Last month, one of my husband's co-workers joined us for dinner. Whenever he's in town we make a point to get together. The kids adore him; he speaks multiple languages and plays the guitar. What's not to love? On this particular visit, we found ourselves discussing the election and our frustrations over all the mudslinging. During that conversation, he shared an expression he recently used when speaking to his son that changed his life forever. I asked him to write a blog about it. Here are his words:

As the father of two young children - a three-year-old boy and a ten-month-old girl - I am very careful not to say or do things that may negatively affect their self-esteem. For example, I avoid name-calling and any other harsh words that may cause my children to feel uncomfortable in their own skin.

My parents did a pretty good job of this when dealing with my siblings and I. Even in a house with many rules, and consequences for violating them, I cannot remember a single moment when either of my parents spoke to us in a derogatory tone because of ours looks, or even our behavior for that matter. They never even joked about those things. In fact, curse words were never said within our walls. Ever. 

With two children of my own, I wanted to adopt the same rules my parents followed, and my wife agreed. We are in no way perfect parents, and our children are certainly not saints, yet we try very hard to stick by those basic rules.

During the recent election cycle, now-President Trump spoke negatively towards Hillary Clinton on several occasions, as well as several other women he must not have thought very fondly of. Regardless of whether such words were spoken during a debate or in a casual conversation, I found such comments disrespectful and they made me feel uncomfortable. So much so that I did not want my children to hear them.

While some may find such statements acceptable, and others may think they’re funny, derogatory statements typically carry consequences. Listening to that kind of dialogue made me more aware of the words other people use to express themselves, but also of the words I use when expressing myself too. 

I remember the day clearly; it was October 5. I had just served my young, three-year-old son breakfast when he started crying, which was more like a whine with an irritating tone, about not wanting to eat his food. At the time, I was busy opening our mail and, in a knee-jerk reaction kind of way, I told him to, “Stop crying like a little…” And then I paused.

I paused for a while, knowing the next word that was about to come out of my mouth was “girl.”

Immediately, I felt like a complete hypocrite. Here I was criticizing other people about the comments they were making and yet, in that very moment - as the father of a beautiful baby girl - I was making a similar comment myself.

In hindsight, I’ve probably been doing it all along without even realizing it.

While some may think it’s no big deal to use such harsh words and stereotypical comments during conversations, the truth is people – both men and women - do so all the time, whether they realize it or not. 

And it IS a big deal. Because our children are listening.

The day I used the opposite sex as an example of weakness…of annoyance…is the day I realized I was part of the problem.  That moment has forever changed me because that type of language is not something I want my children to learn from me, or from others...especially ones in a position of power.

A few days after my moment of clarity, I recalled a commercial I’d seen awhile back showing several young girls who were asked to “Run like a girl.” While that commercial didn’t strike me as particularly moving at the time (probably because I did not yet have a daughter), I now recognize how powerful our words are, but more importantly the impression they can leave. Especially when spoken over, or around, our children.

No one can tell another what to say, or what not to say, but from this day forward I’m going to make a conscious effort to stop making statements that degrade gender, race, religion or sexual orientation. Period.

I’m making this choice because it’s the right thing to do, and it’s the legacy I wish to leave for my children.

What legacies do you wish to leave yours?