One crisp fall afternoon, much like the chilly days we're having now, all my sweet school-aged children came filing into the house after being dropped off by the bus. All their precious little faces running over to me with smiles on their lips, giving me hugs and telling me how much they missed me while they were away. I relished each one of their squeezes and savored their squeals.
Our oldest son, Sebastian, who was in second grade at the time, tossed his backpack on the table, walked over to me for a little hug and just as he was releasing me said,
"Hey Mom, what does 'f**k’ mean?"
Friends, I promise you all the blood drained from my face, knots formed in my stomach, and I instantly wanted to hide.
What the heck, man! You couldn't have asked this when your dad was home?! This is what I was thinking.
What I said (very awkwardly) was, "Oh honey! You learned a new word! <insert uncomfortable smile here> Can we talk about this later tonight when the rest of the kids are in bed? We can have some special time together."
Thankfully, this excited our son, so he dropped the conversation and sat down at the table and began his homework. Meanwhile, my head was imploding as I frantically texted my husband for input on how to handle my impending doom.
Several hours later, with all of my remaining angelic children in bed, hopefully dreaming of fluffy clouds and cute teddy bears, I made hot chocolate for Sebastian while I resigned myself to the conversation at hand.
For the next hour, my son and I discussed the many new words he had learned on the bus that day, all their correct definitions, the definitions people think they have, and all the various ways those words are used (some of which make no sense at all).
I'm not going to lie. That was hard for me. The few times I tried to curse in my life ended up in complete failure after which I had been immediately ridiculed for the pathetic attempt to be "cool." So sitting here with my child, listening to him say these words, suppressing my desire to cover my ears - I'd like to think I was guarding my heart rather than showing immaturity - took all of my strength.
Not only did I have to listen to these things come out of his little mouth, but I had to say them myself so we could form an actual conversation. While I don't think it was military grade profanity, it certainly went well beyond what I'm comfortable with hearing in a movie.
You may be wondering why would I do that. Why have this uncomfortable conversation with my 8 year old instead of just telling him we don't use that kind of language and forcing him to let it go? I'm the adult in that situation, therefore able to enforce my 'right' to pull out the parent card. So why do it?
Because I need Sebastian to know our home is safe. We need all of our children to know they are safe.
Our kids need to know they can ask us anything without fear. They can tell us anything without judgement. They can confide in us, trust us, vent to us, question us, and run to us whenever they need us. Not just when it's convenient for us.
I can't imagine anything more scary than for our children to grow up feeling they aren't safe in our home. We will mess up plenty as parents. We'll fail them in hopefully not too many ways. We'll miss the cues that they need help in something or want to talk as they get older. But what we never want them to feel is unsafe.
Allowing Sebastian to come to me with those words, which I'm sure he recognized we don't use in our home, without repercussions taught our son that he's allowed to ask me questions. My husband had to prove himself in a different opportunity and I had to continue to prove myself as the conversations and questions got harder (which they did). But that evening, I was able to show Sebastian our home is safe for questions AND I will give him honest answers.
Because that's the second piece to this. We must be a safe place for our children to run to AND we must be honest with them when they do come. It's not enough just to be kind in our response to whatever infraction on our comfort they've made. That is incredibly important, but it's not all of it.
We must also tell the truth. Kids know when we're dancing around an answer, brushing them off with a quick response, or flat out lying to them. And, believe it or not, those moments when we choose not to answer our children with age-appropriate truths put little holes in their trust towards us.
When we are more concerned with what we're comfortable with, rather than what is emotionally and mentally best for the relationship we have with our children, we are choosing ourselves over our kids. We are choosing to put ourselves first. We are saying in these little moments that we are more important that our kids.
I fully believe in age-appropriate conversations - there's no reason for me to initiate a discussion about human trafficking with my 6 year old - but when one comes to me with a question, it means they've already learned something about that topic somewhere else. Ignoring it shouldn't be an option or they'll choose to go back to that other source. I would even venture to guess that in most cases (think conversations of pornography and sex) if our kids are coming to us with questions we're already late in the game. Avoiding those conversations are detrimental to our kids in more ways than I will discuss now.
We have these opportunities, these seemingly little moments, to prove to our children what we're probably already telling them. They can trust us. But is that the truth? Can they trust us? It's in these uncomfortable conversations where we find the answer.
Shortly after that night with Sebastian, my husband had the first conversations about sex, money, faith, and integrity with him. Then I had a similar conversation about curse words with our second son (which, thankfully, I blushed far less through). When our children have questions about things they've heard on the bus, in movies, at school, they know they can ask us. We've discussed homosexual relationships, immigration, sexual abuse, financial debt, and racism. And we've told them the truth to the best of our ability with as many different perspectives as possible.
A few years ago we faced a particularly difficult period when we told our children we'd no longer be seeing some close family members until some drastic changes were made in their behaviors. Guess what. Our children trusted us in that decision. They were broken-hearted, as we were, but they trusted us to make the best decision for our family. And when they ask about those family members now, we continue to tell the truth about the situation. We have conversations with them. They ask questions and we give answers. We don't brush off their concerns, their pain, their confusion. We don't minimize anything they ask, even when their questions are painful for me to have to answer time and time again. Their trust in me is more important than my comfort or my own pain.
So bring on the F-bomb. Bring on discomfort. If it means our kids feel safe in our home, then give me the opportunity to show them just how loved and safe they are. It allows me to practice with these little things so I'm ready for the big ones, the game changers.
It is an honor for me to be uncomfortable for my children's sake. And it is a privilege to be trusted with their questions. They may only ask them once.