This has been on the forefront of my mind ever since Ruthie started listening more carefully to us and repeating what she has heard us say. We have really had to tread carefully with what we say in front of the kids, and gossip, especially, is a bad habit we have had to eradicate completely. (I say “we,” but to be honest Scott does not struggle with this like I do. In fact, he is usually the one having to remind me of my conviction not to gossip.) One of the many things I respected about my parents was that they never gossiped in front of us, especially about our extended family members or family friends. As far as we knew, all of the adults in our lives got along swimmingly. Now that I am an adult, I have come to realize that there is no way that that was the case, but I really appreciate that we were completely sheltered from any family or family friend drama. Children tend to have more anxiety if they are aware of such matters, and usually lack the capacity to understand the entire situation anyway.
Not to mention, three year olds have no concept of being discreet and it is going to be just plain embarrassing if she tells someone something I told her father in confidence. It would probably be a difficult situation to recover from gracefully.
I have seen firsthand the devastation caused by someone gossiping about someone else to other members of a family or a close circle of friends. It poisons the well and irreparably ruins the person’s reputation. Everyone else will see that person in a new light, and it can ruin their relationships.
It is easy to speak out against sins like lying, but a sin like gossiping is harder to speak out against because it is so ubiquitous, even in Christian communities.
Ah, you ask, but what if what I am saying is true? Well, I whipped out my handy dandy Catechism to see if truth is a defense to this sin (as it can be in the legal world) and found that it can indeed still be a sin if what you are gossiping about is true. It is called “detraction.”
“Respect for reputation of persons forbids every attitude and word likely to cause them unjust injury. He becomes guilty of detraction who, without objectively valid reason, discloses another’s faults and failings to persons who did not know them.” Catechism of the Catholic Church 2477
Basically, if you have nothing nice to say about a person, don’t say anything at all. But what is an objectively valid reason? In my humble opinion, if you genuinely need to vent, you should be able to do so, but be extremely careful to whom you are venting. Venting to your spouse is usually helpful to release any stress or anxiety and should be ok. Do not vent about family members to other family members. Do not vent about friends to other people in the same group of friends. Absolutely do not vent to a person about their own spouse. That is the equivalent of trying to cause trouble in a marriage, and as the Bible says, “What God has joined together, let no one separate.” Matthew 19:6. If you have a problem with someone’s spouse, simply address the spouse you have a problem with directly. If it is not important enough to address with the person directly, it is probably not important enough to speak ill behind their back to their own spouse. All things considered, your best bet is to vent in your prayers to God. That way, you are not destroying anyone’s reputation with anyone.
If you are honestly seeking advice about a situation, then it is not detraction, but again, you have to be discerning in from whom you seek advice.
According to the Catechism, this sin falls under the category of “thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbor.” But it seems to me that it could also fall under the category of doing unto others as you would have them do to you. No one wants their faults and failings to be put on display in front of others or their reputations destroyed, even if it is true.
Now, I am no theologian and I could be weak or erroneous in my interpretation of the Catechism and this sin. Feel free to disagree with me in a comment because I find theological discussion fascinating, and have not really discussed this with anyone authoritative in theology yet.
One of the many wonderful things about children is their capability to see the best in everyone. Even if their father and I mess up, our children still think we are the most wonderful people in the world. And we cannot be more undeserving. However, I strive each day to live up to the way my children see me. I need to curb my tongue and not make gossip something they expect and are accustomed to. And when they are middle school girls, I do not want them to be that mean girl who spends all of her time speaking ill of the other girls. I want them to be the girl who when she hears someone speaking ill of someone else, she immediately knows it is wrong and does not participate. A very simple task. No pressure, mama.