Dear Ann Cannon • I have a 3-year-old and a 4-year-old who play in our backyard constantly. My neighbor is out in her yard gardening all the time, too. Problem is, she swears constantly — maybe because she can’t get all the weeds out or she pricks herself on a rosebush or who knows why. And we are NOT talking about the occasional “damn” or “hell” either. My question is this — what can I do to get her to stop without totally alienating her? I actually do like her a lot.
— Protectress of Tender Ears
Dear Protectress • Because human beings can be very predictable in their habits, I was going to advise you to notice what time your neighbor typically works in her yard and then keep your kids indoors. But when I re-read your question I realized that probably won’t work in this case. You could, of course, talk to her, but I doubt it would help. After all, she doesn’t self-edit now even though she has to be aware that your children are within earshot. So I’m going to pass along what my Uncle Don always said to the their kids whenever my Aunt Mary swore: “Only your mother is allowed to use that variety of the King’s English.”
Feel free to modify Uncle Don’s sentiment to fit your particular situation.
Dear Ann Cannon • I have a child with cognitive delays, and though I applaud the successes of the children of my friends when they crow endlessly about their children’s academic triumphs, I wonder if it ever occurs to them that it might be painful for me and my husband to listen to. I don’t mind listening a time or two, but. … Can you help me come up with any replies that make that point without being too pointed?
— Tired of Bragging Parents
Dear Tired • After reading your letter, I spent a few days thinking about something you could say whenever you find yourself in the situation you describe. But then it occurred to me that it might be more useful to address those individuals (no matter how well-meaning) who sometimes get carried away when it comes to giving progress reports about their own children. So, I offer this instead:
Dear Parents Whose Children Are Doing Exceedingly Well • OK. It’s only natural for you to be proud of them. We’re happy for you and your children, too. We really are! And we want to hear about their successes. But before you go on and on (and on!) about how exceedingly well your children are doing, look around first and size up your audience. Is there someone there who’s dealing with a child facing some tough stuff? Addiction? Disabilities? Physical or mental illnesses? Unemployment? Relationship issues? Or is there someone there who wants a child but isn’t in a position to have one?
If your answer to any of these questions is “yes,” then be sensitive. Do share your happy news, of course, but think about giving us the Cliff Notes version instead of asking us to listen to the entire audiobook.
Best wishes, Ann Cannon