Say What?! ParentDish Team Comes Clean on Cursing

Filed under: Funny Stuff, Opinions, Expert Advice: Just For You

You kiss your mother with that mouth? Illustration by Christopher Healy

Recently, we met a woman who revealed to us her best-kept parenting secret: For 30 minutes each week, in the privacy of her home, she lets her 8- and 11-year-old kids use all the swear words they can come up with. We were instantly struck by how brilliant an idea this is -- letting her kids use "bad words" not only lessens their shock value, it also allows her to hear firsthand what her kids are "learning" from week-to-week.

That got us thinking about our own kids and swearing, and we realized that we probably bear a great deal of responsibility for our kids' questionable vocabularies. And, apparently, we're not alone.

Nearly three-quarters of moms and dads admit to cursing at another driver with their child in the car, according to a recent Evenflo "Savvy Parents Survey" of 1,000 parents with kids younger than 5. Another 28 percent say they've flipped the bird, and 21 percent have rolled down their window to scream at another driver.

But while cursing may be common, and may even help relieve pain or prevent physical violence, it's hard not to cringe when your toddler repeats four-letter words with perfect diction.

We asked ParentDish editors and writers how they handle the issue of cursing in their homes. Have your own swearing story to share? Add a (bleepin') comment below.

Even before my kids were born, I made a conscious decision that I wouldn't curse in front of them, and until about a year ago, I hadn't. But around the time my eldest graduated from high school and my youngest became a teenager, my internal clock seemed to go off, and my guard went down. Now, all bets are off. I have to admit, though, I was happily surprised when my daughter recently told me she thought I never actually cursed until last year.

-Honey Berk

"S" Is For ...
My husband and I try really hard not to swear in front of our boys, ages 5 and 4. I'm all for cursing around other adults. But lately when I drop the F-word, I feel like I've committed some social gaffe. I feel like I'm all alone in my need to let the curse words rip. Apparently, though, we are succeeding with my children. When my husband recently reprimanded my 5-year-old for saying "crap," the little guy offered some big news.

"I know the 'S' word, too," he confessed.

"Really, what is it?" his dad asked.

"Shut up," he said proudly.

-Melissa Dutton

Time Out
I was busy making dinner one night for my family when I accidentally dropped the food all over the floor. I was so mad, I forgot my 3-year-old was standing right next to me when I shouted out, "God f*ckin' dammit." As I turned around to grab a towel and clean up the mess, I saw my daughter, Jaiden, standing there with a blank look on her face.

Realizing what I did, I squatted down and told her, "Mommy was wrong and said a very, very bad word."

Jaiden replied, "Mommy, if you say a bad word, you need to get a time out."

So in an effort to teach Jaiden a lesson, I made her take me to my room, close the door and give me a time out without any TV or cell phone to play with.

-Ilyssa Panitz

Repeat After Me
I'm very, very good about not swearing in front of our 2-year-old, who repeats everything we say. But, occasionally, I let the F-bomb slip in front of the babies, who, at 9 months, I figure, are young enough not to know any better. But I'll probably have to stop doing that soon.

Not that it's a curse, but we try not to say "oh my God," either. The first time my 2-year-old heard a friend say it, he picked right up on it, and repeated it over and over again. Then, when I was telling that story to someone else, I substituted OMG, and my son picked that one up, too.


We swear like truck drivers. I manage not to do it in front of the kids; my husband, not so much, although he claims to be trying. For about a year, I had a message from my son saved on my cell phone: "Daddy said the F-word. Daddy said the F-word." He's quite the little narc, and reports on his friends, bus drivers and anyone else whose language he deems inappropriate.

-Monique El-Faizy

Jack and the Naughty Word
The other night I was in the bathroom with my son, Jack, while he was sitting on the potty attempting to make a poop. Engrossed in a book for at least 15 minutes, it was obvious his poop wasn't forthcoming. I told him he could try again later, but now it was time to get up.

"No, I can't," he said matter-of-factly. "I'm still reading."

"You can read the book in your room," I responded in kind. "Time to get up off the potty."

No response.

"Let's go, Jack. Off the potty."

Silence. And then, "I heard you the first time, you f*ck."

I gasped so loud that his head jerked up before I could finish sucking in all that air. Immediately, his eyes bulged big and the wailing began.

"Don't ever say that word again," I said tersely. "That's a very bad word and no one in this house says that."

Fast-forward to last night. Getting ready to go upstairs for bed, he said to me, apropos of nothing, "Good night you f*ck," all sweetness and light. Epiphany: This kid has absolutely no idea what this word actually means. He's used it twice now. First in proper context, "I heard you the first time, you f*ck," and then incorrectly as a term of endearment, "Good night, you f*ck."

I told him he can't say that word anymore, and he told me he can't not say it. When I asked him why, he insisted it's because he likes saying it.

Try "phooey," I said.

"Phooey, phooey, phooey," Jack quipped. "That's a funny word, Mom."

He walked upstairs to brush his teeth, testing out his new word all the way.

-Julie Z. Rosenberg

Cold Turkey
My husband and I aren't picky about language among adults, but hearing a string of curses out of the mouth of a preschooler makes us cringe. So, when we were expecting our first child, we knew we had to clean up our own acts. We were amazed at how hard it was to go cold turkey on swear words. Some sentences just naturally called out for "emphasis," so we came up with a kind of methadone treatment to kick the habit. We started using substitute words such as "shib" in place of the unprintables. It worked -- we eventually curbed our swearing instincts, and we now have a couple of clean-talking school kids.


