Yep. You read that correctly.
I was born and raised in Louisiana by two New Orleanian parents — and one of them is from the Irish Channel. So you know back talk was absolutely forbidden when I was growing up.
We all have our varying definitions of “back talk” or “talking back,” but essentially it boils down to responding to your parent while being disciplined or given a task with anything other than “yes ma’am/yes sir” or some other form of compliance.
I hated this growing up. It felt incredibly unfair to be told what to do all. of. the. time. I felt unable to voice my opinion without being reprimanded for it. I felt like even when I had a good point, it didn’t matter — what mattered more was my obedience, because that somehow equated to respect. Therefore, “talking back” was disrespectful.
I don’t recall making a conscious decision to “do things differently” specifically regarding “back talk,” but three kids later and well … apparently I am.
For example, if I ask my girls to clear off the table for dinner, but they’re in the middle of painting a picture, I don’t mind at all if I receive a “can I finish my painting first, please?” in response. Heck, I don’t even mind a “I can in just a minute, Mom!” Because you know what? It bothers me to no end when I am visibly in the middle of a task and someone asks me to stop what I’m doing in order to do them a favor — and then becomes visibly annoyed with me when I tell them I need five more minutes.
Why should my children’s time and activities be less important than an adult’s? Does the table really need to be cleared off this second? No. And I’ve seen several benefits to this: allowing them to finish their task uninterrupted leads to them voluntarily helping my husband and I with household chores. It leads to them completing the chore I asked of them fairly quickly and without my help. It also shows them that I can be patient when they ask me to be, so when I ask them to wait for me to finish my own task, they are able to have patience. Because it was modeled for them.
Another reason I encourage “talking back” with my children is the ability to stand up for themselves and for others. I am a firm believer that everything — everything — starts at home, including having a back bone. If I want to instill into my children bravery, kindness, and respect, I have to provide opportunities for them to practice these skills. I also have to show them bravery, kindness, and respect in return.
Recently, my husband and my five-year-old daughter, Jo, had a heart-to-heart that I was luckily enough to be in the room for (unknowingly to her). My husband had a rough day that day — his patience was thin, he was grouchy, and obviously the kids picked up on that very quickly. I had to remind him several times throughout the day to take a breather or to change his tone, which is highly unusual for us — normally he has more patience than I do! But at bedtime, our youngest was having meltdown after meltdown, and my husband raised his voice in frustration and walked out the room.
Jo came to me a few minutes later and asked me, “Mom, is Daddy okay?” I said, “I think he’s having a hard time today. What do you think?” She responded, “Yeah, I think so. I don’t like the way he’s been talking to us today.”
I nodded and said, “I understand that. I think it would be helpful if he heard that from you. If you don’t like the way someone is speaking to you, the best way to change it is to tell that person you don’t like how they’re talking to you.”
She gave me a quick hug, put her pajamas on, and marched right on into my bedroom where her Daddy was taking a minute to himself.
“Daddy, I think we need to have a talk.”
My husband sat up and said, “Okay. What would you like to talk about?”
Jo: “I don’t like the way you’ve been talking to me and my sisters. You’ve been yelling a lot, and that hurts my feelings. We’re not even doing anything wrong.”
“I hear you. You’re right, I have been raising my voice and I am grouchy today. I’m sorry for raising my voice at you.”
Jo: “It’s okay, Daddy.”
“But I want you to know it isn’t okay. Even if you did do something ‘wrong,’ it isn’t okay to talk to you that way outside of an emergency situation. I’m working on it, okay? Please forgive me?”
Jo: “I forgive you, Daddy. You just gotta try a little harder next time, okay? It’s okay; you’re doing your best! But also, you can’t raise your voice at B like that. She’s too little.”
“Thank you, Jo. And I will go handle things with B. You’re right, she is little, but she’s also not listening at all today, and that can be very frustrating. Sometimes when people are frustrated, they yell. Don’t you yell sometimes when you’re frustrated?”
Jo: “Yeah, I do. But we have to try our best to *not* yell, Daddy.”
My husband smirked and tried his best not to laugh out of amused frustration.
“You’re right, we do. Let’s get to bed, okay?”
And then he went and made amends with our youngest, B, and everyone went to bed feeling heard, seen, respected and loved, even though our parenting wasn’t at 100% that day.
I’m not saying we’re doing everything right — but the absolute pride and joy I felt hearing my daughter stand up for herself and her sisters to her own parent? Indescribable.
This type of interaction would have never happened in the house I grew up in. And the gentleness and accountability my husband showed to his daughter? It is literally healing for me. It moves me to tears almost every time I hear him not only apologize, but explain why his actions/inactions weren’t acceptable, how his daughters deserve better, and how he is working at getting better every day.
Now, I’m sure you’re wondering how I feel when they “talk back” to me. And I have to say, it’s the same — I am proud. I have no issue taking however long it takes to explain things to my kids. I don’t mind answering twenty questions. If we don’t have time for explanations and questions, I just tell them that: “hey, I hear you and I want to answer you, but we have to get this done quickly. So let’s focus on what we need to do, and then I’ll be happy to answer your questions when we’re done.”
Sometimes my kids need to be reminded multiple times that I said we don’t have time for explanations right now, but this is developmentally appropriate for six, five, and three year old children. I cannot expect more out of them than they are capable of giving, and right now, they need multiple reminders and sometimes they don’t cooperate. That’s okay. I’m teaching them, and they’re teaching me. We’re learning together.
I’ve had my oldest daughter straight up tell me in the middle of me fussing her about something, “Mom, I don’t like how you’re talking to me.”
Once I removed the ingrained idea that this was “disrespectful” from my brain, it became quite easy to hear and see my daughter’s point of view. I now appreciate her honesty with me, because it gives me reality check: hey, my tone isn’t very respectful right now. And then I have an opportunity to change it and to be a kinder, more loving mother to my children.
And she’s not saying that just to avoid getting into trouble or answering for something she did/didn’t do — she’s communicating her feelings to another person, and her feelings matter. Whatever disciplinary action or natural consequence I was in the middle of discussing with her still stands, but I don’t need to be disrespectful about it. I don’t need to belittle her or make her cry. I just need to talk to her the same way I would speak to anyone else — and provide a safe space for her talk back.