I used to be able to drop a pretty effective F-Bomb.
These days, when I stub my toe you can still hear some choice words from me.
However, having kids has done a number on my swearing talents. I fear that I am turning into one of those pearl-clutching mothers who looks about and then whispers the swear word to you. It makes me a little sad.
When I first had children I promised myself that I would never censure my speech. I wasn’t especially sheltered as a child and I turned out pretty great. I promised myself that I would raise girls that were both empowered and polite. My children would know what words meant, when it was appropriate to use them and what words considerate people never used.
Before my children were born I had a fabulous friend who swore all the time. Her babysitter was the best F-bomb-dropping, white-haired, 60-year-old woman who ever lived. My friend’s children knew that there were words adults say that children do not say because she had just told them that from an early age.
Fast forward a few years. My two darling girls, ages five and two, were bopping around singing to Katy Perry’s “Hot n cold.” In case you’ve forgotten, some of lyrics to this song are “You PMS like a bi***, I would know.” I listened to them sing this song a few times and then realized that they really liked that line. I tried explaining, “Girls, ‘bi***’ is a bad word. It is a word that kids do not say.” I felt great about being direct but not sheltering my children.
A few days later, my precious two-year-old sat down with a book to “read” me a story. The story went like this: “Bi***, bi***, biiiii***.” Not so great.
I switched tactics. Maybe I would shelter them just a little bit. I tried changing our music to Kidz Bop, but Kidz Bop made me want to scratch my ears out. I started pausing to check for kids before letting a bad word slip, then I just started whispering the bad words, which was both awkward and un-satisfying.
Then my oldest daughter started school. She came home one day and asked “Mommy, What does fut mean?”
I went with the theory that you should always give children the simplest answer to their questions and replied: “Fut is not a word.”
She persisted, “Oh yeah it is. Tyler told me that fut is a BAAAAAD word.”
“Nope, not a word.”
The next day Tyler enunciated more clearly and also showed her the hand gesture, which she promptly taught to the three-year-old.
So obviously my attempts at whispering and sheltering were pretty much worthless.
These days, our girls are 10 and 7. They like to play the letter game with me. It’s like alphabet games you’ve probably played before except much, much more inappropriate. They will say “I know the A-word.” “I know that B-word.” “Is there a C word?” For the most part I play along (Ok, not the C word, because there are some words that I don’t even whisper!!)
One day while, while discussing the alphabet of bad words my girls asked me “Is there an N-word?”
I clutched my invisible pearls. I took a deep breath.
I realized I had reached one of those crossroads where a parent can chose to shelter their children or empower them. I chose to empower them with knowledge. I said “Girls, there are some words that I NEVER say because they are filled with hate.”
I had to whisper this word too, but I realized there might never be such a teachable moment to talk about how much meaning and backlash can be packed into a single word. We had a good chat about how much words can hurt people. I told my daughters that if I ever heard someone use the N-word it told enough about their beliefs to make me never want to associate with them again.
I hope to teach my children that language is important and powerful. Language conveys meaning and, more than just understanding there there are forbidden bad words, I want them to understand what words mean and all the nuances they can convey. My girls are also old enough to know that people will judge you based on the language that you use. I would rather that they hear and understand words from me than from kids at school.
Language brings people together or drives them apart. I want my girls to know that they can ask me anything. A friend recently said that she tells her kids “If you want the truth, you come to me.” I want that for my girls too…Even if I have to whisper the answer.