You Don’t Even Realize How Much You Say It

We love our kids. What’s more, we want them to know we love them. We want them to understand how important they are to us, how they’re the most important thing in the world to us, that we’d drop everything for them, do anything for them.

So why on earth do we so often signal the opposite? Literally and figuratively, we send the message that they’re bothering us, that they’re a distraction, a burden, annoying. As Evelyn McDonnell writes in her fascinating book The World According to Joan Didion (we had a great ​conversation with Evelyn on the podcast​, by the way!), Didion’s daughter Quintana Roo once wrote down a list of her mother’s sayings. They were: “Brush your teeth,” “Brush your hair,” and “Shush, I’m working.”

“Shush I’m working,” McDonnell writes, “It’s the mantra of the mother who works from home, of the writer trying to hold on to a thought.” It’s the kind of thing a parent says in the moment—in lots of moments—but doesn’t quite grasp the cumulative effect of it. We are oblivious to the subtext, but our kids hear it loud and clear. We’re saying the phone is more important, we’re saying ‘I’m not interested,’ we’re saying ‘You’re not as interesting…’

​Only later do we realize​ what we’re saying to them—as Didion did tragically in her haunting book Blue Nights—how this hurt them, how it contradicted what we felt deep down inside. We were just busy in that moment! We just needed to finish something real quick! We didn’t mean anything by it!

Of course, we have to make a living. Sometimes we do have to finish things. Some things are important. We just have to make sure that we value what really is important, that we remember, as we say in the March 22nd entry in The Daily Dad: 366 Meditations on Parenting, Love, and Raising Great Kids, our kids aren’t a distraction from our work, they are our work.

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