The secret of sound bite parenting
By Jason F. Wright , For the Deseret News
Published: Tuesday, Jan. 31 2012 5:00 a.m. MST
Do you remember the last thing you said to your child this morning? What did your son or daughter hear as they walked out the door, got on the bus or stepped away from the car in front of their school and disappeared for the day?
Kason, my second-grader, climbed out of the back seat and heard me yell, “Make good choices, bud.” That’s one of my favorite sound bites.
Jadi, my seventh-grader, walked away from the car and had the tremendous privilege of hearing me belt out a silly rap song I’d just written to help a new teacher remember her name. I’m fortunate that she’s not yet embarrassed by me, but if I keep rapping in front of her middle school, that could change pretty quickly.
Oakli, my easy-to-mortify high-school sophomore, smiled nervously as I poked my head out the window and said simply, “Love you, dear.” She scampered away before I could do any real damage.
Those exchanges remind me of my own parents’ favorite sound bite sayings. Both my mother and father liked to say, “Remember who you are and what you stand for.” I’ve used that one with my own kids, too. In fact, I’ve said it often enough that if I say the first part, they’ll say the second.
We also like the popular phrase, “Return with honor.” My wife even wrote the motto of the United States Air Force 31st Fighter Wing unit, stationed at Aviano Air Base in Italy, on the wall high above our front door. The words are a reminder to each member of the Wright Family Squadron that we should always return to our own home base each day with the honor we started with.
Parenting is full of sound bites meant to imply much more than the simple words suggest. How about, “Look at me when I’m talking to you!” That’s a classic.
If you have a 3-year-old, you’ve almost certainly said, “Do you need a time out?” Actually, if you have a husband, you’ve probably used that one, too.
My father said more than once, “You’re driving your mother to an early grave.” My dad was right about a lot of things. Thankfully, he was wrong about that one. My sweet mother is alive and well, and still telling me to “Stand up straight” and to “Stop mumbling.”
Did your mother ever begin a sentence with, “When I was your age”? Mine did. She also liked, “Take that chip off your shoulder.”
Do you have a daughter anxious to skip right through her teen years and become an adult? Maybe you’ve stood at the front door on a Friday night with your hands on your hips and said, “You’re not going anywhere dressed like that.”
Depending on her reaction, it’s also possible you followed that one up with another popular parental sound bite: “Don’t you shake your head at me!”
I’m guilty of saying to my oldest, “What kind of example do you think you are to your sister and brothers?” She’s actually a pretty good one, but that doesn’t stop me from saying it. When I’m really on a roll, I’ll add the rhetorical winner, “What, you think the rules don’t apply to you?”
Have you ever looked at your child and said, “You better change your tune”? I heard that one as a kid and liked to respond with a tart, “Change my tune to what? Jazz? Funk?” That was usually met with “You think you’re so smart, don’t you?”
If you’ve got children, they’ve got chores, and if they’ve got chores, then you’ve certainly offered some combination of these sound bite gems: “Pull your own weight.” “Take some responsibility.” “Don’t expect other people to pick up after you.”
My parents used to ask, “Do you think we’re made out of money?” I answered by rolling my eyes and promising that I’d never use that on my kids. I proudly kept that promise for years, right until the time I had children.
I often wonder how much good comes from these sound bite moments. Sure, they know these by heart. But do they know the other kind of sound bites?
“You’re amazing.” “I believe in you.” “You’re a star!”
Even as an adult, my mother often takes the time at the end of a lunch date or phone call to say, “I’m so proud of you.” I like that sound bite. It reminds me that during all my years under my parents’ roof, even when my behavoir and choices merited more salty sound bites, I always knew they cared for me because the sweet sound bites were never far behind.
Tonight, after chasing my kids around the house and after using a few of the frustrated bedtime sound bites good parents have been using for generations, I’ll make a special point to look them in the eye and say the most important parenting sound bite of all.
“I love you.”
That’s the secret of sound bite parenting.
Jason F. Wright is a New York Times best-selling author of eight books, including “Christmas Jars,” “The Wednesday Letters” and “The Wedding Letters.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or www.jasonfwright.com.