My family was at a 5th birthday party when a little girl and her mom came up to me. The mom told me that my son said a bad word to her daughter. I was shocked and asked her which word he said. The mom spelled “H-A-T-E”. I asked the context and she said my son said that he hated vanilla icing. Is hate a bad word now?
—Frustrated Neighborhood Mom
Dear Frustrated Neighborhood Mom,
My eyes are rolling! Ugh, I'm sorry. If this happened to me, I would need to take a second. At the party, I might have pulled her aside (because I’m the confrontational type). Then after, I’d call my mom friends and ask if this was normal behavior for another mom, in which they would respond: no. And then most likely, I would have laughed. Because let’s face it: that scene was a little ridiculous. First of all, birthday parties are supposed to be fun, full of all the sweet stuff we don't get in our everyday lives. They are not the place to teach a lesson. Second—us moms are on the same team. Sure, we should alert another parent if their child is mistreating our own kids. But should we confront another parent over a child's word choice at a party? In this case, offer the kid a cupcake with chocolate frosting instead and move along.
However, now that my laughter has subsided, this situation does bring up an important question: is hate a bad word?
But before we talk about the question at hand, I think we should agree on the fact that kids are kids. Remember that late 90s show, Kids Say the Darndest Things? It's getting a reboot in October for a reason. Kids say whatever they want. And not always just the darndest things. Children copy us, their friends, the people around them. For instance, my son is always telling people "I don't like cheese." I am not sure this is true for him, but it is true for me. I laugh when he says this because I know he picked it up from me when he hears me order at restaurants that I'll take the Caesar salad, no cheese.
Hate is a complicated word and it makes me pay attention to the person who is saying it. We both know this word carries some serious weight. But sometimes we use it without thinking. We may say that we hate our boss, our car that's always breaking down, or in this case, vanilla icing. It is true that we feel intense loathing for things in life that don't serve us. This is a normal. However, perhaps, more accurate language is best used to describe ill feelings. Maybe we can replace hate with "I dislike my boss," or "I can't stand it when my car breaks down," or "I don't enjoy vanilla icing."
But you know this. We all do.
These phrases don't take much longer to say, but I do believe these types of expressions are more inclusive and kind in their language. And I do think your son was telling his version of the truth: he doesn't like vanilla icing. He's 5.
I don't think your son meant any harm when he said this word, Frustrated Neighborhood Mom. It is nothing to worry about, nothing to confess to the Bad Moms Club. But, I do think it is an opportunity to have a conversation (after the birthday party…and maybe not seek out the mom who spelled out the word for Wine Night). Hate is not a bad word, it's a strong word. And should be reserved and saved for intense circumstances. Because my thought is: what if the object of hate is replaced? What if, instead, someone says they hate "Ava," a young girl, in a child's class. And all Ava did was accidentally spill her milk on another child's shoes?
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I think you see what I mean. Sometimes language is all we have.
We live in a time where it is important, perhaps more than ever—where words are being spread across our phones, the internet, at rapid rates—to be conscious, sensitive, and inclusive with our language. And to acknowledge, children are children. They are beautiful, growing beings. Your son did nothing wrong. He was merely expressing himself. Could he have used a different phrase? Yes. And I believe you will teach him. You had the love and audacity to show up and ask this question. I know you care, Momma. You love your son. And you will raise him to be a good man. You are paying attention. Next time he uses the word hate, when another phrase is better, teach him: Hate is not a bad word, it's a strong word.
XO, Your Mom Friend