It doesn’t take long after you deliver your baby that you start talking shit about it. It’s part commiserating with other adults and part therapy. Sometimes babies are jerks, and you gotta get it off your chest.
“The little turd waited until I got him changed into pajamas after his bath before having a huge blowout.”
“She won’t sleep! I rock and sing and sway and coo and the bottle-feeder just won’t go to sleep. I think she hates me. Just wait until she’s older, and I wake her up at 2 a.m.”
When they’re babies, all this talk doesn’t matter because they don’t even know they have feet let alone have the ability to grasp the fact that you’re bitching about their spit up. But as they get older, they become more aware. They learn their name and your name and the words describing things around them. They pay attention, they pick up on context, and before you know it, they understand what’s happening. They hear what’s being said, and they internalize it, and those words you say are molding their little brains and personalities into who they’re going to be.
Because of this, please don’t talk shit about your kids to your kids — or within their earshot.
It’s one thing to sit down and talk with your kids about their behavior. If they threw sand at another kid at the park, if they yelled a curse word at preschool, if they were rowdy in the grocery store, have a talk with them. Be calm and loving and strong, and use it as a moment to teach them how to practice decent behavior and not look like an asshole. Those conversations are what parenting is all about.
But if your kid refused to nap all day and painted all over the walls with your nail polish, and then threw their entire Hot Wheels collection at the TV thereby shattering the screen, don’t tell them to their face they’re being an asshole. Don’t even say those words when they’re within earshot and conscience. I know you need to get it out, you need to air your grievances, you need someone to commiserate with you about how out of control your kid was today, but do not take it out on the tiny offender. Wait until they’re passed out for the night or you’re in the Target parking lot while they’re at home with Dad, and then bitch away. Call your mom, your best friend, your therapist, whoever it is that can listen and validate your feelings.
That’s the thing — we can talk shit about our kids. We need to talk shit about our kids. We just can’t talk shit about our kids to our kids or in front of our kids. It can seriously scar them for life. I know it seems innocuous to tell your mom over dinner that little Jimmy is struggling in kindergarten while Jimmy is at the table too. I know it seems like he’s immersed in building a cave with his mashed potatoes. But he can hear you. He understands. And while you think you’re just making conversation, he likely feels ashamed or that there’s something wrong with him.
Kids are always listening and absorbing the world around them, and we need to be cognizant of that. We need to be aware of what we’re saying when they’re within earshot so as to protect them and their fragile minds and self-confidence. Don’t come at me with the “special snowflake” argument either, because looking out for the emotional development of our children is not harming them. In fact, it’s ensuring that they grow up to be well-adjusted, self-secure adults who don’t overuse insults like “special snowflakes” in the comment section of positive-parenting articles.
We as parents need to know that it’s totally okay to bitch about our kids, make no mistake about that. It would be unhealthy for us to keep it all in or pretend that nothing is wrong. But there’s an appropriate time and place for it. When we’re out with our girlfriends, texting our partner, or after they’re in bed are all good times to express that you’re scared you’re raising an asshole. Talk and yell and cry. Do what you gotta do to get it out of your system. Just make sure a little rugrat isn’t around to hear you.