People love to tell parents the cute things their kids do while they’re not with them. But when another adult starts a sentence with “your little one said the funniest thing today” my body usually seizes in fear. Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned over the past several years, it’s that children love reporting what their parents say and do in the privacy of their home. So when my child’s remark is about to be revealed, my first thought is “he definitely told you I used the edge of his homework to get food out of my teeth,” and my second thought is “please don’t let it be what I said about her hair.” Of course, the funny comment usually ends up being nothing controversial, but it’s almost enough to scare me out of gossiping altogether! Almost. Sort of.
When kids are babies, it’s like being alone together. You can basically do anything in front of them and it’s like doing it in private. Change your clothes, jump in the shower, gossip with a friend – they couldn’t care less if their binky’s not involved. And then one day you’re chatting on the phone and you hear “Who’s daddy did that?” and you realize you’ve got company. And that company loves to talk.
One recent incident occurred when my husband’s beloved Michigan Wolverines were losing in basketball to a school from the south. A comment was made in the heat of despair regarding the unfortunate dental situation often attributed to that state’s residents. Later that week, during a geography lesson in school, my son repeated as fact that people in that state have no teeth. I don’t think his teacher appreciated that.
Sometimes kids come over and blab about the embarrassing incident that occurred with their mother the night before. And while the kids break into hysterics, I sometimes chuckle under my breath about the dirt I’m getting. Until I realize my kids are totally doing the same thing to me at their friend’s houses. Then I stop chuckling.
Sometimes you can hear the way parents speak to each other from the things kids say. Like when a 5-year old wants to play with a toy your kid won’t give up and he suddenly yells “I’ll never let you disrespect me like that. Get out of my life!” you know what goes down when her daddy gets himself into trouble.
Often I’ll make the mistake of following a comment with “please don’t repeat mommy said that,” which is never met with “ok mom I won’t.” Instead, I get a string of anxiety inducing questions like “What will happen if I do? Will you go to jail? Will Scotty’s mommy get really mad?” That’s usually followed by absurd hypotheticals like “What if my teacher asks me if anyone said anything about Scotty’s mommy?” or “What if I’m trying not to say anything but it slips out”? Asking kids not to mention something is like asking someone not to rub their nose – suddenly it’s all they can think about and the only thing they want to do.
So what can parents do to keep their private lives from being the talk of the town? Perhaps we should take wisdom from an old Chinese proverb that says “If you don’t want anyone to know, don’t do it.”
Or at least only do it while the kids are at school.