Open Mouth, Insert Foot. Then What?

Have you ever thought something about someone else and said it out loud not thinking anything of it?

We all have…so don’t lie to yourself. This whole motherhood thing has so many different options and ways to do things that everyone has their opinion or different way of making it work for them and their family. Maybe you agree with the way this mom disciplines her kids, maybe you don’t. Maybe you formula feed your babies, but your best friend breastfeeds hers. Maybe you feel very strongly about organic food, while some of you could literally care less. The list could go ON and ON. 

But what do you do when you voice your opinion and the mom you are talking about hears you AND calls you out?

You own up. You apologize. You don’t just stand there deer in headlights. Don’t do what I did.

Here’s the thing. This is a lesson that we all try to teach our kids when they are little. We have all heard it a hundred and one times.

“If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

So when did it become acceptable as parents (yes, dads do this, too!) to go against this principle entirely? And yes, I’m speaking to myself as well as you. Guilty as charged. From conversations with friends, neighbors and spouses… what if we all took a second to actually think about what we are saying? And what if we really didn’t say anything if it wasn’t nice?  

There is one particular event that sticks out in my head (as I referenced my reaction to above). My friends and I were chatting after our kids’ activity was finishing up one Saturday morning. The conversation we were having then went to about a particular kid in their class, and we mentioned that their name was a little different. OK, we said it was weird. We were mean. But we made our comments, laughed and left.  

On our way out, we had to make a pit stop at the bathroom for my daughter (because, of course she has to pee right when we are walking out the door…). I was waiting outside with our other two and then mom of said kid we had made the mean name comments about walked out. I had no idea she was that kid’s mom or that she was listening to our conversation. But she sure knew. And she called me out. Nothing crazy – we are not talking like spewing off profanities here – but her rushed comment to me about me not liking her kid’s name was enough to crush me. I stood there speechless as she and her child walked off hastily.

She had a look on her face that was a mix of anger, annoyance and despair. And I just stood there like a bumbling idiot because I had just been called out and didn’t know how to respond. From her vantage point, I quickly realized just how mean we had been. I put myself in her shoes and was thinking how I would feel if I was standing there overhearing people joke about how terrible my own kid’s name is. Because to her, that’s her baby’s name. And she loves it. Just how I love my own kid’s names.

I felt terrible about it for days. Even a week or two later, I still couldn’t shake it. The thing was, I didn’t know her. I would never see her again either so I couldn’t even apologize for what we had said, but I couldn’t help but feel intense remorse for the words that she heard come out of my mouth about her child. In the end, I had to forgive myself and move on. But I didn’t forget about that situation or the look on her face and now I am making an honest effort to watch my words. Not only because I don not want to hurt other people’s feelings by instilling my personal judgement on them, but also because I have three set of ears in my own home that are listening to me.  

While sometimes it feels like my own kids don’t hear a word I say, I’m confident they quickly pick up on if I’m saying something mean about someone else, harmless or not. And one thing I do know as a parent is that your own actions speak WAY louder than your words when it comes to making a lasting impression on your kids and their own behavior.

So give the age old advice a shot.  What the worst that can happen?  I truly think that implementing this principle (while simple, it is NOT easy) in your own life can help you to rid of unnecessary negativity.  I’m also guessing it will also have you feeling more empathy in your life towards other parents, kids, friends, coworkers, neighbors and spouses, etc. And we all know that this world could use a whole lot more of that.

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