Teaching My Kids to Swear

momkatielizzieferriswheel2014

The author with her daughters. There’s a difference between swearing about them and swearing at them.

We nearly hit a deer last week. Actually, we were minding our own beeswax driving down the Interstate. It was the deer, loping out of the darkness and across four lanes of concrete, that nearly hit us. But still….

I screamed, “$#*&ing deer!” My husband swerved, and we narrowly avoided killing Bambi on the highway. For a moment, I felt triumphant. As far as I was concerned, I had just saved the family. But my kids, riding in the back seat, were alarmed.

My sweet, animal-loving, 5-year-old gifted me her stuffed kitty for the rest of the journey. The next day, she and her sister presented me with a swear jar in which to place a few coins whenever I “say a bad choice.” And at church later that week, my nine-year-old asked if I had apologized to Jesus yet.

I found all of this perplexing. Had my children, in fact, never heard me swear? I cuss like a sailor. Even my husband, who was in the Navy and is an actual sailor, finds my potty mouth surprising. I have called people a-holes during charity fundraisers. I dropped a bunch of f-bombs at my cousin’s wedding. I told a friend she was being a d-bag right in front of her grandmother. Lucky for me, grandma was hard of hearing, so when asked to repeat myself, I redacted my statement.

As a mom, there is something freeing about swearing. There is just so much to curse about. Poop, tears, snot. These are all substances I had on my jeans yesterday. All three of my offspring, in their brief little lives, have vomited into my hair, mistaken my shirt for a Kleenex, and backwashed into every bottle of water they have ever touched. Kids are disgusting. Some days, I FRACKING HATE caring for these FRACKING CHILDREN. So I don’t think cussing about them makes me crazy. I think it keeps me sane. Yet, until the Bambi debacle, I had managed to insulate my kids from this R-rated truth.

It is not unusual for me to mutter obscenities in-between closing my daughter’s car door and opening my own. That may put me out of the running for an Atticus Finch award—but as a parent I need the safety valve. I think of it as Profanity Therapy. If I swear about the kids, it keeps me from swearing at them. That distinction matters. I may have f-bombs up my left sleeve, but I have Sesame Street up my right. Whenever Lizzie kicks her sister, I want to say, “Knock it off, you little bitch!” Instead, I channel Grover: “I feel sad when you hurt people.”

As I sat there cuddling Lizzie’s stuffed cat last week, I thought about delivering a brief homily regarding obscenities. Yes, Mommy used a bad word, but sometimes that is okay. I even came up with another example, like when I dropped a 33-pound barbell on my naked toe. Mommy swore because it hurt. Mommy also swore because what kind of idiot loads a barbell barefoot? The rule would be simple – the more urgent the situation, the more urgent the speech.

But then I remembered what happened last time. After watching the movie Mamma Mia, my then four-year-old asked, “Mommy, what is a slut?” I kept my wits and said, “Sweetheart, a slut is a girl who makes bad choices.” A few days later, I was invited to the preschool director’s office. Was I aware that my daughter had been calling the other girls sluts when they did not share the crayons? Though I was pleased Katie had remembered my definition, it proved exceedingly difficult to explain why it was never okay to say that to people. If memory serves, she called me a slut the whole way home.

Despite my desire to tell the kids it is okay to swear sometimes—in an emergency, to save a life—for now, I’ll keep apologizing to Jesus, dropping quarters in the cuss jar, and muttering to myself outside the car door.

Kids, man. Effing kids.

Teaching My Kids to Swear