A funny thing about growing a child is how much time one spends hoping and wishing for their future. This can include everything from hobbies and occupations to traditions and general upbringing. Considerations can include things from our childhood that we thought effective as much as lists of things we would never do to our children.
My childhood was fairly normal. I am opting against getting really specific for two reasons: writing about the good and bad parts of my childhood would require a novel as opposed to a blog, and because this particular post is not wholly about me. Okay, maybe it is, but only in that my upbringing is part of my child’s upbringing whether I want it to be or not.
I started thinking about the traditions my family had as we grew up. I look forward to hearing some of the traditions Matt celebrated. There are activities I did as a young person that I hope to at least introduce to our kids. There are things Matt and I do now, like taekwondo, that I hope we can do as a family. I am also looking forward to the things I will learn from hobbies our children develop as they grow.
One thing that plagues me is how other people will interact with our children. I think one of the smartest rules my parents set in place when I was born can help alleviate one of the largest pet peeves of mine: baby talk. To be admitted into our household when I was born, there were two simple rules to follow: no smoking – easy considering neither of my parents were smokers – and no baby talk.
Now readers are thinking I am being picky or restricting, or that baby talk is harmless, but hear me out. In a time when development is throttled and vital, how could any parents allow the pouty voice, the made-up words, or the condescending tone – even though it be used lovingly? I have heard in public a mother or other family member refer to a drink as “wa wa” or a bottle as “ba ba”. How awkward is a string of nonsensical words, often referred to as “cooing”?
When your baby is absorbing every movement, word, and interaction – be it between you and your child, or you and other adults – how can implanting words that are not words, or grammar that would cause English teachers’ hair to curl, be okay? “Him was sick!” What the hell is that?
I can say with certainty that my parents did many good and bad things in my upbringing. Just like your parents. Just like all parents. Parenting is a lesson that can only be learned by doing, and doing involves making mistakes. I will always maintain that those two rules were vital in making me the intelligent adult that I am today. They were simple and easy to follow: treat my baby as you would treat another human being; it is irrelevant that she cannot yet communicate with you in the same manner.
I have a perfect example of this. Having never been exposed to young people, Matt spoke to children like they were… well, children. Sub-human. Not on the same intellectual level as adults. He raised the end of every sentence like it was a question. This irked me to no end because that condescending tone was one of the things I absolutely hated about him when I first met him. Thankfully, once he got to know me a little, it went away, but I had to remind him here and there that he was doing it with my nephew and nieces.
He always said he did not see it when I called him on it too.
It has taken a year or so, but he now talks to Ethan, Harmony, and Haven like people as opposed to a barely formed, pseudo-human. The man he is today will constantly and for the rest of my life astound me. I remember placing my baby niece in his hands the first time he met her and watching the fear arise in his face. “What do I do with her?” he asked, holding her gently but away from his body. Now he talks to them in full conversations, whimsical though they might be at times. It warms my heart to remember some of them.
Raising children is a constant push and pull with development. Everything a child sees, hears, touches, tastes, and smells will change them. Every interaction will become one part of many that affects how they handle situations on a day-to-day basis. It will change how they interact with other people. It will establish what is and what is not. These things are important to me because I consider myself a generally well-rounded, intelligent individual, and I do not think I would be this way without the intelligent and adult conversations I had as I was learning my first words.
While I meant for this post to be a little more general about some hopes and plans I had for our child’s future, a recent interaction – or ten – with an adult speaking to ME in a condescending voice and baby talk made me fear introducing my child to that person. It placed this very real pet peeve of mine in the front of my mind. Facing the truth that I would have to tell both friends and family members to speak like an adult to our child, I felt talking about it would relieve some of the anxiousness I was dealing with.
It did. I do feel better than I did yesterday, but writing has always done that for me.
I hope that every person takes a second and considers how they interact with young people. Whether it is frequent or sporadic, do you get down to their eye level and speak to them? Do you treat them as less-than-human? Do you use words that are not words or nonsensical phrases? Take a second and consider how the seed you plant, even if it is a brief encounter, will grow in them.
Before I go, I will acknowledge that I am far from an expert in child development. My research has been basic. However, my experience with this has been profound. It is not hard to see how using REAL words with young people will create a REAL vocabulary, and will act as a springboard to help them learn, interact with others, and establish what is and what is not.
I hope this makes sense to others as much as it does to me. I also hope everyone is having a fabulous holiday season!