There’s a thin line between wanting your children to be safely quarantined against the harsh world and wanting them to be prepared to hold their own in a landscape that is shifting, and increasingly for the worse. Someone said “MF’er” in front of my children the other day, and I wanted to slap her 10 ways from Sunday.
How dare she expose my children to something so harsh, so incendiary, so soon! After all my time of saying “fudge biscuit,” “shnikey,” and “Jehosophat,” how could someone hand my children the very verbal weapons I was trying to keep from them at all costs?
But after holding my tongue, and thinking about it some more, I realized that it’s not such a bad thing for them to hear such words. It’s the context that those words are in that is important, because then it becomes a teachable moment instead of something full of chagrin.
Pretending that this woman didn’t say what she said would have been foolish because kids pick up things even if they don’t talk about them. The key is to talk about it in the moment. So, five minutes after the incident, I sat my oldest down and talked to her about bad words, about why people say them, and about how we shouldn’t say them. It turns out she had heard what the woman said earlier. She just hadn’t mentioned it.
That’s the glory of having children, honestly. They take in so much more than they let on, hording everything until such a moment when they deem it worthy to share. Most of the time the moments they choose are highly inappropriate. So why not take those times that fall into our lap, instead of wincing and hoping they didn’t hear, to educate them on the words we should use and the ones we should avoid?
My mother was all for leaving it alone, for pretending it never happened, and as I got older I faulted her for this. I knew the whole cadre of words, but I never said them. I held them all inside, until I became a teenager, and I got a few friends. That’s when they call came tumbling out, and at the worst times. That’s how I know it happens. I know what she thought, that she was shielding me from the harshness of the world, and I am grateful for her motives, but the world gets in anyway.
And maybe it’s just the world we live in nowadays too, the widespread belief that anyone should be able to say anything to anyone at any time without fear of reprisal. Perhaps it’s the me-first mentality that permeates our nation and our world. Or it could just be the parents who swear at their children every single day, who see nothing wrong with using that language. Whatever it is, though, our kids are exposed more than we were growing up, so there are more moments to be there for them, to explain why those words are wrong to say, to teach them how to stay on this side of that thin line.
Or we could simply go with our baser instincts and slap that woman 10 ways from Sunday. That’s still an appealing choice to me even though I know it’s wrong. I blame the world we live in.