Honest Language

I very rarely have time to read anything that is not before me on the screen or in my child’s “Notes to Home” folder from school, but there are three magazines I read with regularity: Newsweek, The Atlantic, and Christianity Today. I was especially moved by an article in the September 2009 edition of Christianity Today titled “Why the Care of Language is More Important Than Ever.” While the purpose of the article spoke mostly to personal integrity as Christians, the message applies so well to parenting that I could not miss the opportunity to share my thoughts.

I enjoy hyperbole. I use it when I write, I use it when I speak, I even use it when I think (especially when I think). This occasionally gets me in trouble, as was the case when I wrote my now infamous “Brown Out” post. Instead of saying that my work with the world of PR allows me the income necessary to pay a portion of our monthly bills as well as the extras like a once a year vacation, and that blacking out contact with PR professionals for a week would be disrespectful to that fact, I actually wrote,

“It would be not only biting the hand that feeds me – it would be gnawing off the hand that feeds my children.”


I was confident that I set the tone of my writing in the beginning of that post with the comical fake dialogue between myself and another blogger, and I even assumed that most people reading the post would know my writing fairly well, but a funny thing happened. People who never read a word I wrote before read that post…and only that post…and based their judgement of me on my graphic hyperbole.

And there it was – the ugly truth about what happens when we are not judicious in our choice of words, our use of language.

Our children are making new discoveries every moment of every day, forming assessments about everything from how they feel about that new cereal in their bowl to how upset they should be about not getting their way. The language that we choose to describe our own feelings and reactions teaches our children what is appropriate. It is not by accident that upon returning from her first day of school my kindergartner described everything as “Awesome” – it is one of my overused words.

Do I wish I hadn’t chosen the language that I used in my “Brown Out” piece? Meh. I had an important point to make, I went for every literature majors favorite writing tool, and I got just a little singed by it. At the end of the day my point was still clear, and nobody was hurt. But around my children I will be sure to weigh my words carefully, because the words I choose today will be in their mouths tomorrow.

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