Autumn can feel like a roller coaster climbing the big hill: school starting, hours shifting at work, and decisions about upcoming holidays influence our behavior patterns long before we see the first snowflake decorations in the stores. Whether you find yourself up at 6 am for a child’s sports practice, choosing dinner by drive through in-between after-school activities and homework, or taking a Friday night breath of relief that you’ve all made it through another week… While you think you are shaping your youngsters’ impressionable minds, they are also shaping yours.
1: Accomplishing versus Accommodating
Chances are, the amount of time and energy it takes you to run to the grocery store, pick up clothes at the dry cleaner and make a deposit at the bank looks very different based on whether you bring a child with you on errands or not. On your own, you probably follow the list you wrote at home, you shop only the aisles where items on your list are located. You drive through the cleaners and the ATM, all the while listening to a podcast or your favorite music. With children, we sample green juice or spend time in the chip aisle. We hand off parts of the list for them to source, and queue through the non-candy lines if possible. Sticky fingers can’t touch the dry cleaning, so reminders are made – “hands off!” and why drive through the ATM when going in means suckers and popcorn!
The language you might use at work or with the neighbors is probably very different from the language you use with your kids. It’s not just about cursing or being suggestive, most adults instinctively shorten their sentences and stick to single, concrete topics instead of generalities around children. Adults are also more likely to use absolutes with kids: ie: “always wear sunscreen at the lake” or “dogs don’t like fireworks”. When chatting with other adults, most of our conversation is framed through our own experiences or is quantified with words like “occasionally”, or “I’ve heard that…”.
3: Time Together Talking
Many parents use travel time to check in with their child, see what’s going on in their world. They are checking in too: your kids use the space to ask questions about everything from politics to culture to the re-negotiation of house rules. In the act of framing your thoughts to the audience of your child, how you feel about the subject solidifies. We might have had amorphous ideas about voting rights or the artist formerly known as Prince, but by sharing them out loud to a curious audience, we commit to a set of beliefs that might otherwise stayed fluid in our minds.
4: Why Walk When You Can Skip?
Even in Austin, it’s rare to see an adult skip through a pile of raked leaves instead of walking on set pathways. But because kids inherently search for the most fun way to do anything, they race the cart back to the cart return, they climb over garden walls instead of walk through the openings, they try on crazy hats, stuff their cheeks with grapes… prompting their parents to follow suit sometimes.
So the next time you walk past a mirror and find glitter adorns your knees or unlock your phone to a candid of your family sticking out tongues from sunburnt faces, ask yourself… who’s shaping who?
Emily Forsythe, MA; LPC-Intern
Emily is a therapist with Flourish Counseling and Mental Wellness Center in Lakeway; she has 4 kids, and holds her families’ record of never making the ‘yuck face’ while drinking green juice. Click here to check out her blog!