What it feels like to be an (imperfect) parent
Anyone who has had children has had this experience at one point or another:
Your child says something that stops the room. Immediately you're dumbfounded. Where did she learn that? you think. Maybe the next sentence out of your mouth is, "We don't talk like that. Where did you learn that? Say ______ instead."
Then it strikes you, like your subconscious is reaching into your head and squeezing your brain, telling you: You said it. She's just copying you.
These situations have the potential to create one or more of these:
- Awareness: This is the single most critical thing you can get out of this. Remember, any damage done is water under the bridge. Once words are uttered you can't take them back. So don't try. Focus forward. If you recognize there's a problem, you've accomplished the first step in resolving it, and ultimately preventing it.
- Embarrassment: In most societies people won't confront you on your word choice unless it's really bad or even a public attack on someone. So we go about our lives rather oblivious to the language that we're still carrying around from wherever we picked it up, elementary school, high school, a locker room, a party, a friend, even a TV show or movie. Language is rather contagious, which isn't always a good thing.
- Passing it on: Ibid. See above. If you don't change your language, and fast, your kids will copy not only everything you say, but how you say it. You may have said something really innocuous or silly, but the principle still holds true, and what's silly at the dinner table could be repeated somewhere else where it's not silly. And even more important, the words you use represent how you think and what you believe, which means you're passing on much more than vocabulary to your child. You're passing on attitudes and behaviors.. Take an extreme example: A lot of ridiculous, hateful racism persists today that should have died off years ago. Why? Racists had children. It's like second-hand-smoke.
- Confrontation: When a spouse or partner discovers an issue with your child's language before you, they'll likely be every bit as shocked as you are, and likely mad about it. They've known their partner well enough to know where the language came from. So there's now a choice: Talk about it in a constructive manner, or turn it into an argument. I recommend the former.
Obviously, it's good to be embarrassed. That's a sign of recognizing it's an issue. If you're not embarrassed, there's a much bigger problem: You. And you can't just look past it. That only serves to make the problem worse. The entire world is about reaching for a higher standard. Remember, adult racists turning their kids into little racists by osmosis, and that just damns them in a world that's inevitably becoming more progressive.
The biggest problem that I want to address here is much more simple, but often overlooked by both parents: Ego and reactivity,
As parents, we're just older and more experienced children. Nothing more. And when we become parents, we somehow accept this belief that we're supposed to know everything and be model citizens, when none of us are perfect. That's not the problem. The problem is when a parent reacts and confronts the other parent as if they should know everything. As spouses or partners, you probably spent years together acting and talking exactly the same way, only there wasn't a precious little toddler hyper-focused on everything you're saying in the room. Now there is.
This doesn't make the slip of the tongue right in any way. It needs to be corrected and it needs to be changed.
How should spouses act instead? It's unintuitive and yet simple and critical:
- Address the language coming out of your child immediately, and with a serious face and tone.
- Whoever it was who said it at home, acknowledge it. Apologize for saying it, and commit to never saying it again. And mean it. Children pick up on hypocrisy every bit as fast as they do words.
- The other spouse or partner should immediately be 100% supportive of the other parent. "Listen to your mother" or "Listen to your father" is all that needs to be said.
- If you find there's more to discuss between spouses for any reason, do it out of earshot and in private.
You're both just bigger children. And having children, the most wonderful happiness on this planet, is going to expose every single thing about you, whether you like it or not. It's not necessarily good, or bad. It just is.
Now you have a new choice: Determine if it's good or bad, and do something about it.