I was talking to Penny the other day about how a little comment you make to a child can really stick with them. I don't mean the big, messy, obviously life changing- 'your daddy and I don't love each other any more'- stuff either. That I'll get to, but I mean the little things now.
Like, I can remember towards the start of year 1, when I'd just turned 6, telling my dad's girlfriend at the time about how much I loved my new school shoes, but how a girl in my class had really ugly shoes. Long story short, I ended up getting a pretty harsh lecture about personal tastes. Did it change my habit of thoughtlessly bitchy comments? Unfortunately not, I was a judgemental bitch for a few more years. Did the feeling of an unexpected rap to the proverbial wrist stay with me? Absolutely.
And if that little lecture, over all of the lectures I have so far received in my life (and I assure you there have been a lot) stayed with me, what have I said to the kids in my life, without realising that a quick, sharp word, can stay with a kid? And if the wounded feeling of a small, compared to most tellings off I've had, telling off over my thoughtlessness stayed with me, what about the big stuff?
I'm going to try not to politicise this too much right now, although there are political implications. The things we tell kids without really thinking about it is really fucked up. We tell young girls to carry rape alarms and to watch their drinks on nights out. Don't get me wrong, I see the necessity of both of these things, but that doesn't mean they're not really odd things to do. As if walking alone or alcohol are to blame for rape, as against the fault being with the rapist. We give girls fashion dolls and baby dolls, and we give boys action figures, without reminding our girls that they can do great things, or our boys that it's ok to preen or nurture. But I digress.
I think often it's the way you say things rather than what you say. Like, going back to the shoe story, I think that stayed with me so much because I was embarrassed that I'd been caught out being mean. I've alwaysalwaysalways been as scared about being a horrible person as I ever was about the size of my thighs. As I've got older and more mentally healthy, I come to realise that I'm not generally a bad person, but I can be thoughtless and I lack the filter most people seem to have.
And when it comes to the unsaid things, the things we sort of imply, are the things that probably are the hardest for kids to shake as they grow up, because they tend to be more insidious. It's the idea that you must always be good, must always be smart, must always be pretty, must always be happy. When sometimes we all do what we shouldn't, say nonsensical things, go days without grooming, have Sad Girl moments. As adults, we understand the difference between aspirations and reality, in a way I don't think children necessarily do.
I'm not sure what the answer to all of this is, I'm purely musing. I think it's maybe all about understanding that children are going through this world without direction. They are never all good or all bad, just a mix of nature and nurture. I suppose that although I come from a family with a lot of children, I don't have kids yet myself and it's infinitely easier when a child's emotional health and physical safety aren't your full time job.
I have so much respect for anyone bringing up kids, and respect the job they have in ensuring their kids are the best that they can be. But I do think sometimes we all- parents or not- need to remember that children have their nerves on display. It's cool to want the best for the kids in your life, but we all just probably need to give a bit more leeway.