Recently my oldest son Adam approached me with a look of disgust. "Stephen just said the F-word," he said. "He did WHAT?" I gasped, my heart in my throat. Adam looked over his shoulder and whispered, "You know….fart."
Bad words. Mean words. Disrepectful words. Words that are mean to your brother. Words that don’t please God. So much of parenting seems to be the managing of what comes out of these little creatures’ mouths. My sweet Adam, who has a conscience the size of a Mac truck, had another interesting conversation with me last week:
Adam: Mom, I’m ashamed of something.
Me: What is it?
Adam: When I go over to Joey’s house, he’s allowed to use some bad words. And sometimes I use them too, while I’m over there.
Me: What are the words?
Adam: [swallowing hard] "Shut up" and "stupid".
Me: Do you know why this is bothering you? [He looked up expectantly]. Because when you use words like that, you’re disobeying your parents. That’s sin, and God is pretty clear that when sin sits in your heart for a while, it’s going to hurt.
Adam: [Pausing for reflection] I know. But sometimes they’re so just so much fun to say!
This led to a long discussion about what makes bad words bad, and good words good. In the interest of picking battles, I even negotiated a little on adding a "borderline" word to our repertoire, with some boundaries (they can say "dumb", as long as they’re not applying it to a person.)
Like most families, we’ve developed an unofficial list of "off-limits words" and "use carefully" words:
"OFF LIMITS" WORDS: (other than the obvious four-letter variety): "stupid", "shut up", "hate", and a whole host of descriptors for bodily functions and parts that I omit here.
"USE CAREFULLY" WORDS: "dumb", "whatever" (that one drives me nuts), "darn" and "dang" (which they, um, learned from their mother)
Then, of course, there’s that all-important communication tool that matters (to me) even more than the words themselves: tone of voice. Not an easy thing to describe, is it? Seven-year-old Stephen has a penchant for putting a little too much fire in his tone, leading to our concern that he might, in fact, develop a taste for soap in his mouth someday.
So tell me, experienced moms out there…how do you make these decisions in your household? What’s your family list of "off-limits" words? How do you make those determinations? What kind of punishment awaits the offender? Any tips on keeping respectful tones coming out of their little mouths?