This morning I was chatting with my mom. I’m working on a talk about parenting toward positive self image, and I wanted to get her thoughts on a few things, including if she’d be okay with me sharing a statement she’d made when I was 20:
“I never thought this could happen to you.”
At the time, I was on a fast downhill slide. I was in my sophomore year of college and home for the holidays, deeply depressed (though pretending I was fine) and unable to safely do gymnastics due to my depression and a 40-50 pound weight gain over the previous 6 months.
The statement cut like a knife; I was feeling broken, sure I was a failure and one giant problem — and I took the statement as evidence my mom saw me that way too.
With more life, healing, and a healthy self/body image under my belt (I’m human and doing fine!), as well as being a parent now myself, I understand my mom was not seeing me as a problem. Rather, she was wondering how she could help.
While we were talking, my mom reflected, “I’m sorry to say that was a really clumsy remark”. Her intentions were based in caring, support, and love — the remark had simply missed the mark, plus I’d taken it very personally (and it was not meant to be personal).
I got to thinking about clumsy remarks after our talk, as we all make them (and I liked the idea of considering them “clumsy” instead of good or bad, or right or wrong).
No one writes, speaks, or otherwise communicates everything perfectly all of the time (and sometimes not even some of the time). Clumsy remarks happen for us all: adults, parents, teachers, teens, children (think the offhand remark from a teacher, a passing word from a teen, or the well-meaning yet awkward “gem” of advice from a parent that falls incredibly short). Sometimes feelings are hurt, perhaps on both sides.
We all make clumsy statements sometimes — things said in haste, anger, fear, an unthinking hurried moment, when we’re not sure what to say, or any other number of emotions and situations. It happens, and it’s not personal for the recipient (if we are going for a jab, that’s something else, and it’d probably be useful to take a step back and wonder why we feel the need to take a jab).
First: Note to self — it’s okay. Clumsy remarks happen when communicating. We’re all human and life is messy. We can skip the self-flagellation (or rabbit hole to long-lasting anger and resentment if the recipient — it may feel good in the moment though burns us up when we stay there).
Then: What if rather than taking it personally, feeling bad about it, stewing, or whatever else, we take a deep breath (and four more if needed), slow our roll, and remind ourselves that clumsy statements happen to everyone? And that now, we have a choice in how we respond (whether we made or received the remark)?
We can stay.
We can walk away.
We can come back later.
We can apologize if we deem it necessary, whether now or later.
If we’re the recipient, we can ask if the speaker would like to rephrase what they said (my parents used this with us as kids when we spouted off — it was helpful!). Or we can share that the remark didn’t feel good — now or later.
On either side, we can take a moment and consider why the remark didn’t feel good. Heck, every moment is a chance to learn something. Maybe we’ll find an aha! in the situation.
There are a whole bunch of other things we could do too.
It’s okay if we’ve said something clumsy. It happens. It’s also okay if we’ve taken something personal that was not meant personally.
It’s okay if we feel uncomfortable.
It’s okay if we walk away on different pages. Things don’t always have to finished in neat and tidy bows.
It’s okay if we need time to consider what to do next.
It’s okay if it’s not until later (even much later) that we realize we’ve said something we wish we wouldn’t have or that we’ve taken something personal that wasn’t really personal.
We get up each day and do our best communicating. When something feels off? Information for us to consider, perhaps something needs a tweak. And then we take another action, try again, and keep or change course. That’s what human-ing is. It’s trying, gathering info, re-calibrating, and trying again. It’s messy. And in the biggest picture, it’s all okay.
(A note on the parenting end: While they may feel very uncomfortable, clumsy remarks, especially when we make them, can be helpful learning experiences for teens. Hearing an adult realize when something missed a mark, take responsibility, and apologize when needed? Powerful. Modeling at its peak for learning that we all make mistakes and that it’s okay to take responsibility.)