Advice Column, Family

Baby Talk Begets Baby-ish Behavior

2 Comments 12 March 2013

Years before my son Charlie was even a twinkle in my eye, I taught middle school English and enjoyed being married without children. It wasn’t that I didn’t want children—I longed to have a family, someday—I was simply enjoying life just my husband and me.

One evening, I shopped at a grocery store near my home, placing selected items in my cart while methodically working my way down the list.

As I wrapped a twist-tie around a clear plastic bag full of bananas, I eavesdropped on a conversation nearby. The mom behind me was teaching her son how to pick out fruit.


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“Now, Clay, when choosing apples, you want to make sure there aren’t any holes in them. A hole means a worm lives in that apple—or used to live in it. I always make sure the apple isn’t bruised—looking carefully all around it. To tell if it’s ripe, you gently press your finger into the peeling. If you hear a little “pop,” you know it’s ripe. If your finger just sinks in, the apple is probably mealy and won’t taste very good.”

To my recollection, no one had ever instructed me so thoroughly on how to pick out the perfect apple. (In all fairness to my mom who reads this column, maybe she did—and I just wasn’t listening.) But at 25, I finally knew. I frantically searched my purse for a receipt to write down her suggestions! No luck. I kept repeating “no holes, no bruises, and a ‘pop,’” until I memorized her apple-choosing method.

Having a sudden craving for a Granny Smith apple, I turned to select several of my own—that is, if the mom and her shopping apprentice had left any good ones.

I was shocked when I saw the shoppers. I had expected the child to be about five or six (or ten!) years of age. He wiggled in his infant seat—grinning his gummy smile at the World’s Best Mommy.

 I didn’t know this mom, and I’ve always regretted that I didn’t approach her and praise her for raising her son’s level of intellect; expecting great things from him; not dumbing down his education in even the little things; speaking to him as she would an adult—helping develop his vocabulary from infancy; and treating him like the precious gift he was.

 That wise mom gave us both a gift that day.

Clay received an education, validation and encouragement. Mine was a reminder that babies will not only rise to our level of expectation, but also soar far above it. After all, they’re people, too.

 I heard a sad statistic recently: 85% of a preschool mom’s communication with her child is directives. You know, things like:

  • Put down that remote!
  • Wash your hands for dinner.
  • Go find your cleats and get in the car. We’re late for your soccer game.
  • Finish your broccoli or you won’t get any ice cream.

It’s only when we move from talking at our children to talking to them that they feel like people. I want so much to progress quickly from All-Powerful Giver of Rules and Directives to Listener Extraordinaire.

I know it’s not entirely possible for me to be friends with my children while they’re young.

I need to clearly delineate Bret’s and my expectations and consequences for wrong choices; communicating such values while our children are young is critical.

But I also hope that in so doing I might always treat my children the way I would want to be treated—with respect and love.

Then, perhaps, when the day comes for me to be their friend, they’ll still want me.

We could even go shopping for apples.

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2 Comments so far

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Leslie Wilson Bio

Leslie Wilson Headshot  

I belong. To God, to Bret (my husband of 23 years), and to my precious children—Charlie, Molly & Reese.

I’m blessed. To speak, write, edit and market for a living.

I’m called. To thrive in life—to find contentment where I am and with what I have.

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