Teachable moments. You know the ones–they come up out of nowhere and scare the living daylights out of you.
“Mommy, is there a bad F-word?”
My heart stumbled. I cocked my head at my first grader. “What do you mean, honey?”
“Some kids in my art class said there was a bad F-word.”
First grade?! Already? Is this what I get for sending my kids to Public School? “Can you tell me the word?”
He smiled sheepishly and whispered, “Fruck.”
Laughter bubbled up, unbidden. So he’s still a first grader. “Well, honey, there is a bad F-word, but it’s not ‘fruck’.”
“So, what is the bad F-word?” He asked, sticking his pencil in the corner of his mouth.
I paused, my heart tripping over itself once again. Is this what the Teachable Moment looks like? Wide-eyed, innocent, and 7 years old?
While my pause was calm and calculated, the tension I felt inside twisted tighter until it was a palpable ache: I wanted to preserve his innocence. I wanted to tell him, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t want you to worry about bad words.”
But as much as I mentally chided myself about the “bad influence” of public school kids, I knew that was a non-issue.
Public school or not, my kids were going to hear things and learn things from others as they grew up, public school, private school, homeschool, or Sunday school. I can’t control the moments they are not with me.
But he was here with me right now. This moment, at our kitchen table, in our home, was a safe, teachable moment.
If not now, when?
He was asking me for truth. And the truth was, “asking Mom” wasn’t always going to be his first choice.
So I took a deep breath and said, “Well…yes, honey. There is a bad F-Word.”
I told him what it was. I said the word and he repeated it, making sure he heard me right. I tried not to cringe at the profanity coming out of my baby’s mouth. Instead I pushed forward, plunging down this new path.
“Sweetheart, I’m telling you this because I want you to know the truth. But with knowledge comes power and just because you know this word doesn’t mean you should say it or teach it to anyone else.
It is not your job to tell kids at school that you know this word. That’s their parent’s job, not yours. I am very serious about this. Do you understand me?”
He nodded, his eyes wide. “Yes, ma’am.”
I looked at his face, at the soft, smooth skin on his cheeks, knowing that they wouldn’t always be soft and smooth. I would be kissing stubble on my firstborn’s face before I knew it.I pulled myself back to the present, savoring his innocence and openness and the questions that he asked without fear or embarrassment. That precious door was wide open and I wanted to keep it that way.
“You know, sweetie, sometimes kids talk about stuff at school. Kids think they know stuff. But that’s not always true. But Mommy and Daddy—we do know stuff. So if you ever have questions about anything that kids talk about at school, you can come to us and we will tell you the truth.”
And then I helped him do his homework.
It was such a bittersweet conversation.
As much as I want to plant goodness into every corner of my children’s lives, the fact is that the world is full of hard, nasty, evil things. I want to shelter them from that darkness. But I also want to help my sons grow to be men who will be lights in a dark world. And if I am going to teach them to be lights, I can’t ignore the darkness.
I I have to be proactive.
So, when he asked, I taught my son the F-word.
Should I have told him that we would have this conversation when he’s older? Perhaps. Maybe it was too early.
But at 7 years old, his first instinct was to come to me. As he gets older, that instinct will fade.
The conversations we have now about language, what’s right and wrong, about light and darkness are forming his very soul.
The Teachable Moment is terrifying but, for me, being keeping the door open in order to teach my children the truth is a gift that can’t wait.
How do you navigate these terrifying Teachable Moments?
Have you taught your child something huge and scary? How did it go?
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