~ by Dena Hobbs
My daughter came to us from China at 13 months old not speaking a word of English. My husband stayed at home with her during her first year in our family and her language bloomed under his care. I stayed at home with her during her second year with us, and her language, well let’s just say it expanded in new ways.
There is an often told story regarding an evening at dinner with my parents during this time period. We were at a restaurant that gave children crayons and coloring sheets to keep them entertained. My daughter was busy scribbling away until she accidentally dropped her crayon on the floor. Without missing a beat she exclaimed, “Aw shit” in my own southern drawl. I just stared at my plate while all eyes glared at me. There was no doubt where her new choice of words came from.
After that I started minding my words and cleaning up my language, for I had learned that what I say my children will surely mimic.
Fast forward ten years to a tense time in our nation and a controversial presidential campaign. I had thought I was speaking well to my children, explaining to them what was happening in our country and world without making them afraid. Telling them what our values were and how that influenced our political choices.
And then we began watching clips from both parties’ national conventions with them and I heard the words that came out of my children’s mouths. Words that were barbed insults. Words that called people names. Words that were sharp and mean.
And just like at that restaurant years ago I realized what I was hearing were my own words coming out of my children’s mouths.
It turns out that though I had been minding my words on social media and in public conversations, at home I had been letting things fly out of my mouth without thinking. An easy thing to do in times like these. But I had forgotten that my children were listening. And I had forgotten how this affected my own soul.
While I pray everyday for unity and reconciliation in our country between races and parties and all the people who have lined up as “us verses them”, I had forgotten to pray for my own mouth and the words that come out of it.
Because it is just harder to reconcile with someone whilst you are calling them a stupid idiot.
Because before we soften our hearts to people we have to soften our words.
So these days I am trying to do a better job of minding my words. The four letter kind, the angry kind, the inflammatory kind. I am trying to speak about how I am feeling or thinking rather than just using my words in frustration to label someone as bad or wrong.
Hopefully softening my speech will allow me to better communicate with those who are different than me. Hopefully it will lead to mutual listening rather than the shouting of names at each other across streets and aisles.
And communication and reconciliation with those I disagree with is something I will be proud for my children to mimic. Something they have to learn to mimic if our nation has a chance for healing and change.
So how about you? How are you minding your words over these next few months? How has language impacted your family and community in these times?