"I see you got that tape off yourself, Z!"
"I hear you E! You're mad that I took that rock out your mouth!"
Of all the things I say over and over again, every day, "I see you" and "I hear you" are probably the ones I've worked the hardest on and am proudest of. Sure I say "I love you" a lot too, and though it's often heartfelt, the truth is it's sometimes rote and other times selfishly fishing for connection. I also say "I'll be right there", "I can't understand the whining" and "Please don't put a shopping bag on your sister's head and then try to lead her around by the handle" a lot too but those aren't always said in the nicest tone.
This particular verbal tic started when I was taking a state funded parenting education class back in Pasadena, where we started out as dazed new moms who needed a place outside of the house to go once a week to watch our children gnaw on each other while we talked about how hard it is to be a mother and wound up, several years later, still dazed, still needing a place outside of the house to go once a week to watch our children gnaw on each other while we talked about how hard it is to be a mother. The classes were actually incredible informative, with presentations on everything from car seat safety to post partum depression.
One day, our teacher instructed us to abolish the phrase"good job" from our vocabulary. In it's place, she urged us to use "descriptive praise", basically describing what you see your child doing in a positive tone of voice without any need to evaluate it for them. So instead of "Good job sliding down that slide!", I would say "I see you slid down the slide!" with just as much enthusiasm.
It makes sense to me that the empty phrase "Good job" eventually gets filtered out, that to children it sounds hollow and meaningless. After reading "Punished by Rewards" a year ago and then, just recently, "Nurtureshock", I am even more committed to finding ways to talk about my children's behavior without resorting to bland compliments. And so, for me, "I see you _______" has become my version of Mom Mad Libs.
"I hear you _____" comes out of my mouth pretty often as well, though less as praise and more about teaching my girls how to communicate their needs, opinions and feelings. This is murkier territory because rather than labeling what I can clearly see, I must guess what my daughters are feeling and I'm aware that my words can have a powerful suggestive impact. But I want them to know that I hear them, and I want to help them name and express their feelings. So I muddle my way through it, hoping that my effort to hear them is what matters most.
Though I sometimes fear that my Mom Mad Libs are a little too ... precious? Academic? I really do believe in them. These phrases strike me as being at the heart of what it means to be a parent, or a spouse or a friend for that matter. In any relationship, first and foremost, we must truly see and truly hear.
Isn't that what we all want, anyway? To be seen and heard?