I remember the first time I heard my mother use this expression,
“If all your friends jump off a cliff, will you?”
She said it to my brothers, who were in trouble. I think one of them laughed. And here’s an expression to explain why—she was “preaching to the choir”.
They were boys. They had returned home late, from a day of trolling the bayou behind our house with their friends. They had probably been looking for snakes. It is possible they jumped off a cliff (or worse) just before she asked this question. They were the opposite of anyone receptive to this advice.
Still, it wasn’t the last time we heard this adage and others like it.
Mothers have issued clichéd warnings and spewed lame expressions as long as children have done what they were told not to do 10,000 times.
Desperate to make a point, save face or save time, moms have used tired (“I’m not telling you again”) and rhetorical (“How many times have I told you?”) phrases ad nauseam.
I’m sure you remember those your mother used most. You probably even have a favorite. Here is mine:
“Because I said so.”
As a child I believed this to be the hollowest of all admonitions. Gutless, in fact. My eyes rolled every time my mother said it, even if it wasn’t to me.
The first time I used this expression as a parent, I put myself in voluntary time out. But (like mothers before and after me) I used it shamelessly when the right moment presented itself. And you know it did.
The beauty of this expression is its simplicity. A child knows the meaning of these four words at any age. When tempers flare and brain cells are fried, these four words are meant to end any argument and give Mom the win.
Unfortunately, simplicity is also its enemy. Pushback comes quickly in phrases like “That’s not a real reason.” or “What a dumb reason.”
In honor of my mom and moms before and after her, I enlisted English to smarten up this timeless warning. The next time you need a conversation killer (and you know you will), elevate those four words with one of these grammar repairs. One might be just the ‘reason’ your child deserves.
Fix # 1: If the situation is appropriate, substitute ‘due to’ for ‘because’.
Use “due to” only as an adjective, usually following the verb ‘to be’. Few parents think about adjectives and prepositions when faced with an insolent child. I find it helpful to keep my hands behind my back and take a deep breath. Then I ask myself if ‘due to’ can be replaced with ‘attributable to’.
Example: “The look of disbelief on my face is due to the fact that I have already given you 50 other reasons why you cannot play in the fireplace.”
‘Due to’ modifies the look on your face. A bit formal, but it fits the rule and gives the child the extra words he may need.
Fix 2: Be casual, but still correct, with “because of”.
When done right, it can make even the child wonder what happens next.
Example: “Because of your incessant arguing, I have completely forgotten who you are and why I am still standing here.” (Then walk away)
Fix 3: Use “since” in place of “because.”
Though not all grammar gurus agree, ‘since’ and ‘because’ can be synonyms. Because ‘since’ beckons more eloquent words, this may also be your chance to drive home one more point and have the last word.
Example: “Since you have no other means of transportation for the next week, my previous answer remains unchanged.”
If you’re a mom, I hope you feel better now about some of the dumb things you say.
And if you’re remembering things your mother said, SHOUT them out in the Comments Section.*** Please don’t let me be the only crazy.
***Admitting you have used these words yourself is, of course, optional.