A big part of parenting lies in communication

February 04, 2003|by Jo Ellen Barnhart

Take a Look!

Some things are easier to recognize than define. Take "The Look," for instance.

Traveling down an aisle of the supermarket the other day, I couldn't help but hear a mother snap, "Don't give me that look" to her defiant child.

"Yikes," I thought. "Give it up kid, you can't compete with the master." Even though he was a foot taller and 75 pounds heavier than his mother, the seemingly simple squint of the eyes could provoke a fatal reaction.

The Look can come from lots of people in your life, but mothers and wives are the only authorized individuals to give The Look.


At one time or another, we've all gotten The Look. You've done something or said something that made the room go silent or made people turn their heads. And early on, you learned to think before you speak. Why? Because you might get The Look.

How do I know? I am a mother and a wife. I am an authorized, card-carrying distributor of The Look.

Generally we use The Look to say "Stop!" Stop means quit what you are doing, abort what you are saying (even if you are in mid-sentence) and erase what you are thinking, right here, right now.

I used The Look several times in church this morning. I issued a specially formulated look to my 10-year-old. Instantly, he knew to sit up and be quiet. My husband received another look. His look was more complex and specific. Without saying a word, he took our youngest son to the restroom, drove to Sheetz for a Cuppocino and returned just in time to place an offering in the basket. After years of learning to decode my various looks, he has become a pro.

The Look is not always mean or instructive. We can give sympathetic looks, appreciative looks, encouraging and proud looks or even innovative looks. Of course, there is the infamous provocative look.

Researchers and other historians with too much time on their hands have uncovered some interesting history behind The Look. It is rumored The Look actually began in the early dawn of time, when man was first learning to chronicle his days on the walls of the cave in which the family dwelt. The story goes that the first Look was received when the missus shot her significant other a glance to "get that wounded wildebeest off my dining room wall."

Consider other moments in history: Helen of Troy, launching 1,000 ships with a wink and nod; Bonnie eyeing up Clyde for the first time; what about the look Hillary drilled at Bill for well for so many different reasons?

You have to understand that a big part of parenting lies in communication. Connecting on all levels with kids and husbands requires the ability to speak several languages. Since I have not understood the lyrics to a single song my 10-year-old now prefers to listen to, I have honed my skills on providing glances that gesture, motivate or hinder.

Men also have tried to develop a set of Looks of their own. They're still in the research-and-development stage. My husband used one of his so-called looks on our son the other day and was asked immediately if he had something in his eye. Better luck next time, big guy.

JoEllen Barnhart is assistant to the director for Frostburg State University's Hagerstown Center. She has three sons.

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