Labels are everywhere. They’re on clothes, food, toys, furniture, blankets, and more. Most of these labels are good! A few month ago we found our my daughter has an egg allergy and I gained a new appreciation for labels. These labels helped me be better informed and avoid eggs. Reading the labels on food is a great thing! Even if you don’t have an allergy, its good to know what we are putting in our bodies. For the most part, labels are there to provide helpful information.
Labeling people though can sometimes be quite the opposite. This kind of labeling can be damaging. I’m not talking about physical labels you can read. This is about the harmful (not helpful) labels we give and receive from others. Words we associate with them and sometimes even say out loud to their face. Obviously not ALL labeling of people is bad. It’s not bad for you kids to be able to label someone as a friend and someone else as a stranger. This can be helpful. My guess though, is that you have been on both the receiving and giving end of harmful labeling. It’s everywhere, it’s part of human nature. But that doesn’t mean we can’t do better. As moms, I think we can work on this problem and help better equip our kids to not participate in harmful labeling.
My mom has always been herself, no matter the label that others put on her. I really admire that about her, For example, my dad is a pastor and so she is a pastor’s wife. A lot of times people have certain expectations of what a pastor’s wife should or shouldn’t do. But I remember my mom not bowing down to that pressure. I can even remember her unapologeticly saying she was a pastor’s wife, but didn’t play the piano (a common stereotype for pastor’s wives, especially 20 years ago).
People will try to put labels on you, and some of them won’t belong. Don’t let those labels stick! Now of course that is easier said than done. It’s hard to not be influenced by the words and opinions of others. But the more you are rooted and grounded in your own identity, the less impact anyone’s words will have on you. Surround yourself with people who will help to build up that identity instead of tear you down it with their words and influence.
On the other hand, sometimes people can take a label you wear proudly and try to diminish it with one small word: “Just.” For example, maybe you have an acquaintance or colleague who dismisses you by saying, “Well you wouldn’t know, you’re JUST a mom.” Or: you’re JUST a working mom, you’re JUST a stay-at-home mom, you’re JUST a ____________ (fill in the blank). People may try to limit you by their words and opinions. But why should we let someone else tell us who we are? I love this quote by Rachel Hollis:
Someone else doesn’t get to tell you who you can be.”
Even if we dislike how it fees to be trapped by a label, it can still be hard to not be guilty of giving them. Maybe you find yourself labeling your kids, other people’s kids, friends or other moms. Some labels are helpful, as I mentioned earlier, like friend vs. stranger. But if the labels we are giving cause hurt and just tear down another person then that is an issue.
I’m going to reference my mom again because she is such a role model to me. I admire how my mom was good at not giving us kids labels. It may seem like a silly thing, but even placing labels on certain stages (terrible twos, rebellious teenage years) was something she avoided and still does. If we as adults don’t like to be labeled, why should we make our kids put up with it?
Kids hear and absorb way more than we sometimes give them credit for. I was reading an article recently on this subject and it made me reevaluate the words I say in front of my children especially if its ABOUT them. Maybe its a small thing like calling one of your kids the trouble-maker, the biter (currently a struggle with my toddler), the favorite, the shy one, the slow one, or whatever. Kids are hearing these labels even if they are mentioned in casual conversation. As parents we need to realize the power of influence in our kids lives. Use words with caution and consider how you might feel if you were your child.
The same applies to other relationships as well. Consider the words you use in talking about family, friends, and fellow moms. As moms we have enough hard stuff to deal with. There are battles to fight daily in motherhood. I don’t think we need to add harmful labels we give each other to the list. A little bit of consideration and kindness go a long way. And if we stop participating in this harmful practice, it can only make a positive impact.