Everything is up for debate now. Processed versus organic. Breast versus bottle. Cloth versus disposable. Even swearing versus “child friendly talk” around our kids. There is someone who favors it. Someone who criticizes it. Tis the way of the world.
I remember the first time I cursed around my oldest. I was pregnant with his little brother and I was nesting so hard. I had all of the baby clothes sprawled out around the living room getting them organized for the baby to come. Son was toddling around, unfolding the baby clothes, throwing toys around, and asking me for cookies. I must’ve told him 40 times that we didn’t have any cookies, all the while attempting to smile my Shirley Temple smile through increasingly gritted teeth.
Then it happened. I bent down to pick up a toy that I couldn’t bear to see out of its place and when I stood back up, I whacked my head on the fireplace mantle. While I was still seeing stars, son creeps up behind me, touches my angry arm skin and begs me yet again for a cookie. I spin around like a monster in need of an exorcism and tell him we don’t have any ___________ cookies (insert your favorite cuss word.) He looks truly startled and then starts crying.
I have never recovered from that moment.
Oh, I forgive myself, and I understand that hormones and pain and other factors were at hand, but I never felt the same after that. And I never stopped cussing.
I didn’t cuss just to cuss, and I was cautious around my children but from time to time, when the moment was right, a very righteous “damn” (or worse) came off a fiery sharp tongue. At first the kids were affected, but eventually the shock and awe became a stretch and yawn, and even morbid laughter from my kids. My oldest couldn’t take me seriously, and neither could I. The cuss word felt as sweet as honey on my tongue, yet I always felt like a fool 14 seconds later.
I prayed about stopping cussing dozens of time. But it was futile. I was princess pudding pop dripping with sugar until the whole parenting thing unraveled my good senses and then it was on. Eyes bulging, lip twitching, neck spazzing cuss-a-thon. Good, good times. I felt so guilty and awful, but the guilt never inspired lasting change.
My youngest son began cussing. Wait, no, my mildly autistic already struggling to fit in with the world son began cussing hard. He could “eff” it up with the best of them.
Here’s how I learned it was a problem: He thought I had left the house to get his brother from the school down the road. He thought he was alone, but he wasn’t. Poor fella was losing his “stuff” in the kitchen. He was just cussing up a storm. When I popped around the corner, his heart nearly stopped. His expression was priceless. I asked him what he was doing. He said (because honesty is not an issue for him), “Cussing and eating sugar.” Well, there it is. My shiny example at it’s fullest potential. I created an F-bombing sugar monster.
Then it got worse. He started cussing a lot. Whatever made him mad was a justifiable reason for cussing, and he was good at it. It was always in context. I picked him up from school one day, and his teacher told me it was a rough day for him. His response was simple, “That’s bullsh*t.”
Houston we have a problem.
Even his brother was embarrassed. He left his baby brother at the basketball court down the road and called me to come get him. He said the little cusser was losing it at the court, scaring off walkers and dogs with his angry language. I slipped on my house shoes, collected my minions and came to a realization: Something has to change.
I told his doctor and his counselor that he was cussing a lot. I told the counselor that I was an angry cusser too, but couldn’t bring myself to admit it to the doctor. She asked the man cub where he learned the bad words. “Was it at school? From your friends? From TV? Or video games?” “No, my son kept repeating.” I shot him a sheepish thankful look. The doctor caught on and thankfully moved on.
So I prayed again. And this time I was ready to commit to quitting. I was thinking about how hard it was going to be. I grew up around cursing, then I worked in the restaurant and bar industry, then I incorporated “colorful” language into my story telling. Everyone laughed. It became part of me, and I didn’t know how to let it go.
Then while I was praying, and pitying myself for having to do such a hard thing, God reminded me: People quit heroin. You can quit polluting the world with your words.
It finally soaked in. I wanted to do this. I needed to do this. And I would do this.
So I came back to my child and told him I was sorry, and that I was wrong. That I had set a very poor example, and that I was going to change. I asked if he would join me on a journey towards better language. I gave him permission to call me out for bad language. And we joined forces to become better versions of ourselves.
Here’s the deal. We can say that kids and adults have different rules, but we are wrong to think that will hold water. Rules are a reflection of values. And it should be obvious to our kids where our values are from, and what implications they create. We can’t live in the gray, and expect the light. We have to choose, and we have to be clear. We have to stand out in a very foggy world, leading our kids where we would like them to go. We have to forgo ambiguity for clarity and comfort for honor. We have to parent.
I wanted to have the right to say to my son, “Our family doesn’t do that. This is what we believe in.” And to mean it. And to not break his trust by becoming a liar. That is the hardest thing I have committed to. Not quitting cussing, but being a person of my word that chooses to change a little of who I am to be a better example for my child. To literally give my child a greater chance at success in life.
You might not think cussing is a big deal, but if it leaves you feeling like a pile of poo like it does me, or if your kids have learned some bad habits from you, it’s time for a change. And there is no greater time than the present.
I am still struggling with it a bit. I fouled up pretty bad today, and quickly apologized, but the smog is lifting in our home, and the vernacular is changing, and my son is choosing fewer and fewer curse words, because “our family doesn’t do that” and we are trying to live up to our own standards. We aren’t doing a cuss jar or any other gimmick. We just picture the people we want to be, and the future we want for our children and we give it value and strength every time we honor it with a series of small decisions.
Some might say we already give up so much for our children…our bodies, our careers, even a piece of our marriage. But I say is it all worth it if it doesn’t make us better humans, if it doesn’t create in us a sense of urgency to do this “job” with greatness and commitment? What is the purpose of it all if we are just going to say to ourselves, “Eff it. They will learn it one day anyway.” If parenting doesn’t make you want to be a better person, what will?
They will learn a lot – in time. They will learn about drugs and addictions, about murder and war, about hunger and famine, and prejudice and hate. They will experience heartbreak and loss. They will lose friends and watch loved ones fade. They will experience great joy and crushing lows. They will love and they will live.
But who they will be in the process, what light will shine from them along their journey has a great deal to do with us: Our words, our values, our example, not just the ones we told them we had, but the ones we lived so hard that it bent us at times, and changed us, and made us better people; those are the values what will be their compass and their guide and will affect their journey, even their destination.
And what greater gift as a parent can we give our children than the gift of sacrifice? The knowledge that mom or dad gave up something once thought precious or integral for something better and lasting because our children deserved it. Because we saw a snake in their path, and we cut off the head, because removing hurdles to success is part of what we as parents do.
I picture little toddlers, zig zagging around me. And bigger kids too, all looking up to me. I can hear one shushing another, “You can’t use those words around grandma. She doesn’t say bad words.” And I can smile and think to myself, “You were so worth giving it up for.” Because that’s what our family does.