The other day, our soon-to-be three-year-old son called me a b*&#h when I asked him to eat his dinner. A few days later, as I was cleaning out my closet, he asked me, “Why are all these f*&#%@g shoes here?”
And now I’m asking myself, “what the f*@k do I do now?”
My husband and I cuss. A lot. It’s not a big deal in our house, so he hears the words often. And we laughed our collective a&*#s off in both of the instances above. Compound this exposure to curse words with the reinforcement of our laughter, and we’re in trouble. He’s now using f&@k and its variants with frequency, looking for a laugh.
I’m not even sure if I truly care, or if I’m more worried what other people will think. The power of mommy judgement compels me. When my brother was this age, he used to replace the ‘tr’ in truck with another, less ideal, consonant. I remember my stepmom following him around the playground correcting him so the other mommies wouldn’t flip.
Also, I don’t want his teachers to punish him for words he hears all the time at home. Another flashback–on my first day at Catholic school, a teacher asked our class how we’d feel if we were Native Americans being ‘resettled’ off our ancestral lands. I said, “pissed off.” Detention for me! But my dad was proud.
I also reject the argument that cursing is lazy. Sometimes a curse word makes the person you love most smile; my husband loves a well-placed expletive. And sometimes a curse word is the perfect word for a situation. In fact, I dare you not to use one when you step on a LEGO in the middle of the night.
And there’s no way my husband and I can just stop cursing. We’re adults, it’s part of our vernacular, and ultimately, we just don’t care enough, I suppose.
In researching this post I read some other blogs, and frankly, I was pretty shocked what other people suggest. Did you know there are still families that wash their kiddos’ mouths out with soap when they curse? And then there’s the old standby, ‘do as I say, not as I do,’ which has never sat well with me. My feeling is that by punishing our kids for experimenting with their vocabularies, we run the risk of making the curse words into forbidden fruit, increasing their appeal, making language one more thing to hide from parents, and ultimately, increasing a kid’s use of the ‘bad’ words.
So if my husband and I can’t or won’t stop cursing, can’t or won’t not laugh when our son does it, and absolutely refuse to punish him, what can we do?
We’ve decided to let him curse at home when appropriate–for emphasis or for humor. But name calling, slurs, and other meanness aren’t allowed. And we’ll be putting a pretty strong focus on where it is appropriate, and to what audience. At home with mom and dad? Sure thing. At home when we have guests over? Nope. At school? Nope.
At the end of the day, fluent cursing is a life skill. Like other skills–climbing, coloring, light-saber wielding–it’s up to us as his parents to make sure he understands that both time and place are important clues to what’s okay. Hopefully this gives our boy a solid foundation for many things, not just utilizing his less-than-ideal new vocabulary.