Where’s the Filter?


Parenting children who say exactly what’s on their minds…

While in Walmart, I received assistance from a worker who was morbidly obese. As we were wrapping up, my daughter said he had a “big fat belly.” I missed the comment because he was still speaking, but my son announced loudly that his sister said the gentleman had a “big fat belly.” Of course, my eyebrows jumped into my hairline. I apologized profusely;  he was incredibly gracious. I, however, was not. We had a lengthy discussion on kind words and how not to be rude when interacting with people who are different from us.

We recently visited a region where manners and social appropriateness are very prevalent. My children’s lack of social grace was highlighted and I felt the need to put more pressure on my children to conform to social norms. When visiting a pool in the area, our family met another family with a son near our son’s age. When we encouraged handshakes, my son said, “I don’t want to shake his hand. I don’t know what germs he has.” He was dead serious. After mentally face-palming, I made him shake the little boy’s hand and explained that his actions were rude. I didn’t give him a choice what to do with his body; I immediately regretted it. In that moment, I was the parent who refuses to make my children hug and kiss people in greeting (yes, even family members), but in a moment of embarrassment, made my son touch a stranger simply because I thought it would be rude not to.

A quiet voice in the back of my mind questioned me….Why is it rude? Why can’t he say no to shaking a stranger’s hand? I have been pondering this situation ever since, while reflecting on my life as someone who has always struggled socially and with having no filter.

I don’t enjoy many social situations, and have feelings of anxiety in settings where there are lots of people. My lack of filter is even more apparent when I’m feeling anxious. I often wonder if my son feels the same way causing him to say and act the way he does when he’s around unfamiliar people.

In the situations above, I realized that I reacted and parented out of embarrassment-not grace. I reacted negatively in order to avoid being uncomfortable and offending others. How much pressure should we put on our children to be “polite” and act socially acceptable? At what age does this filter develop?

I know what it is like to be alienated for having quirks and speaking my mind. For me, there is a feeling of embarrassment that comes with not adhering to social norms and a stigma of being “weird” for lack of a better word. As a result, I push in order to protect my children from perceived potential harm.

Where does the balance come in?  How important is it for them to conform to ideals of social norms?

I haven’t figured it out yet, but it is my mission to find balance in teaching our children the ways of the world while conforming to God’s standards.

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