Parenting boils down to basically one thing: trying to raise children to be decent adults. There are a ton of things that can impact how a kid's personality forms, like the media they consume, their peer group, and definitely the behaviors they pick up from their parents. While stress and I share a BFF necklace and I'm always worried about how the things I do as a parent will influence my kids for the rest of their lives, the one thing I refuse to freak out over is swearing in front of my 4-year-old twins.
I was raised by a group of fierce, loud Italian woman. When I think back on my childhood, I can hear the sound of their voices gathered around the kitchen table, having a conversation that, to them, was at a perfectly normal volume, but to the neighbors was probably loud enough to make them wonder if the family was having a huge argument. My mom, grandmother, and aunts all peppered these conversations with curse words, both as colorful adjectives and to emphasis their points about someone being a "goddamn b*stard."
I tried to be the mom who used words like "fudge" or "shoot!" instead of the four-letter words that dripped much more easily off my tongue. And for the first year or so, it worked. But then my boys started to walk, and soon my house and life was chaos.
When I went graduated from law school, I learned that while lawyers dress professionally, when they're not with clients or in open court they use swear works the way chefs use salt. I fit in well, having plenty of material from my youth to fall back on. Law is still very much a male-dominated profession, and being able to swear like "one of the guys" without blushing actually cut down on the number of Legally Blonde jokes I had to endure.
But then I had my twin sons. At first, I got caught up in the dream of making their lives completely perfect, like so many first-time parents try to do. I vowed I would never swear in front of them, and even told my sister and mom off for letting the occasional f-bomb fly while we were on FaceTime, even if the babies were sleeping.
I tried to be the mom who used words like "fudge" or "shoot!" instead of the four-letter words that dripped much more easily off my tongue. And for the first year or so, it worked. But then my boys started to walk, and soon my house and life was chaos. Happy chaos, because I love my kids, but taking care of two kids at the same time is no joke. I started to vent my frustrations by using the occasional curse word, and even though I knew it was wrong, it felt oh, so right.
Even though I was making a big deal about it with my own scorecards, when I slipped up and swore in front of the kids, they didn't give a crap. And that's when I decided I didn't either.
I worked hard to clean up my language. I made a little "Swear Meter" on the kitchen whiteboard and every time I slipped and said a bad word, I gave myself a check mark. At the end of the week I'd tally my curse words and write a check to charity, $1 for every bad word. When that started costing me $30-50 a week, I switched tactics so I wouldn't go broke. I tried making myself a reward chart for every day I didn't swear, but I never managed to earn my 10 stars to get that Cinderella phone case I wanted.
By that point, my boys were threenagers, full of their own words and stories. I realized that even though I was saying bad words around them, they weren't copying me and using those words too. The first few times I ever uttered "f*ck" in front of them, they repeated it, and I told them it was only a word for grownups to use. They asked me when they could use that word and I told them when they were 16. That seemed to be the end of the conversation. So even though I was making a big deal about it with my own scorecards, when I slipped up and swore in front of the kids, they didn't give a crap. And that's when I decided I didn't either.
Now I let the curse words flow when the feeling strikes. I won't lie, there's been some sanitation of my language since the days before I had kids. I no longer walk around muttering, "Where is the f*cking tape?" or saying, "These grapes taste sh*tty." But when I'm super frustrated or get hurt (having a toddler in your lap while singing the "Itsy Bitsy Spider" is a great way to catch an elbow to the face), I no longer feel guilty when I let out a choice four-letter word in front of my kids.
There's a trend in society to make everything kid accessible and child-friendly. We take our children places our parents would never think to bring us, like to movie theaters or to work conferences. Kids are even welcome to eat at Per Se now. And that's a good thing, that we're recognizing how many people in the world are parents who still want to work and do fun things while acknowledging the difficulty with finding affordable and reliable childcare. But not everything is for children.
Allowing myself a drawn-out, "Why the f*ck is this taking so long?" works to help me calm down and also puts my kids on notice that mommy is at the end of her rope without getting physical. Would Mary Poppins approve of this technique? No, but I'm a real mom working within my own limitations, and I'm doing the best I can.
Growing up, I heard swear words often, but I understood that they weren't something I was allowed to use until I was older. I'm teaching the same thing to my children. It's just like letting them use a knife or drive. They see me do it, but they understand it's not something for little kids. If anything, having them hear the occasional curse word but teaching them to respect the fact that they're too young to use those words themselves is a better life lesson than shielding them from bad words completely and pretending they don't exist.
It's controversial, but I'll admit that letting myself swear in front of my kids goes a long way towards preventing me from hitting them. I grew up getting the occasional swat from my parents, and I hated it. But having sat through the torture of trying to get two 4 year olds to put on their socks and shoes, I now understand my mom's urge to physically try and get my butt into gear. Allowing myself a drawn-out, "Why the f*ck is this taking so long?" works to help me calm down and also puts my kids on notice that mommy is at the end of her rope without getting physical. Would Mary Poppins approve of this technique? No, but I'm a real mom working within my own limitations, and I'm doing the best I can.
I've come to realize that I'd rather my kids hear curse words directly from me, and receive age-appropriate explanations about their meanings rather than reach for child-friendly versions of swear words like, "fiddlesticks" instead of "f*ck." This way, when a classmate uses the word "c*nt," my hope is they'll feel comfortable coming to me asking for clarification about its meaning (and why in our house we absolutely don't use it) because we've been talking openly and honestly about swear words their whole lives.
If you're a parent who doesn't curse in front of their children, I respect (and admire) that. And I promise to watch my language when I'm out at the park or around other children who might not be used to my colorful expressions. But when I'm home and I step on a wooden block? F*ck it.