Children have a way of digging out the things we pushed to the back of the closet long ago. There were lessons I learned in childhood that I thought marriage and good friends corrected. Now I hear those lessons come back to me through that same inner voice.

This inner voice is also called self-talk. The child internalizes the words he hears from his parents, be they words of praise or punishment. One little word is not likely to tip the scales, but a regular diet of criticism, doubt, dismissal, or praise heavily influences how the child will see himself later in life. When the child views himself through a lens, or schema of worthlessness or inability, his self-talk becomes irrational and automatically negative.

“Nobody wants to be with you.”

“You are not enough.”

As a parent, what “inner voice” am I giving my children?

Dance With Me

This Fall is my first foray into the world of extracurricular activities. It was my daughter’s second week of ballet at the Juline School of Dance. Worn out from passing the hour with three children, I pushed my gigantic double stroller over the school threshold as the parents and children scurried throughout the thin halls of the old department store reincarnated into a dance school.

My daughter hopped away from her teacher and handed me two papers. One said, “Dance with me” and the other was an audition announcement. Auditions. My goodness. It was Friday. I waited until Tuesday to call for clarification.

The “Dance with me” card was an opportunity for her to bring someone to class. I thought, oh, I don’t want her to be the one kid without a buddy there. Fear of replaying isolated lunch hours from my life in her life flashed through my mind. The only kid left out, last picked. I thought it was an opportunity for parents to dance with the child. She lit up at that idea. As a fifth grader, I was proud as a peacock to have my dad, dressed as Ansel Adams with his VHS video camera, at my side hiking the wet trail to Vernon Falls in Yosemite. I do not excel at children’s play, so the idea of any activity with mom, without other kids, sets this girl over the moon.

The girl is light as a feather but focused as a scientist during dance class. How would she feel before a crowd, required to perform at a particular moment rather than on her own whim? My parents tell the story of how, as a child, I refused to perform gymnastics in front of a crowd. Her eyes grew big and her smile bigger when I told her the audition is to dance on a stage in front of people. The room where we sat filled with so much excitement from her lean little body she might have caused a power outage.

I inquire about the audition flier for the Nutcracker. What does this mean? How would she prepare? What is the rejection rate? After all my questions, the school director told me knowingly, “You are more nervous than she.” That is true. For my daughter to transfer from Juline to Julliard is not my ambition. Only, I am not ready to see her crushed, her hopes disappointed. I want to prepare myself as much as her for the possibility, to prepare her for disappointment, and temper the great excitement she feels about life. It is a shame that should be my urge.

Bestowing an Inner Voice

A great deal of parenting and teaching occurs in this process. What happened in my youth? What do I want to do differently? My generation’s parents were free-range parents and we are the helicopter parents. Their parents taught them to “toughen up” and our parents or teachers taught us about self-esteem. The pendulum shifts.

It can happen automatically. I could hover over her classes and if I think she might not pass the audition, I could tell her we cannot do it or cannot afford it. That would not be true. I might want to protect her, but it would be better if I teach her a life lesson like those good lessons I learned from my parents or the lessons it took me my life thus far to learn.

The words I tell her will become her inner voice as an adult.

They will echo in her mind as she struggles through a project. If they are hurtful or fearful words, they will take a great deal of effort to overcome.

In Faith of the Fatherless, Dr. Paul Vitz proposes the power of parenting extends to our understanding of God. In calling the family the school of love, the family teaches children the nature and meaning of love, which reflects to them the person of God who is love.

What message do I want to give my daughter? At the heart of the matter, I want my motherhood to teach her she is good and she is loved. Let all words echo after that.

Thus will I hold my fearful tongue and let her go forward, prepare her by telling her the possible outcomes and then let her go her own way. At six years old, she will not have too far to go.