We take joy and pride every day in the loving natures of our little blessings; they are lavish with their hugs and kisses, and are wonderful helpers for each other and for us. All three of our talkers are quick with an “I love you,” and all four of them are confirmed snuggle bugs. Beanie’s latest linguistic quirk has therefore been rather jarring and thoroughly unwelcome.
The tribe has a big blue book of P.D. Eastman’s beginner books, one of which is the story, “The Best Nest.” In that particular story, Mrs. Bird has the line, “I hate this place.” Hate’s not a word that is welcome in our home, and Beanie’s decision over the last few days to use it whenever a situation or a person displeases her is most disturbing. The most unacceptable use of the word in question is when she wails, “I hate you!”
We’re not naive; we understand that there’s a decent chance we’ll be hearing that particular turn of phrase again in about ten years, because we are loving parents and as such, will forbid her to do things that we believe are harmful to her in some way. It’s been something of a teachable moment for us to hear it coming out of our daughter’s mouth at the age of three, because all the things we’ve planned to say to a teenager now must be adapted for use with a preschooler.
Homeschooling is a useful thing in this particular case, because we use a Catholic curriculum with plenty of supplemental devotionals, so we’ve been able to read and discuss stories with her that help her understand that words mean things, words have power and yes, words can hurt. That’s the rather superficial aspect of it, really. She and Bugaboo are frighteningly bright for their ages, and if we define a given term for them, they generally remember its meaning and use it appropriately going forward.
In this particular instance, we are teaching her that it is never acceptable to Christ to hate another human being, no matter how deeply that human being may have wronged you (in Beanie’s world, a terrible wrong is being denied another piece of chocolate or one more bedtime story). It’s caused us to examine how we speak about people who have wronged us, and to measure our own anger. When I pause to consider what message my tone and word choice send to little ears when I’m discussing behaviors that are unacceptable, I’m reminded — as I often am — that they will understand what it means to be a Christian by what they hear from Daddy and me. If my tone is angry and my words ugly, they will understand that it’s okay to be wrathful, which is precisely the wrong lesson. If my tone and words reflect the sadness that I feel at the distance another is putting between himself or herself and Christ by hard-hearted decisions, they will understand what I mean when I ask them to pray for those who trespass against them.
In the meantime, we’re using the expedient of isolating her when she starts in with the “I hates.” We desperately want her to understand that hatred will make her a very lonely person, very distant from fellowship both with other people and with Christ Himself. At the same time, we’re spending a lot of time explaining, with words and deeds, that we love her deeply and forever, but there are some behaviors and words that are absolutely unacceptable. We’re hopeful that laying that foundation now will bear some beautiful fruit later.
Today’s prayer: Lord, Your blessings are free with their hugs, kisses, time, talents, and treasures. Help us teach them that love is more than those things. Please give us the wisdom to show them that hatred for any You have created distances us from You, as You love all of us, and long for all of us to walk closely with You. We will need grace and patience to help them understand that however awful a behavior may be, it is the behavior that we abhor, not the person engaging therein. Please help us correct them — and ourselves — gently, as Your Son corrects us. Let not our gentleness be mistaken for ambivalence, but let not our firmness be mistaken for hatred.