In an early episode of The Crown, Princess Margaret and her sister Queen Elizabeth wax nostalgic about their loving, late father, who used to refer to his daughters as his “pride and joy.” It was a beautiful memory, but also a painful one.
Because in the show, King George was more specific. He referred to the two of them as “Pride” and “Joy.” Queen Elizabeth was “Pride” and Margaret was “Joy.” Only with time did the two of them realize the sad implications of this remark—that he was proud of one and had fun with the other, and therefore found less happiness in the former and less pride in the latter.
If only it was just a clever remark. If only there hadn’t been real truth in it—if his actions hadn’t confirmed it—there would have been little to infer.
There is much for us to learn here. Because it’s so easy to joke: about our “easy” child and our “difficult one,” about our “favorite,” about our “special” one, about who or what “will be the death of us,” and whatever else pops out of our mouths without much thought.
We have to consider the implications of the words we throw about casually. Because our kids are listening. They not only hear us, they really hear. They are always looking to explain themselves and their place in the world. The things we say will come back to them when they are old and they will fit those words, for better and for worse, into the narrative of their lives.
Surely, you recall painful things from your own parents. Offhand comments. Dismissive gestures. Passive aggressive complaints under their breath that they didn’t think you’d hear.
Well, now the shoe is on the other foot. So watch yourself. Consider the implications. And more importantly, watch how your actions heighten the meaning of your words.