Brat. Turd. Punk. Monster. A**hole.
These are all names I have seen parents call their children on Facebook in just the last few weeks. Parents. Not a random adult talking about another random child. Parents, about their own kids.
I’ve listened to parents bemoan the inconvenience and burden that their kids are to them. “Kids are such a hassle.” “Kids ruin everything.” “I wish my kids would just go away.”
Then there’s this video that went viral at the start of the school year. The video was intended to show support for classroom teachers and all they do for our kids (and as the daughter of a public school teacher, I appreciated that). But the video made me squirm in my seat as I listened to her go on and on about how much she would give her kids’ teachers just to take them off her hands. The way she talked about her kids made me physically uncomfortable.
I know that many parents who talk this way do so somewhat facetiously. What is said in jest or out of temporary frustration is not indicative of their overall performance or feelings as a parent.
So, then, why do we (because I’m not exempt from making a few regrettable statements about my kids myself) say things like this? Why do we call our kids names or talk about them in such a way that would hurt them if they ever read our posts or heard our conversations?
It may not seem like a big deal – we’re “just joking” – but I think it is. And my conviction about my words and their power has led me to vow not to call my children names.
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Two Reasons Parents Make Derogatory Remarks
It is not my intention to judge or condemn parents who talk this way. I know I’ve made careless remarks about my kids. And I know that many parents who make these kinds of statements are otherwise loving and nurturing parents.
So why do great parents say mean things? Here are the two biggest reasons:
Most of the time when parents disparage their kids, it’s to get a laugh. Parenting is hard, and there’s a sense of solidarity achieved when we share our common struggles. And a lot of times it is harmless. Kids are challenging, and finding joy in the midst of the challenge lightens the load a little.
But there’s a big difference between sharing a laugh about our kids and sharing a laugh at the expense of our kids. Posting a picture of your toddler having a meltdown because you wouldn’t let him lick the M&M display at the store? (Yes, this actually happened.) That’s funny. And soooo relatable. Calling him a brat or a monster for having said meltdown? Not so funny.
It’s a fine line that runs between the two, and I’ve walked on the wrong side a time or two. But a good question to ask when deciding whether to post something is, “Would my child be embarrassed or hurt if he or she were to see this?” If the answer is yes, don’t post.
The other big reason we say things we shouldn’t is out of frustration. In the heat of the moment, we say things we don’t mean to release feelings we don’t want. But as Karen Ehman says in her book Keep It Shut, “Don’t say something permanently painful just because you’re temporarily ticked off.” This has become a mantra for me over the years, and while I am nowhere near perfect, it has kept my mouth shut on many occasions.
Why We Shouldn’t Call Our Kids Names
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21
This verse shows us that our words have power. They bring life or they bring death. In this case, they bring life or they bring death to our attitudes. They bring life or death to our relationship with our children. And they bring life or death to our children’s thoughts about themselves, their identities, and even their futures.
Let me explain what I mean by each of these.
Life or Death to Our Attitudes
The words we say on a regular basis are never neutral. They’re not meaningless. They’re never “just words.” They seep into our minds and infiltrate every nook and cranny until our thoughts are steeped in them. They color the way we perceive things in our lives. Every view, attitude, and emotion is colored by the influence created by our words.
The way we talk about our kids will shape our attitudes toward them. Even if there was no chance our kids would ever hear them, the words we say about them outside of their presence would eventually affect how we treat them in their presence. Which is the first reason we should be mindful of how we talk about them at all times.
Life or Death to Our Relationships
Who among us desires a close relationship with someone who calls us names and complains about us all the time? (Sure, there may be relationships like this, but they aren’t healthy ones.)
If we want our kids to come to us, to respect us, to seek us out, then we should be intentional about cultivating that kind of relationship. We can’t expect them to run to us for long if we’re constantly pushing them away. They aren’t going to stay where they’re not welcome.
Life or Death to Their Identities
I think sometimes we forget that our kids are just little people. They catch more than we think, understand more than we think, internalize more than we think.
Our words to them and about them have a powerful impact on their thoughts about themselves. While their identities should always be based on God first and foremost, the fact is that we hold a lot of power in their formation. We contribute sweeping brushstrokes on the canvas of their identities, the foundational blocks that they will build upon and further define.
The way we speak to and about them on a regular basis becomes their inner voice. That voice will either tell them they can or tell them they can’t. It will tell them they are precious and full of value or tell them they’re common and worthless.
My convictions about the power of my words has led me to make the following commitment:
- I will not call my children names that undermine their value.
- I will speak life-filled affirming words to them and about them.
- I will not use humor or frustration as an excuse to put them down.
- I will not say out of their presence what I would not say in front of them.
- I will speak words that are consistent with their Heavenly Father’s thoughts and purpose for them.
Of course I realize that we all say things we don’t mean (read my review of Karen Ehman’s bestselling book Keep It Shut to find out how I’m learning to curb my tongue), and I don’t expect myself to be perfect. But I do think it’s a goal worth setting.
I don’t think how we speak to and about our kids is anything to mess around with, even in “good fun.” Yes, it gets us a good laugh, and yes, it helps us vent our anger and frustrations sometimes. But at what cost?
There are times that I need to share my struggles with another mom or Godly advisor, but these should not be the norm and should always be said with a motive of seeking wisdom. Other than that, my complaints about my children are careless at best and damaging at worst. Our words have the power of life or death, and I want mine to bring life.
And that’s why I won’t call my kids names.
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