Perfect Diction
When we moved from the East Coast to our current location in a sleepy, Midwestern college town, one of the cultural differences we had the most trouble coping with was how people drive here. One day, we were navigating the parking lot at a local shopping plaza, trapped behind an elderly farmer and his passenger.

My husband, impatient East Coaster that he is, shook his head and declared: "C'mon, Maynard! F*cking drive!"

Our then 2-year-old daughter piped up from the back seat, with perfect diction: "C'mon, Maynard! F*cking drive!"

And that's when we stopped cussing in the car.

-Amy Hatch

Nature vs. Nurture
"Is that potty talk?" My 3-year-old asks me this question several times a day as she belly laughs at uttering words such as "toilet," "poop," and "pee." She also has been known to shout out phrases like "God dammit!" and "Oh, sh*t" at the dinner table. My husband just laughs, giving her points for correct usage -- after she dropped her plate or her sister spilled her milk.

I'd like to be able to say she must have learned those words at day care, but I'm afraid her parents are to blame. My husband and I frequently engage in "potty talk" ourselves. Let's just say if we had a swear jar in our house, we'd probably be able to tackle that kitchen renovation we've been dreaming about and redo the master bathroom, too. Our 5-year-old knows not to say bad words, although she will occasionally preface a curse word with "just quoting" when ratting out someone else.

They get it honestly, though. One of my husband's first phrases, as his parents like to remind him, was greeting his own dad one day with "Hi, F*ck face." On second thought, maybe it is time to start that swear jar. I've got a couch that could use replacing.

-Lesley Kennedy

Curb It
I have no problem with cursing. But when my kids were born, I somehow managed to curb my foul mouth. I don't believe in "bad words," but there are words I don't want my little ones repeating in front of other adults. I decided, somewhat unconsciously, that it would be easier to keep the kids from cursing if I didn't use the words myself. To my surprise, this has worked -- so far.

I don't use "fudge" or "sugar" because they sound stupid -- and everyone knows what you mean, anyway. It also doesn't offer the same stress relief as the real thing. If something does slip out, I don't make a big deal out of it, since that calls attention to the offending word, and makes it seem fun to say.

Around adults, I haven't changed much. There have been times when I find myself saying "Oh my goodness," coming off like a real-life Ned Flanders. Luckily, my friends are kind enough to mock me mercilessly whenever this happens. But they're just a bunch of fudging sugar-heads.

-Brett Singer

Just For Fun
I'd never been one to curse for most of my life, but I guess I could safely say that becoming a parent converted me. I now curse when I bump into the corner of a chair while chasing my daughter, trying to get her into the bath. I curse when I stub my toe against one of the numerous toys sneakily lying around the house. I also curse when I stick my finger into a pot of hot water after being startled by the "crash!" and "bang!" coming from the bedroom where, until a moment ago, all was peace and quiet.

When all is said and done, it does bother me when my 3-year-old uncannily picks up the very words she's not supposed to, and tries them out ("just for fun, Mama!") at random intervals on random people. But after a couple of explanations that only adults are allowed to say those words, she stops using them.

-Ashwini Bhat

Holy Toledo!
My parents' favorite anecdote about my childhood is the story about how I dropped my first F-bomb at the age of 2, after being thwarted by an uncooperative Pez dispenser. Fearful that my own children would end up sounding like a David Mamet script in their preschool years, I trained myself not to curse in front of them. I knew I'd need something to blurt out in moments of frustration, so I chose quaint, inoffensive exclamations that still felt good to yell.

So, now when I stub my toe, you might hear me shout, "Criminy Pete!" Or if I pull onto the highway and see rows of brake lights in front of me, I might pull out a "Blarg!" -- the fake curse word Tina Fey invented for "30 Rock." Of course, I didn't plan for the possibility that my kids could someday be mocked by their peers for sounding like a 1950s comic book character whenever they get upset.

-Christopher Healy

Time Will Tell
Although our 3-year-old has started to march around the house calling her siblings and parents "scallywags," using an appropriate pirate voice, I can't remember when we consciously stopped cursing around our kids. It was probably early on in parenthood, when dropping the F-bomb because an infant pooped for the fifth time in 15 minutes seemed like a harsh response. But the times I realize that my husband and I have stopped our bad language habits is when I hear someone cursing in the street as we walk past with the kids. We give each other knowing looks that say, "Will we have to explain that word soon?"

-Elizabeth Humphrey

Auto Transgression
I'm pretty sure my 12-year-old daughter must believe a car runs on two things: a full tank and a foul mouth. Though I've expressly discouraged my child from the use of inappropriate language, when I'm confronted with a less-than-suitable road situation, let's just say I blow that standard like a bad blast of exhaust.

It all started one pristine, curse-free day when she was about 7 years old. We went out for ice cream, and someone ran a stop sign in a parking lot, almost hitting us. My anger went from zero to code red in less than 1.5 seconds. The curses ripped the air out of my lungs and left me panting. I don't even know what language I was speaking. I think I was channeling curses from ancient cultures, possibly even other planets.

Was I being the protective mother bear, lashing out at an imminent threat? Or had I repressed an avalanche of profanity in my attempt to keep all of our conversations "pure?" What I do know is that my kid was seriously disappointed in me. I apologized to her for being so loud and scary and tried to make her to understand that, well, sometimes adults occasionally say stupid things. Especially in cars.

-Dori Hartley

Related: School Asks Cops to Fine Foul-Mouthed Students
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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.
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