What are you teaching your children without realising it?

By Tamara Palmer

I was standing outside the bathroom the other day while my two kids were having a bath. I was acting in my role of undercover mother. A drably dressed detective – 'apparently' folding clothes while what I was in fact doing was listening in on my children’s communication. And what I was hearing was really interesting and even a little disturbing…

My five-year-old was rambling away, inventing games with toys and bubbles and I could hear him using some of my trademark phrases and words. What was even more interesting was that every so often, my three year old would mimic what he was saying. A cute little domino effect. At that point, each and every time, he would shout at her, "Don’t copy me!" And it was then that I became painfully aware of 'the mirror syndrome''. I'd never had it illustrated so clearly to me, that the way we all learn is by copying and mirroring each other.

Forget cloning, we’ve already got it. Two little beings were regurgitating (and embellishing on) their old mum's drivel and it had been going on since both of them were born. And whilst my son was outraged that his copyrighted adventures were being echoed by his little sister, I was quietly proud of the fact that I was hearing my own words and thoughts coming through their little mouths…until…it suddenly hit me.

What about all the stupid, limiting, bigoted, angry, un-just, irrational, simplistic things that I say around them? Did they absorb those things too? Or, as I hoped against hope, had they managed to somehow suck the good stuff out and thrown away the inedible pip…if you get my mango analogy. I thought back on all the stuff I’d said to them that day: "Eat your breakfast or you won't grow"; "Don't touch that or it'll stain your fingers"; "No you're too young to be an astronaut"; "Mummy's very tired so please don't poke my eyes or I might need to go to hospital – for a long time." Not too bad but not terrific. I wondered if my son had gone to pre-school that day and to the collective eye rolling of the carers, told his pals they were too young to be astronauts, watch out for stained fingers and eat up or you'll be stunted!

If I’d really thought about the language I was using and how it was going to be absorbed and reborn through them, I might have said at least one more inspirational thing that day.

"Look at that sky, isn’t being alive great! Well, maybe not that but something.

If they were mirroring me, who was I mirroring and what's in my mirror anyway? As I was contemplating these large issues, my son looked at me and touched his chin as if thinking about them too. It took a moment to recognise that he was mirroring my exact expression - down to the correct finger and everything! Now this was getting a bit spooky. A swear word repeated once by a 2 year old might be cute, but every word and expression thrown back in your face was mildly unsettling.

After they were safely tucked in bed, the pre-midnight calm descending on the house, I thought about my own mirror. How many thoughts and actions were really mine and how many were just ones I'd absorbed from my parents or other influential people. Was I conscious of what I was teaching my children or was I simply handing down generations of thought that hadn't been modified since the first Palmers walked out of the caves?

Just as I was formulating a new way of being for my children's sake, I heard my son bellowing from his bedroom. Better nip this in the bud I thought. "Please be quiet and go to sleep. It's very late!" As if on cue and with the exact inflection and nasally tone of a weary mother my 3 year old daughter called out, "Please be quiet and go to sleep. It's very late!"

It's no use, I thought as I laughed into a cushion so as not to provide any more ammunition for the little mirrors upstairs. I'll just have to do the best I can and hope that one day they have children too and realise just how un-original they are!

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