Ann Bailey: Children cause me to eat my words -- in a good way

Ann Bailey

Most of the time when parents talk about their children repeating their words, they detail their son’s or daughter’s use of inappropriate language. Kind of like the song “Watching You,” the No. 1 hit by Rodney Atkins.

“Well, then my 4-year old said a four-letter word that started with "S," and I was concerned so I said “Son, now where did you learn to talk like that? He said, “I’ve been watching you, Dad, ain’t that cool, I’m your buckaroo, I wanna be like you ….”

That’s one of those humbling parenting moments that leaves us at a loss for words because it’s impossible to come up with a legitimate defense. All we can do is tell our children that we make mistakes, too, and will try to do better.

But, as a parent, I’ve also learned that giving our children wise advice also can result in “right back atcha” moments that are equally humbling.

That happened to me the other day when I started second-guessing myself about a gathering I had offered to host at our farm. When I made the offer, early October seemed a long way off and there would be plenty of time to spruce up the farmstead before the gathering. But between Ellen’s cross country meets, our day jobs and other, more pressing work like baling straw, our nights and weekends passed without getting my “spruce-up to-do list” done.


Last Sunday, it hit me that there was only three weeks left before the event and all of my Saturdays before that were full. In a panic, I messaged my co-planners and asked if we should schedule the event somewhere else. When I told Ellen about my proposed change in plans, she responded by asking “why?” and I started in on a litany of things I hadn’t got done and probably wouldn’t; painting the horses’ fences, painting the front steps, trimming trees….

Ellen listened patiently and then said: “Mom, no one is going to notice if the fences or steps are painted or if the trees are trimmed. They’re just going to be happy to be here and have a wonderful time.”

I had no credible response to her because she was right. Moreover, Ellen was telling me essentially the same thing I had told her many times: “Don’t sweat the small stuff. It will be fine.”

After I gathered my thoughts, I told Ellen that she was absolutely right. While I was embarrassed to be caught in a hypocritical moment, I also was glad that she had taken my advice to heart and remembered it.

That incident reminded me of a similar situation a few years ago when I was bemoaning to my son, Brendan, that his younger brother Thomas didn’t make it to the state wrestling tournament -- it was Thomas’ senior year -- and I would never again get to see him wrestle. Brendan told me that, yes, it was disappointing but that people learn from adversity and that God had bigger plans for Thomas down the road.

Of course, Brendan was right: Thomas now is a machine gunner in the U.S. Marine Corps and thriving in his military career. I think about my serious disappointment at Thomas not making it to the state wrestling tournament and feel sheepish -- as I did when Brendan gave me his take in response to that disappointment.

Still another humbling moment was when I asked Thomas how he made it through the rigors of Marine boot camp. His reply: “I told myself ‘Everything that starts, ends.’” In his words, I heard the echo of my own “This, too, shall pass.”

Yes, our children are watching us, but as another verse of Atkin’s song says: “He closed his little eyes, folded his little hands and spoke to God like he was talking to a friend and I said “Son, now where did you learn to pray like that? He said “I’ve been watching you dad, ain’t that cool….”


As a parent, I hope that I will continue to get my “comeuppance” from my children as a result of those kind of moments.

Ann is a journalism veteran with nearly 40 years of reporting and editing experiences on a variety of topics including agriculture and business. Story ideas or questions can be sent to Ann by email at: or phone at: 218-779-8093.
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