Anyone who knows me knows I can drop the occasional four-letter word. (I am perhaps being kind to myself here.) But, with a four-year-old and two-year-old at home, I pay more attention than ever to my words.
Surprisingly, it hasn’t been difficult to avoid cursing in front of them. It really hasn’t. But, paying attention to those words has made me more cognizant of all words I use in front of them. It’s sort of like eating habits: if you give up sweets, you end up paying more attention to the other things you eat too!
My four-letter-word diet has illuminated a much worse practice: confusing the terms “have to” and “get to”.
My habit first jumped out at me one day when I caught myself telling my daughters that they “have to” go to school (daycare, but we say school) on Monday. I stopped and thought: “what a terrible message!” My girls love their school. They love everything about it (except maybe nap time). We hear all weekend about their teachers and friends and the games they played in the gym. They love it. And, here I am sending the message, or at least emphasizing, that it is compulsory; they “have to” go.
No, my girls “get to” go to school, and they acknowledge that by their desire to be there. They also “get to” go because they are part of a family that values education, has the resources and flexible enough jobs to allow for the opportunity. They “get to” go to school for many reasons that we as parents, and they as children, should always be cognizant of.
I was so mad at myself for such a poor choice of words!
And then, I did it again!
My wife and girls and I were heading out of the house somewhere and I said: “first, we have to go grab some lunch.” Have to!? Really?
At least, this time I caught myself and restated – “First, we get to go grab some lunch.” We get to go to a restaurant. We get to be together. We get to eat a meal that we enjoy. To suggest we “have to” diminishes everything about the experience we were about to share, and moves emphasis toward some other event we “get to” do later.
There have obviously been countless other times I have failed in this word choice, and almost certainly there will be more as I break the habit. Just last week, I said: “I have to go vote!” But, breaking this seemingly simple habit is core to who I am and how I want to raise my daughters.
This distinction between “get to” and “have to” isn’t about decency or manners or appropriateness like we think about with four-letter words. It’s about privilege. It’s about humility, being thankful, being present. It’s about acknowledging your own experiences and opportunities and those of others. It’s about your approach to life, not taking things for granted.
So, bring on the four-letter words, but let’s please not pretend we “have to” do things that we really “get to”. That’s a pretty [expletive]-ed up message to send to our kids.