Umm…excuse me? An exasperated muttering from my TWO YEAR OLD?! Honestly, my wife and I were simply stunned for a moment. We are very careful in the way we speak to each other and to our children, and I’m sure we had let the forbidden “S” word slip before. But always about a THING, not in reference to any person. (Ok so maybe we use it far too often in reference to a certain family member of the canine persuasion…but hey, we’re working on that too…)
So where in the world did he get this! I mean, the disgust in his voice. And the intonation was clearly something being quoted… Meagan immediately began putting shows and movies on the “Do Not Watch” list, knowing he was copying something from TV. One day she finally heard it from an unexpected source, The Peanuts Movie. Innocent, right? Until that Lucy…she’s a harsh one… “Stupid beagle!” “Stupid dog!” Ahhhh, there it was…
But we’re not writing to blame Charles Schulz. He’s a treasure.
After those words, “Shtoopid, Mom…”, were blurted out, Hank served a good time out, with plenty of screaming and crying (we call him our passionate one), and we had a serious talk about the words we say, how they can hurt feelings, and why we don’t repeat mean things we hear from others. And DEFINITELY how we do, and do NOT, talk to Mom…
Meagan and I have a very similar worldview about parenting, and I am sure that a lot of that is from the years both of us spent teaching. We want our kids to understand key elements when they are in trouble:
–Why they are in trouble (calling Mom stupid)
–That choices have consequences (using the word stupid=time out & an apology to mom)
–We love them regardless of the choices they make (always, no matter what)
We have never been into shaming our kids or telling them that they are bad – we try to draw a very clear distinction between a poor choice and who they are. But even when I feel like we are doing parenting things well, I realize how much we still have to adapt.
As we moved past the “Shtoopid, mom!” incident, we noticed something heart breaking. A lesson we needed about raising kids and helping them grow and learn.
We continue to let the kids watch TV, and it is no surprise that the kids hear a character or even Meagan or I mindlessly say “stupid”. The first time it happened Hank turned to his mom with a somber face, much too burdened for a toddler, and quietly said, “They say shtoopid…like me.”
His heart was so heavy. It was an earnest confession. His big, bright eyes darkened a bit and sadness swelled in his inflection. A deeper story than a silly word learned on a TV show surfaced. Shame. He was intimately reliving sin, and feeling shame.
We have not tried to teach shame – he just feels it. His little heart knows that word got him in trouble, and he remembers it every time he hears it. I imagine it brings up the memory of sitting in time out after I very forcefully sent him there. Maybe it brings back the look of shock on his Mom’s face after delivering what he thought was a pretty good line he had learned.
Whatever emotions come up, Meagan and I do not want that for him. Obviously we want him to NOT say those words to us or anyone else, but out of recognition that hurting people is sinful. We want him to value others, to love them and demonstrate that love with actions. We don’t want him to cringe and crouch every time he hears that word, but rather know with confidence that he is called to love others, and that he has the strength to choose that.
And how often do we do this to ourselves? When confronted with a past mistake or bad choice, we feel shame. Our spirit is dampened, and we focus on that terrible feeling that we have disappointed or hurt someone. Long after an incident should be closed, we pry it back open again. We relive the shame.
How do we both recognize sin and live in freedom? To know forgiveness and truly be able to leave it behind? To learn from mistakes and move forward with joy knowing that we can act and love differently in the future? I imagine, as we have not perfected this mindset, that it comes with great and diligent practice. We recognize who we belong to, and why we choose to live and love the way that we do. We are known for our love for one another, not whether or not we use the word “shtoopid”.
So now, whenever he hears this word and turns to us to let us know, we try to encourage him a little. We thank him for recognizing that the word isn’t nice, but remind him he can choose to speak differently. We remember together it is always better to be kind to others, and always choose respectful words. Most times he smiles and promptly runs off to scale another bookshelf or jump off of whatever he was climbing on, but sometimes he climbs in our laps, gives us a hug, and delivers his precious, “I love you too,” even though we haven’t verbally expressed our love first. We are determined that he retain that being disrespectful and hurtful is wrong, but HE is not that bad choice.
Parenting is not an exact science. You do what works for you and your family. There could be great debate about the appropriate consequences for using ugly words. But I imagine that whatever your style is, you desire for your kid to grow and be strong. Take time to listen to their little hearts afterwards, even when they repeat the same lessons over and over. They are looking to us to either lift them up in love or validate their shame. We are trying daily, and sometimes it is a daily struggle, to lift them up even when we have to teach tough lessons.