Yesterday we went to the little park by our house. Mercy’s God-sister, Jessica, is here with us helping out for the week, and it was great to have the ability to get out of the house and to go outside and play. When we arrived at the park, we were greeted by the noise of four young boys playing by the basketball court. This park is not heavily used and we are often there by ourselves, so it is always nice when there are other kids there playing. However, as we got near both Jessica and I were taken aback by the language of these boys. The sheer number of times the F-word was used in every sentence, often at shouting volume, was staggering. These boys were not old: maybe fourth grade?
I told the kids we had to stay at the play structure near the entrance. Mercy is definitely at the place where she repeats and mimics what she hears, and I honestly did not want that word to go into her vocabulary. Jessie and I continued to listen to the barrage of F-this and F-you and F-that, and it was so bad it actually made us cringe. I thought about going over to talk to them, and I probably should have; instead, I chose to keep us at as much of a distance as the small park afforded.
Jessie and I were talking about how, as parents, there is every instinct and desire to protect your young ones from the cruelties and vulgarities of life and the world around them. And parents do have a significant amount of control in what exposure kids receive. There are of course limits to this, as I recently saw when a three-year-old I know repeated a horrible phrase that no one has any idea where or how he could have heard.
There was a part of me that thought about just leaving the park. And that made me think about how I will handle my kids’ exposure to things in general, especially as they get older. And I know parents who have taken the strategy of total protection: keeping kids as completely free from any influence or relationship or kind of people that does not affirm or represent their values. While not the motivation for everyone, this can be a driving force in decisions about housing, public schools, homeschooling, Christian colleges, etc.
Which made me think: is it better for Mercy and Aaron to never hear the F-word, or for them to hear it and know how Doug and I and the other adults in their life feel about using that kind of language, and how we respond when people around us choose to do so? It is that balance between protecting and equipping, and so often I see Christians clinging fiercely to the former and failing miserably at the latter. I want desperately to preserve my kids’ childhood and the innocence that it should afford. I mourn the ways I see kids growing up so fast now: just take a walk through the girl’s clothing section in Target or Macy’s and you will see what I mean! And I do protect them from many things that their young eyes and ears should not have to see or hear. Sitting at the park yesterday helped me realize that I am only beginning to taste how complex this journey will be.