How Not To Talk About Your Kids

On a Thursday night about a year ago, I sat at the softball field waiting for my daughter’s softball game to start. I wasn’t watching her team warm up, though. I was watching for my parents to get there and claim their spots on the metal bleachers. They arrived just as the kids took the field.

“How are things tonight?” my mom asked.

That was what I had really been waiting for the whole time.

“Welllll…,” I took a deep breath and launched into a ten minute tirade about the trials of my afternoon. On and on I went, ranting about things that are pretty normal for the mother of a seven-year-old but which – on that particular evening – were my kryptonite. Homework and shoes that “don’t fit” and a forgotten softball glove and interminable tooth-brushing.

I won’t lie. It felt really good to get it off my chest. Later, as I drove home alone, the guilt settled in.

“You shouldn’t have done that. You ranted and vented and complained about your daughter – one of the most precious people in your life – in earshot of fifty strangers. You aired dirty laundry in front of all of those people. Do you feel any better? What did that accomplish?”

I felt terrible. I wanted to time travel to two hours earlier. I wanted to find myself on those bleachers, clamp my hand over my mouth, and tell myself not to do it. Not to let those words out. Not to seek relief that way. Not to slander her and unleash negativity all over the people around me.

Because here’s what I was thinking: she is my little girl. One of the two most important people in my world. But I had gossiped about her, spewing the worst parts of her personality and her struggles and her issues to the first person I could. Instead of speaking honestly about myself and my poor reaction to the day, I made it all about her.

“Everyone who heard that probably thinks I hate my child,” I thought, my heart sinking in my chest as the sun sank below the tree line. “And what do they think about her?”

It’s been on my mind for months now. I’ve gone back and forth and back again, wondering if I’m overreacting to something normal – a non-issue (as I am prone to do) – or if I’ve actually hit on something.

I mean, we all do what I did, right? We mamas hit social media when we’re having a particularly hard afternoon fraught with temper tantrums and homework struggles and missing library books and tooth-brushing negotiations. It’s expected that when a group of moms get together, there will be a certain amount of complaining venting talking about our kids and the things causing us the most grief. I even saw a Facebook page the other day that was launched for the sole purpose of giving moms a platform to talk about their kids – and not in a good way. The word brat was in the group name, y’all.

Yeah, we all do it. But is it okay?

My personal conclusion is this: we’ve been given our children as gifts. We’re called to steward them and nurture them into the adults God has created them to be. That is our purpose as their mamas, and speaking badly of them freely and without concern for them as people is not okay.

Now, inevitably, because our precious kids are broken and sinful (just like us, I might add), the process of stewarding their little hearts and nurturing their character is not always an easy one. It’s downright hard, and some days it feels impossible. There are so many repeated instructions and missing socks and lost permission slips and math worksheets and half-eaten snacks and dinner complaints and flooded bathroom floors. There are just so many things. So many. Every day. All the things.

And we manage it all. We do what we have to do, and all the while the steam in the pressure cooker is building.

Eventually, it has to get out. And sometimes, it happens on little league bleachers and coffee shop patios and Instagram posts. We need someone to nod and understand and agree with us that things are ridiculous and hard. We need someone to double tap a picture or give us a thumbs-up in solidarity.

Given a chance, we vent the pressure.

And I think that’s okay…………to a point. God created us for community, and part of relationships is sharing what we’re really dealing with. Faking it through life doesn’t do anyone any good. Believe me.

But here’s what I can’t get out of my mind: as wives, we’ve been told to speak well of our husbands. To love them by respecting them, even when they’re not around. As women, we know that gossip is destructive to friendships and tears the foundation out from under a community.

As mothers, though, we don’t hesitate to speak whatever we want, whenever we want, about our children.

We know it’s disrespectful and unloving and un-Christlike to speak of our husbands and friends that way. We know how it feels to have those kinds of words spoken about us. We know those things, and consciously try to steer away from that. But when it comes to our kids? No holds barred.

But is that not unloving? Is that not gossip? Is that not a sin?

And would it not hurt them deeply if they heard what you were saying?

This way of speaking is not what the Lord insists upon, and it bears no good fruit in our families. Maybe you’ve noticed this, too: when I’ve been complaining about my daughter to others, my words toward her are more unkind than ever.

With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? (James 3:9-11)

It’s as though once the spring has begun to flow, nothing can stop it.

God has been challenging me to be more aware of my words and my attitude about my daughter when I’m around others. I am really trying to keep my complaints to myself unless I know for sure that I am in a safe place – with a trustworthy person – where my words cannot be overheard or misunderstood. Even then, I’m not completely convinced it’s okay.

As surely as there is a time to share our struggles there is a way to share our struggles.

And the truth is, my struggles with parenting are not about my daughter. Yes, she can be difficult, but she is a child. Yes, she can test the limits of my patience, but she is a child. Yes, she can make my insides burn with anger, but she is a child. She is doing what children do.

The struggle is with me and my own sin. I cannot hide my sin behind hers. It’s not fair to cast the blame on someone who can’t yet reach the plates in the kitchen cabinets.

I’m the adult, and I have to act like one.

Set a guard over my mouth, LORD; keep watch over the door of my lips. (Psalm 141:3)

Amen and amen and amen.

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