Friday, August 19, 2011

I used bad words on my kids.

Hopefully not in our near future!
It’s always embarrassing when I spout off at the mouth.  No one would ever mistake me for a sailor, but there are certainly moments when my word choice is, to say the least, unbecoming.  Who hasn’t endured a moment where a heavy object fell on their toe, or a splash of boiling water seared their finger, and one of those words – the ones we usually refer to by only their first letter – involuntarily erupted?  Not wanting a young child to “out” me by repeating such choice vocabulary, I used to follow up with a series of decoy words.  For example, a carton of milk slips through my fingers and floods across the kitchen floor, and I blurt “Sh#(!” as it goes down, right in front of a very verbal 2 year old; if I think quickly enough, I followed it closely with, “Sugar!  Speedboat! Sassafras! Banana Split!”  If the practice didn’t completely confuse my daughter, it left only a 1-in-5 chance that she would drop a crayon in the church nursery and entertain her caregiver with a PG-13 expletive.  And what’s cuter than a little one who blurts out “Speedboat!” when they drop things!

10 years into this mom-thing, I’ve done pretty well at eschewing those words from even my non-voluntary speech patterns [sorry for making you look up eschew, but at least it’s a fun word you can repeat in mixed company].  In fact, my daughters have a nearly puritanical attitude toward word use.  It cracks me up every time I have to apologize for calling a malfunctioning appliance or misbehaving pet, “stupid.”  I’m not sure if their horror stems from a true belief that “stupid” is a really bad word, or if it’s the tone of disgust I’m using when I drop the S-Bomb.  I’ve tried several times to explain to them that it’s only a bad word when it’s directed at someone.  That strategy my someday backfire, however, when they decide to apply the same criteria to other words.

This week, we had an insanely frustrating afternoon, during which I hauled 20-some pounds of carseat and baby in and out of every store in town that carried children’s shoes.  As we were boarding the minivan at the end of the day, still empty-handed, my oldest began to snap at me for not buying her the ill-fitting and over-budget tennis shoes she had found at our last stop.  While I was in the midst of both reprimanding her for her tone and explaining to her that money is finite, so we do not waste it on items that do not suit our purposes, my middle daughter wanted something my oldest daughter had, and began demanding it, loudly and repeatedly.  Rather than honoring her with a response, I tried to finish the conversation with my older girl, before dealing with the younger, but she got louder and more insistent, the longer we ignored her.  In short order, the van was ringing with angry voices and the baby started to cry.  My older daughter added to the cacophony by starting her counter-argument before I finished my statement, leading to all four of us, baby included, raising our voices in ugly tones, at the same time, inside a closed up vehicle.  Completely frustrated, with my head and ears ringing, I went up another decibel to shout, “SHUT UP!"

The silence was instant – even the baby seemed to drop off in shock.  The big girls’ eyes got huge and welled up with tears.  I might as well have called them the B-word.  Or said I didn’t love them.  My heart was heavy; I was so frustrated, I took the cheap way out.  I knew using those words would have exactly that effect.  And I sold out my values to obtain silence.  I finished, calmly, explaining why we didn’t buy the shoes, then apologized for using those words, and told my middle daughter that I was sorry for how I said it, but I wasn’t sorry for making her stop interrupting, because she knew better than that.

We haven’t yet had an outbreak of “shut up” around the house, so hopefully they know that, even if Mommy says it, that doesn’t make it right.  And I realize that there are plenty of quality parents out there who use far harsher phrases on their kids than “shut up,” but I still get a little heavy hearted when I think of how hurt they were, because for our family, it was a verbal grenade.

A kind answer soothes angry feelings, but harsh words stir them up. Proverbs 15:1

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