The woman at the church picnic was looking at me as though I was raising the devil himself.
I wavered between the temptation to tell her off and the desire to disappear.
I didn’t do either.
Instead, I pretended to be oblivious to her indignation and the judgmental comments she was making to anyone who would listen. There was simply no reason to defend my son, who was in elementary school at the time and had said absolutely nothing wrong.
But I seriously doubted the woman would believe any explanations from me. She was convinced my son had uttered a very offensive cuss word, and she was relishing her indignation the way others at the picnic were enjoying their fried chicken.
So I ignored her comments and finished our game of miniature golf as though nothing had happened.
But something had happened, and because I hadn’t addressed the issue, for months I felt guilty and angry.
That’s why the next time my son was accused of using foul language, I rushed to defend him. He was a year older, and this time I wasn’t present during the incident in question. Despite that, I insisted I knew my son and that he wouldn’t talk like that.
Actually, he would.
As the story unfolded, he readily admitted he used a cuss word, and I was once again felt guilty and angry.
Years later, my son told me had no idea what the word meant and had simply attempted to use it in the context he had heard others utter it. When he told me that, I laughed just as I laughed at how much time and energy I had wasted on the incident at the church picnic.
In the grand scheme of our lives, neither incident really reflected who my son is or my abilities as a parent. But they were important because they taught me two important lessons: 1) the opinions of other parents have absolutely no place in my family and 2) I need to prioritize my concerns and my reactions to my children’s behaviors. As long as no one’s life is at risk and no one is being hurt emotionally or physically, I have no need to lose any sleep.
My son is in high school now, and the choices both he and I make are far more likely to have an impact on the rest of his life than when he was in elementary school. Prioritizing my reactions to his missteps is more important than ever.
Which is why, you might, on occasion, hear him cuss.
But if he does, you’ll probably also hear him catch himself and apologize then simply move on with the conversation.
Because he’s learning that moving on from his mistakes is far more important than never making them at all.
His mom is learning that too.