Swapping Out This One Tiny Word Has Made Me A Happier Parent

one word better parent one word better parent

In our home, clear communication is a priority. My husband and I want our two daughters to grow up feeling that no topic is off limits; they can ask about anything and we’ll always do our best to give them honest and age-appropriate answers. We never want them to feel that there are consequences to their curiosity.

An open door policy was missing in my own home growing up, which left a lot of room for me to draw my own shaky conclusions about some pretty important topics. That’s why I work so hard to foster the opposite environment in the family I’ve created. But I’ve learned this doesn’t happen magically; it requires intentional communication — not only with sensitive issues, but all the time. So my husband and I try to carefully choose our words when we talk with our girls.

A few years ago, as part of my interest in mindful communication, I took a three-day personal development course. My biggest “aha moment” there was when I realized that with my language, I was inadvertently communicating ultimatums, limitations and conditions – all because of one subtle little word. Especially when it came to parenting. Given that I pride myself on being deliberate about my words, this realization was moderately mind-blowing. But it was also exciting, because I knew that making a tweak could potentially change my mom-game.

What was the tiny, seemingly-insignificant word?

‘But.’ That’s it. So small you could miss it.

Here’s what I mean: I might say to my older daughter, Ayden, “I love you, but you cannot stay up all night.” Or to my younger daughter, Frankie, “I know you’re having fun, but you cannot draw on the walls.” These sentences may not seem all that impactful, and taken alone, they’re not. It’s the stuff of parenting — we say these kinds of things ALL. THE. TIME. But that’s just it. It’s constant and automatic. Replace ‘but’ with ‘and’and things change. By saying “I love you, and you cannot stay up all night,” nothing is conditional to my girls’ behaviors. It’s a tiny adjustment that feels empowering for me as a mother.

I found that applying this to myself was every bit as powerful. Me, every afternoon: “I want to go to the gym, but I’m tired”. When I state it this way, I’ve pretty much decided I am not going to the gym because I am tired. Cause and effect. But swap it with: “I want to go to the gym, and I am tired.” To me, this statement leaves more room to decide that I am going to the gym, despite being tired. That is, both things can be true — the desire to go to the gym and the tiredness — and neither has to negate the other. By replacing but with and, I’ve created space for possibility.

The bottom line: it’s my belief that our children are subliminal creatures, always reading between the lines and always drawing their own conclusions, even when they don’t fully understand things. When I use ‘and’ statements with my daughters, I feel better about what I am saying and how I am saying it. It creates a space for continued communication — and it also makes me feel like less of a tyrant.

I am a big fan of easy, concrete ways to up my mom-game, and this tiny adjustment has shifted the tone of my communication with my girls. I’m far from a perfect parent, but my goal is to constantly be striving to evolve and grow as not only a mother, but as a human. Maybe this little adjustment can be as easy and empowering for others as it’s been for me.

Emily is a freelance writer and photographer living in Southern California with her husband and two daughters. Her writing has been featured in Babble, Scary Mommy and Today Parents, among other places. Emily is fueled by spontaneous dance parties, '80s music and coffee. Connect with her on Instagram or on her website or on Twitter.