When I really stopped to listen, I was shocked and disgusted by the amount of negativity I was firing at myself, without even noticing it, all day long.
I was never fond of the sound of my own voice, but the moment his ears hit the air, my son loved it. I would sing to him in the middle of the night. I would read him books to see him smile. And when I ran out of songs and books, I would narrate what I was doing, how I was feeling. I would rattle off the names of objects, shapes, colors. I recited the pledge of allegiance and counted to a hundred. I talked so much my jaw got sore.
In fact, I talked so much, something dangerous happened: my internal monologue went external. I started jabbering out loud even when my son wasn’t around. Perhaps because I was speaking out loud, I found I was finally listening to what I was saying to myself. And I was not impressed.
Why are you so lazy? You need to suck in your belly. You shouldn’t have said that. That bra looks weird on you. Why haven’t you finished that yet? Do you need to eat this much dessert? You look tired. You are boring. That’s not funny. That was stupid. And on and on and on. I consider myself a pretty secure, confident individual, but the string of insults I was letting loose on myself, I wouldn’t say to my worst enemy.
In contrast, my interactions with my son were filled with affection and encouragement, acknowledgement and praise. The disparity was so severe that I decided to try a little experiment. I decided to make a conscious effort for an entire week to talk to myself the way I talk to my kid. No insults. No put-downs. No relentless questioning of decisions. Just kindness, understanding, and appreciation. No hate. Only love.
At first, it seemed almost impossible. The negative thoughts were like a rainstorm I just couldn’t control. When I got dressed in the morning, when I got distracted at work, when I ate, when I walked, when I drove, there they were. But, slowly and steadily, I started replacing them with positivity.
When I got ready for work, I looked in the mirror and said, Your skin is lovely. Instead of berating myself for being winded after climbing a flight of stairs, I admired the machinery of my body and how, fast or slow, it always gets me where I need to go. I called myself “curious” instead of “distracted.” I enjoyed my relaxation time, instead of chastising myself for being lazy. When I looked in the mirror, I focused on my eyes and not the bags underneath them.
The more I practiced, the easier it became. Whenever a negative self-thought knocked at my brain, I asked myself if I would say it to my son and, if not, I made a conscious choice not to let it in. When I speak to my son, my words are always carefully considered, even when I’m tired or stressed. I reserve harsh tones for danger. This seems to be to be a pretty good system. So how did I get so off-track when it comes to myself?
When I really stopped to listen, I was shocked and disgusted by the amount of negativity I was firing at myself, without even noticing it, all day long. I think about my one and a half-year-old son—my perfect boy, my dream come true—who is so amazing that I miss him when he sleeps. If anyone ever spoke to him the way I speak to myself, I would want to crush that person. And if I somehow learned that he was speaking to himself this way? Well, that would crush me.
I’m someone’s child, too. I know my own mother probably sent me into the world with the same mix of excitement and fear I feel (“This baby’s precious! Please be careful with him!”). Taking it a little easier on myself is one small gift I can give to her, mother to mother. Maybe with enough practice I can permanently shift my thinking and, with a little luck, pass my kinder, gentler point of view on to the next generation.
I think part of the reason my son loves the sound of my voice so much is that it is always carrying kindness and love. I know that as he gets older, he’ll be hearing my voice less and less and his own more and more. I’m hoping that I can teach him to love the sound of his own voice, too.
Aubrey Hirsch is the author of Why We Never Talk About Sugar. She has written about pregnancy and parenting for The Rumpus, The Butter and Brain, Child Magazine. You can find her online at aubreyhirsch.com or follow her on Twitter: @aubreyhirsch.
This originally appeared on Brain, Child. Republished here with permission.