Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Actions Speak Louder Than Words No Matter How Loud Your Words

Actions speak louder than words. I’ve run in to this truth several times this week. I think it’s a fitting motto for those of us who claim to be attempting to live life in harmony with the earth and our bodies. We can say all the pretty, socially acceptable things we want, but when it comes down to brass tacks, we are what we do.

I do believe that actions speak louder than words. In fact, I’m staking my parenting success on those words. My kids may say really (really) mean things to each other and to me. They may call each other awful names, threaten to hurt each other, and make all manner of snide comments about one another, but when they are out in the larger world (i.e. not at our house), I am relieved to see that they treat people kindly. They don’t throw things at people or slam doors. They don’t call people that annoy them “idiots” or make sarcastic comments. They swallow their frustration and their pride. And it always surprises me, though it shouldn’t by now.

They may scream things at me that will haunt me for days or tell me that I am the meanest mother in the world (or lately a “freak”), but when I observe them with other authority figures like teachers and coaches, they are respectful and obedient. They even seem to work hard to secure their praise. I’m not saying that my kids always treat me like the trash waiting to be dragged to the curb, just that for every nasty word they scream at me, there are thousands of kind words used on others (and occasionally me).

While I don’t appreciate being the verbal punching bag, and there are certainly consequences when it happens (apparently that’s what makes me a “freak” since other parents would never take away screen time or force their children to apologize), I am grateful that it appears my children are learning the lessons I am trying to hammer home. Their actions speak louder than their words. They may yell at me, but they will still complete their weekend chore. They may say they hate their sibling, but they will still share their after-game treat with them. They may scream that the homework is stupid as they settle down in the bean bag chair to get it done.

This motto has not been easy for me to embrace. I think words are important. I think they are powerful and dangerous and tricky. So I admit to overreacting to some of the words that come out of my children’s mouths. The learning curve on this one hasn’t been steep for me, but I’m getting there. Slowly I’m learning to be quiet and wait and see what they actually do. Sometimes they just need a safe place to vent. I do the same thing with my animals. If anyone ever put a hidden camera in our barn, they would deem me a lunatic. I talk to the animals, compliment them, and ask them questions. But sometimes I curse them, call them names, and complain to them. It’s a chance to vent. They listen to my ramblings with practiced indifference and it’s refreshing. I don’t have to own up to anything I’ve said because no one’s going to call me on it. Animals have only actions to communicate with, no words. I understand them most of the time. I know exactly where they stand and don’t have to try figure out why they said what they said.

As a parent, it’s difficult not to call my children on the things that come out of their mouths. I find myself letting some things slide and then blowing up over other things. And sometimes it feels like the kids are really feeling around for the limits. “I can say this and I don’t get a reaction, so how about this…”

When I flip the motto around and apply it to myself, I’m grateful. I truly hope that my actions are speaking louder than my words. I may be so angry I shake, but I will still feed my children a healthy meal. I will still do their laundry and drive them where they need to go and tuck them in at night with a quiet song and a hug. The millions of actions that I have done for my kids speak volumes. Hopefully enough to drown out the times I’ve said harsh things out of pride or been cruel in my effort to get my point across.

Sometimes it’s helpful to take a breath. I’m learning to say, “There will be consequences for this. I don’t know what they are yet, but there will be.” And then walking away instead of saying something I’ll regret later. It’s a nonstop juggling act this parenting gig. How much patience before you have to step in? How much do you tolerate before you have to act? Should you say something or let them figure it out on their own? I don’t think any of us get it right every day, or any given hour for that matter. I guess the best that we can do is the best that we can do. Take a deep breath. Be quiet. Let the words settle before you spring to action because those actions will always speak louder than any words.

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