I write for a living, so choosing words carefully has always been a priority for me—that is, when I type them or put them on paper. With talking, I’m just like everyone else. I chatter away (often to myself). I ramble. I snap. But now that I’m home a lot with my toddler, who picks up not just on every word I utter but my tone of voice as well, I’ve learned (the hard way) that I need to be more careful with what I say.
Case in point: I can no longer yell “shut up!” when our dog starts barking incessantly because the FedEx man had the gall to ring our doorbell. I can no longer lose my cool and F-bomb my way through a series of poop-on-clothing incidents, because my son will then rehash said F-wording for the remainder of the day. I can no longer freely engage in sarcasm because my son does understand the nuances of derisive speech and has been known to whip out his own version at the worst possible times (think doctors’ appointments or family gatherings).
But this has spilled over into other aspects of my life, too. Because I’m minding my language, I’m less likely to snap at my husband when I get annoyed. I’m less likely to raise my voice when the same telemarketer has called for the 13th time in a row and I want off his list, pronto. My son has, in many ways, forced me to be more respectful of others, from random slow drivers on the road to the people I hold nearest and dearest.
In fact, over the past few weeks, I’ve definitely done that thing they taught us back in grade school where you think about the message you want to convey, stop, and ask yourself, “Is there a nicer way to say this?”
That happened the other day with my husband. He made a suggestion that I found fairly useless and somewhat insensitive, and I was about to dismiss him with a classic, “That’s stupid,” when I realized my son was listening. I paused, and instead came back with a version of, “I don’t think that’s going to work, and here’s why.”
Of course, I’m only human, and for every occasion on which I’ve stopped myself from blurting out the first (and sometimes rudest) thought that pops into my head, I’ve had another where I’ve gone filter-free. But I’m trying.
And, because I’m so aware of the fact that my son absorbs and repeats everything he hears, I’ve been more mindful about avoiding lashon hara—or gossip—something that’s always been a challenge for me since I can, admittedly, be a very critical and judgmental person. But I’m also the type of person—and parent—who believes in leading by example. Telling my son to behave nicely at school and be kind to his friends is one thing; showing him how to act like a mensch is another. Left to my own devices, I’m not always a shining example of what it means to be caring and respectful, but with my son hanging on to my every word, I’m starting to change my ways in small but meaningful steps.
That’s not to say that I don’t still drop the occasional (er, daily) F-bomb. But I’m working on it. In fact, just yesterday, I managed to keep my cool when my daughter ruined her third outfit of the day, and a pretty white one at that. Though I’d normally be inclined to utter at least one expletive upon finding myself fingernail-deep in infant poop, I managed to keep it PG as I scrambled to clean my daughter before tackling yet another scrubbing session and soaking my cuticles in sanitizer. Hey, it’s a start.