into a lake would be fun, you’ll need to try something else.
6. “Life isn’t always fair.”
Some of us say this because, well, life ISN’T always fair. It’s a harsh reality but at some point we all learn it -- and usually through experience. It’s not fair that some kids who don’t study are able to get perfect scores on tests. It’s not fair that kids who are on the small side don’t always get coaches who believe in them. It’s not fair that some children struggle more than others. This was (and continually is) a hard lesson for me to teach my children as they progress in school and sports.
7. Eat your vegetables. It doesn’t matter if you don’t like them; they’re good for you.
It’s amusing what some of us mothers do to get our children to eat their vegetables. Some hide them in pasta sauces. Some drown them in butter or ranch dressing. Some just give up and try to tell themselves that ketchup is kind of a vegetable. I make “Mean Green” shakes for my boys a few times a week. I toss a lot of raw spinach in the blender (it’s actually tasteless), add a bunch of frozen fruit, pour in a bit of orange juice, and top it off with peanut butter. My kids have accepted that this shake is green, and fortunately they love it. I do find myself saying the “it’s good for you” speech when I serve vegetables in their actual form and I hear complaints. Actually, I use this same speech when they have to get their immunization shots or go to the dentist. Interesting.
8. Remember to be careful; don’t hurt yourself.
This cautionary note is ingrained into the vocabulary of most mothers. We continually remind our children to be careful and to make sure they don’t injure themselves, but I have yet to see a child who maneuvers across the monkey bars with the intention of falling. Sometimes I wonder if at the moment we yell out for our child to be careful, he or she actually changes focus or strategy even the slightest bit. I’m willing to bet that most children think they’re being careful all the time and that our “be careful” warning just reassures them.
9. Do we need to go to the bathroom and have a conversation?
When I hear mothers ask this question, it’s not because they’re seeking out a stimulating exchange of ideas with their child. It’s code name for either a reprimand or a warning, and the word “conversation” is pronounced very slowly and with emphasis: “con-ver-sa-tion.” The child just needs to look at his/her mother’s expression to know that the potential conversation will mostly be one-sided.
10. Someday you’ll thank me.
This statement is a form of self-reassurance for many of us mothers. It’s certainly not fun to have to continually nag our children to practice their musical instruments, eat healthy, participate in sports, have good study habits, use good manners, or clean their room. Nagging or “instructing” your child can be exhausting. And sometimes, when it feels like it would be easier to just give in and let them quit their activity, we hold onto the tiniest bit of hope that, yes, they WILL thank you when they’re older. They WILL appreciate it. This idea that they may one day express their gratitude for doing something they seemingly hated in their youth keeps us focused, makes us feel better that it’ll all be worth it. And sometimes, it is.
There are so many other “Mommy-Mottos” that mothers use while raising children. Warnings like "don't cross your eyes because they might stay that way," or telling our kids that if they drop food on the floor for more than three seconds it’s tainted, or reminders to "chew with your mouth closed or a fly might come in."
But there’s a certain comfort in knowing that mothers have a common language for a common purpose; after all, it is our responsibility to protect and nurture our children. What should be celebrated is that we as mothers can share with and learn from each other, and although we may occasionally mess up and blame ourselves, we can laugh in between.