Joco Diversions

The things they learn without us saying a word

From my parents, I learned the restorative powers of a short nap.
From my parents, I learned the restorative powers of a short nap. File photo

They’re watching us all the time. No, not some creepy stalker: our kids. From the moment they’re born, kids are learning from both deliberate and unconscious parental words and actions.

No pressure there. Nope.

It’s a good thing. Without us saying a word, kids learn how to behave, how to treat people, how to be a member of a family. It’s how kids learn to love.

When my children were little, there was a Teachable Moment around every corner. Those impromptu opportunities to wisely twist life into a lesson and say, “Kid, lemme teach ya’ somethin’ here!”

And then there were the Do What I Say, Not What I Do moments when they learned the rest.

No one is perfect. It’s easy to say, but hard to accept and putting into practice? That’s a whole ‘nother ball of tangled twine. Even as an adult it’s hard to not look at some people and think that they have it all: perfect finances, family and figure, heck, even their character flaws are charming.

News flash: Character flaws aren’t always charming. Speaking your mind isn’t always refreshing. Childlike isn’t always playful. Playful isn’t always appropriate.

And the kids are watching us do it all. Wouldn’t it be cool if we could use a mental Magic Eraser on them? “No, I didn’t mean to teach you that…” scrub, scrub. Instead, we have to look at the big picture and try to make sure that they pick-up more of our good qualities than our bad ones.

Without saying a word my own parents taught me to:

Always know which direction was north.

Adapt to changing circumstances.

Be resourceful and calm in an emergency, break down later.

Put family first.

Apply creativity as often as possible.

Respect the recuperative powers of a 20-minute nap.

But I also learned to have a long, slow fuse and a loud eruption when it burns to the end. I learned to sneak my vices, justify expenditures, and how to shove negative emotions down deep.

“You know Dad and I teach you things without saying anything, right?” I asked my 13-year-old son after I caught myself snacking while staring intently at nothing out the window, a habit I learned from my mother.

He gave it a little thought and agreed.

“What’s one good and one bad thing you learned by watching me?” I asked.

“Hmmm, well…a good thing that you taught me is how to crack a joke at a really bad time and make it work.”

“And a bad?”

“You taught me how to crack a joke at a bad time.”

He’s not wrong.

But what would the college-aged lad say? I texted him at school with the same question.

“You taught me how to get out of a situation before a fight starts.”

“Is that good or bad?”

“Good.” He’s a youth baseball umpire, I suspect that is, indeed, a good quality to have.

“How about bad?”

I saw the three dots flashing on my phone screen for a long time…he was writing…then stopping then starting again, before finally:

“Can’t think of much, you’re that damn perfect. (kissy emoji)”

“Excellent use of that skill of getting out a situation before a fight starts, Son.”

Two kids, two repeated answers? Weird, but a perk of three kids is that there’s a tie-breaker, I texted our college aged-daughter.

The good thing she learned from me? “I have your sense of humor and similar word choices.”

The bad…I’m not making this up: “I have your sense of humor and similar word choices.”

Did they pick up being lazy from me, too? Did I teach them all to be a smart alecks, or are they just really good at seeing one situation from two different angles?

I think the perfect answer to that is, “yes.”

Susan Vollenweider is a Kansas City based writer and podcaster. To listen to the women’s history or history-based media recap podcasts that she co-hosts, or to read more of her writing visit or