Curbing what comes out of mouths of babes


April 03, 2005

Dear Harriette: My husband and I have a young son who is just learning to talk.

I am paying very close attention to the words I use in my son's company. The need for this became really obvious recently when I heard a 6-year-old girl swear as she was telling me a story. Neither she nor her father behaved as if anything out of the ordinary had happened. I was shocked.

Rather than make a comment, I have decided to be even more conscious of what I say around my child. The problem is my husband isn't as mindful as I am. He thinks I'm overly worried about nothing. How can I get him to understand and agree not to swear or use any kind of inappropriate language around our child?

- Martha, Denver, Colo.

Martha: Use the story you just told me to illustrate what can easily happen if you aren't vigilant about what you say around your child.

Ask your husband how he will feel if he hears his son using foul language. Gently point out when you hear your husband use unacceptable language. He may not be aware of what he says or how frequently he uses unacceptable language.

Recommend that the two of you take on the responsibility of expanding your son's vocabulary. I believe that profanity is generally a lazy fallback. Instead of using common profane language, your child can become creative, describing his feelings or observations with adjectives and nouns that best capture what he sees. In order for this to happen, both of you must practice this. Children mimic what they see.

Finally, when your child hears profanity or other language that you want to forbid, stop and acknowledge, "We don't say things like that in our house." If you are the perpetrator, apologize and move on.

As your child grows up, if you find that you or your husband continue to slip, you may want to institute a Swear Box in which the offender deposits a coin every time a swear word is used. Better, though, is to eliminate the words from your vocabulary now and avoid appearing hypocritical.

Dear Harriette: I have been having an affair for the past few years with a married man. Both of us are married, actually. Anyway, this past year I've gotten a lot closer to my husband and I don't want to be in the affair anymore. I like being this man's friend, which is how we started out. Whether we stay friends or not, I need to stop being intimate with him, but I'm not sure how to let him know. The intimacy of our relationship was intermittent. The friendship is the part I value the most. What should I do?

- Bev, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Bev: Good for you that you want to recommit to your marriage. If you do so with full focus, you and your husband may discover a level of intimacy, trust and happiness that you haven't known before.

Dividing your attention between your husband and this other man - through an intense friendship and sexual intimacy - must have created distance of some sort in your marriage. If you honestly believe that this other man is a true friend, he will understand this turning point in your life.

Be respectful of that relationship by being honest and letting him know what you have valued about the time you spent together and what your decision is now. Ask him to honor your decision by letting you go emotionally and physically so that you can be fully available to your husband. Thank him for whatever goodness you believe you received from the relationship - and then pull back.

Can you ever be "just friends" with him? Maybe. But right now, you can't afford the distraction of him as you work to rebuild your marriage.

Dear Harriette: I recently told my friend some confidential information about myself that she swore never to tell anyone.

During our lunch break, I noticed when I entered the room that my co-workers grew very quiet, and although they spoke to me, I had the feeling that they knew something about me. At first, I thought that I was just being paranoid. When I entered the boardroom for a meeting, I had the same feeling.

I'm beginning to think that my friend has made me the center of the gossip at work. What should I do about this?

- Samantha, Salt Lake City, Utah

Samantha: Before you jump to any conclusions, ask your friend if she revealed what you shared with her confidentially to people at work. Look her dead in the face to see if she's telling you the truth.

If you believe she broke your confidence, ask her why - what she hoped to accomplish by doing so. Also, recognize that you can't trust her with sensitive information. In general, it's not wise to share confidences with co-workers, especially if the subject matter could in any way come back to haunt you.

Onto another thought: You may be overreacting. Could it be possible that you are projecting that your co-workers are observing you differently even if it's not so? You put yourself in a vulnerable position by exposing personal information to your friend, and clearly you have regrets. Those regrets may be clouding your interpretation of your co-workers' behavior. Whatever is true, you now need to look ahead.

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