Woman talking to a child
Photo by Sai De Silva on Unsplash

Loyalty to the Absent

“Mommy,” young Billy asked his mother on the way to school, “where are all the idiots?”

“What!” his mother said in disbelief, “Where on earth did you learn that?”

Confused by his mother’s reaction, young Billy answered, “Yesterday when daddy took me to school we saw five idiots along the way.”

What do you say about others in front of your kids? Is it positive or negative?

Is it uplifting or does it leave your children with a bitter taste in their mouth? These were questions someone recently asked me. As I considered them, I became incredibly convicted. Like Billy’s father, countless dishonoring words and negative phrases flooded my mind. It’s not like I go around calling people idiots or swearing like a sailor. That’s not my style. However, the times that I made sarcastic comments or gossiped to my wife–these were the things I thought about. Paul’s words in James 3:5-6 are so true, “Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boats. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” That’s pretty clear. But you might be thinking, “Come on Greg…What’s the big deal?” The problem with what we say in front of our children is twofold.

First, when we gossip or talk negatively about someone in front of our children it can cause insecurity. As it says in Proverbs 20:19, “A gossip betrays confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much.” Likewise, when our children hear us talking about others, at some level, they begin to wonder what we say about them when they’re not present. Gossip breeds insecurity in our loved ones–especially children. This is why our goal should be “loyalty to the absent.” In other words, we should strive to honor others with our words (tongues) when they are not present. This creates trust and confidence in our family. If they don’t hear you gossiping about others they will not wonder what you are saying about them when they are gone.

Second, gossip can poison our children. Gossip has the ability to fester deep inside someone, ready to explode at any time. As it says in Proverbs 26:22, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts.” When we talk negatively about people, those little ears listening can begin to take up an offense against that person. When I was young my father used to tell me countless stories about his older brother Ronnie. My Uncle Ronnie would pick on my father, would tease him and do various other dastardly deeds. As you could only imagine, the first time I met my Uncle Ronnie when I was about five, the reception wasn’t as positive as Ronnie probably envisioned. After the two brothers warmly embraced, my father introduced me. As my Uncle affectionately extended his arms to greet me, I walked up, looked him right in the eyes, shouted, “This for my daddy!” and punched him square in the gut. Vengeance had been mine! Oddly enough, my Uncle Ronnie and I were never that close.

My experience with Uncle Ronnie reminds me why I shouldn’t gossip in front of my children. Not only can it foster insecurity, but it can pollute the relationship between that person and my children. I do not want my children to take up an offense against others. Instead, through my words, my desire is “loyalty to the absent” and to be a blessing to everyone. “Through the blessing of the upright a city is exalted, but by the mouth of the wicked it is destroyed” (Proverbs 11:11).

How we conduct ourselves when others are absent

  1. Honor people with your words and behavior.
  2. Brag about others to your children, it helps positively shape their relationship.
  3. If you are frustrated with someone, do not use names if you vent and those little ears are listening.
  4. When you do gossip in front of the kids, admit your mistake and seek forgiveness from your children and the person you talked about.
Greg Smalley, PsyD
Website | + posts

Dr. Smalley previously served as the director of Marriage Ministries for The Center for Healthy Relationships. He is the author or co-author of twelve books concerning marriages and families, and currently serves as the executive director of Marriage and Family Formation at Focus on the Family.

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