I spent time last month with my wise mother and was reminded of the emphasis she places on avoiding childrearing conversation topics while kids are present and potentially listening. The first time this topic was raised, I was talking to her on my cell phone in the car while my son, then probably 15 or 16 months old, was sitting in the back seat. “He can understand more than you think he can, and he listens to what you’re saying,” she told me. “Let’s talk about it later, when he’s not with you.”
Discussing issues pertaining to our children is both natural and common for us as mothers and begins from the earliest days of their lives… breastfeeding, sleep schedules, fussiness, food selections, you name it. And of course a floppy infant has no idea what you’re talking about. But my mom’s right; their cluelessness is short-lived. And the habit of talking about parenting issues in front of one’s child is an easy one to develop – and then forget about, even once the child is cognizant of what’s being said. Or at least that he is the topic of discussion.
I probably would have given this issue little thought if it weren’t for my mom, but ever since she brought the matter to my attention, I’ve pondered it a good deal. It’s surprising how frequently we moms talk about our kids with our friends, or their dad, or other moms – whomever – when they’re right there in earshot. Discipline issues, a child’s strong will, negative behaviors, challenging moments – I’ve noted all these things being discussed by moms in front of kids, with little regard to their presence. And it’s easy to do, right? I mean after all, our kids are with us at least 75% of the time, so if we do actually get a chance to converse with another adult, topics such as these are easy ones to raise. We aren’t even necessarily complaining or bad-mouthing our children in these conversations, just working through parenting issues.
But I agree with my mom that it’s not wise or even really fair to our kids to do this. It’s not that those things shouldn’t be covered as we seek advice and affirmation from our friends, mentors, and peers about parenting… It’s just that our kids shouldn’t feel that we are talking about them with others, much less hear us vent our feelings or challenges where they are concerned. If they do hear us talking about them with others – shouldn’t it be our saying something positive about them, affirming their good qualities in others’ ears? (After all, that’s how we like to hear ourselves spoken of by others, isn’t it?)
At root, I think it’s a question of honor and respect. While the Bible focuses preeminently on the honor that children are to show their parents, it’s also true that we parents should be honoring our children. “Show proper respect to everyone,” said Peter; “honor one another above yourselves,” wrote Paul. And “everyone” and “one another” includes our kids.
The definition of honor is “to treat with honor (honesty, fairness, or integrity in one’s actions); to show a courteous regard for.” When we discuss our children with other people in front of them, we aren’t showing a courteous regard for them. As I’ve realized this, I’ve tried hard to resist the impulse to discuss my kids with others – whether on the phone or in person – when they are present with me, even using veiled language to do so (which tends to be my compromise with myself, thinking, ‘if I say it this way, they won’t know what I mean.’) I certainly am not perfect here, but I’m praying that God will give me the grace and discipline I need to honor my kids in this and other ways as He would have.