Thursday, March 1, 2012

Living in a Fish Bowl

I used to work for University Housing Services at ISU, and many of us lived in the same building in which we worked. Our supervisors often reminded us that we lived in a fish bowl, meaning that the students were always watching us so we had to constantly work to set a positive example whether we were officially “on duty” or not. I suppose the same concept can be applied to any professional who lives among those they serve including teachers, police officers, church leaders. I used to think of this concept only on a professional level, and I never thought to include parents. Having a toddler is a quick way to learn just how deeply that concept applies to parenting. Here's how I realized it:

Reese and I were in the bathroom getting ready for her bath. The tub filled with water as I removed her clothes. When I pulled her sweatshirt over head, it got stuck and she started to cry. We got it off after just a few seconds and I said in a silly voice, “Whoops! Sorry, baby. Your big head got stuck.”

She turned her innocent face toward me and repeated, “Big head.”

I could almost hear my former supervisors reminding our whole staff, “You live in a fish bowl now so choose your words and actions wisely.”

That incident happened weeks ago and since that day, every time I pull her shirt on or off she says, “Big head.”

I always respond apologetically, “Honey, mommy is sorry for saying that you have a big head. You have a very beautiful head.”  Now she says, “Beau-ful, big head,” which is at least an improvement.

As silly as it sounds, I feel really guilty about this. With just one spur of the moment comment, I made my daughter believe that she has a big head. I wish I could just brush it off and say that she doesn’t really understand what she’s saying anyway, but (as I’m learning more and more lately) it’s never safe to assume that a baby doesn’t understand a concept.

I’ve always known that kids absorb information like sponges absorb water, but I never really stopped to think about the responsibility that puts on us as parents. Our kids are listening to everything we say and watching everything we do. It’s easy to assume that babies aren’t tuned into our conversations or TV shows, but they are taking in more than they let on. I have learned to never underestimate Reese's ability to pick up on what I say, remember my words and actions, and apply them at a later point in time. Whether I’m watching the news, arguing with Matt, talking on the phone, or getting her ready for a bath, she is listening and watching and learning. She will repeat my words and pick up my habits. She will follow my lead and be affected by my choices.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, we all live in a fish bowl. The bowl is tiny and the audience is impressionable. Choose your words wisely. Choose your actions carefully. And never tell your 20-month-old daughter that she has a big head. 

1 comment:

  1. This isn't only true in parenthood or our professional environment, but I think it is true in every aspect of our lives. So often even our friends emulate our behavior and we are unknowing examples for others around us. This is a great insight as to how parents should think, Lisa. Words are very powerful and their effects are many times long lasting. Even though we all have the right to freedom of speech, I think that the world as a whole would be a better place if we thought a little bit more before speaking. Wonderful blog post! :)