It happened yesterday. In a moment of frustration, I yelled out the queen-mother of dirty words while driving and Beatrix repeated it a second later.
I knew this was coming, of course. She's been learning new words left and right these days and copying other harmless phrases. But though my slip-ups have been frequent as little sleep and caring for two needy little ones has taken its toll on my patience, we'd managed to avoid this particular problem until now. A few days ago, she picked up, "Come on!" from me, but that was just cute. This, this is not cute. This is a one and a half year old with a potty mouth.
For the record, the conversation was quickly diverted to ducks in which I called out, "Duck! Quack quack!" about a dozen times to make sure she understood it's just something we adults say loudly. She laughed appreciatively and responded with all the appropriate animal noises when requested. I don't really expect her to say the word again - the F-dash-dash-dash word - but she might. If something really bad happens, she might. And I'll be very, very ashamed of myself.
This whole ordeal reminded me of a post that I wanted to write way back when Bea was born, but that I never got around to. Perhaps I can prevent further damage to my poor daughters' ears if I get this out now.
Everyone knows they should watch their mouth around little kids. It's a natural thing, "ear muffs" and all that. We see children in their innocence of the world around them, we think maybe they don't have to know all the garbage we know, maybe they can live differently, maybe they can keep their mind clean for a little longer. Now, I don't believe that children are sinless, but I do believe that many sins, or just bad habits, are taught and most often by the people closest to them, their parents.
This is not rocket science, of course. We all know that our children are learning from us, but realizing the enormity of the responsibility of how much they are learning from us is terrifying. In the early days of being a mom (ha ha, as if I'm so far into it now!), I thought a lot about my words and what they could be conveying to Bea as she learns and I realized there is a whole lot more to "watching your mouth" than just avoiding profanity. This is what I mean:
"8 Other Ways to Watch Your Mouth"
1) Don't lie. When you tell your child you'll do something, follow through. That goes for discipline, rewards, promises, plans. If you have to change what you said you'd do, explain why.
2) Don't triangulate. New parents will find how easy it is to slip into a constant rhythm of baby-speak where everything you say is directed to the baby, probably from some healthy motive for good interpersonal skills and language development. However, what's not so good is how easy it is to also talk to your spouse through your child, and sometimes it's downright passive-aggressive. "Mommy has to take out the garbage because Daddy didn't do it when Mommy asked." or "Oh! Is Mommy too distracted on the internet to play with you? Come sit with me!" Don't do it. It's ugly. Practice good, straightforward communication with your spouse. You'll need it if your marriage is going to stand a chance.
3) Don't be self-deprecating. One of my worst habits, which Thom is helping me correct, is that I always say something like, "I'm so stupid!" or "I'm an idiot!" whenever I make a mistake. I have a real problem with this, holding myself to impossible standards. I do not want my kids to inherit that way of thinking or speaking. Along these lines, degrading your appearance is right out, especially in front of little girls. Don't talk about your body in a negative way. The whole world will be feeding that junk to your daughter. Please, be the one voice that doesn't reveal discontent, jealousy, or self-loathing about the skin God has given you. If someone pays you a compliment, take it well. Don't brush it off with false-humility or by pointing out unseen flaws.
4) Don't be judgmental. (Of your kids too, but just in general.) I am terrible at this, have been my whole life. And when I look into my family history, I see a line of judgmentalism that runs deep. We're snobs, let's face it. I'm not sure where we got it from, we're certainly not bred from aristocracy; we're just a family with strong values and a lot of black-and-white where others might see grey. My greatest prayer as a parent, apart from the salvation of my children, is that my own judgmentalism will not be passed on to them. I want my girls to grow up with strong values, knowing right and wrong, but I want that to be cultivated with a grace and compassion for others. I could write volumes on the ways this plays out in everyday life, but simply put, this may just look like not pointing out others faults simply as a means of feeling superior, or being generous with compliments towards others.
5) Don't be sarcastic. Okay, not forever. I like sarcasm too much to throw it out completely. I'm just not that sincere of a person. But with children, I think it's best if you let it go. Once they start developing their sense of humor and vocabulary, you will get a feel for what sarcasm they understand, but besides that it's just kind of cruel and brings you back to #1. Say what you mean; your kids need to learn to trust you.
6) Don't talk badly about your relatives. One of the best ways to screw your child up is to let them in on all of the family drama too early. Don't. They don't need to know about who's fighting with whom, or who's being financially irresponsible, or who's headed for divorce, or whose political or religious beliefs irritate you, or who's being overbearing and manipulative. Children should be allowed to love their grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins freely without the weight of all the family stress we know as adults. Let them love the holidays and save your debriefing until you and your spouse are alone after the kids are in bed, not in the car on the way home where they can hear every word you say.
7) Don't disrespect your spouse. Remember your marriage is a model of Christ and the Church.
8) Don't talk about money like it is your god. I previously thought that you shouldn't talk to kids about money or money problems because you wouldn't want your kids to suffer from the guilt or stress of money; something like "We can't buy that toy because we don't have enough money!" might make some poor child worry about the welfare of his family. I don't think that anymore. While I probably wouldn't say that exact sentence to my child, I think we should be teaching our kids about money whenever possible and be extremely open with them about where it comes from, what we do with it, and how to use it responsibly. Part of this is making sure that we talk about God's provision for us, being contented and trusting in Him, and that we don't emphasize panic, fear, or remorse about not having "enough" money. Part of this is not talking excessively about wanting 'things' or disparaging the things that we have. Another part is not idolizing the wealthy. And yet another part is giving generously.