cafe mama

entering the mind of the married mom

ruminations about when mama swears - September 15, 2005

Do I swear around my kids? Noooooooooo... OK, yes. All the time. And I've developed a theory about the whole kids and swearing thing.

When Jonathan and I first discovered I was pregnant, we started talking about how we were going to need to cut down on our swearing. Well, I started talking about it, frequently reminding him sharply to watch his "lanGUAGE!" around my belly. This was usually when he had been drinking and I was cranky at him anyway.

Then, Everett was born, and life went on. After a few months where we realized that he wasn't repeating everything we said back to us - and we were watching Sopranos and Sex and the City, with their attendant terrible language, violence, etc. anyway - we relaxed. We started letting bad words creep back into our dialogue.

And I...I am the worst violator. Jonathan's language is worse when he's around his brothers, or some of his friends. But around the house, I'm the one who can be found swearing under her breath when she drops something on her toe (more on that later) or loudly when her husband decides that he's going to stay in bed for the thirteenth "just five more minutes!" Saturday morning. And the less scandalous swearwords, the "dammit"s and the "oh, GAWD"s, well, those barely register on my self-censorship meter anymore.

You know where this is going, don't you? A little north of age two, Everett started using words that sounded suspiciously like swearwords. First there was the perfect tonal mimicry of my "oh, GAwD..." and then he expanded into a large variety of words begin with "fuh" and "sh" but not necessarily ending in the hard consonants appropriate to the expletives. Lately (like when I dropped him off at preschool this morning) it's been the blindingly appropriate use of "dannit."

And it's now theory time. See, I've been working on limiting my swearing, now that I know for sure that my child is, indeed, smart enough to use swearwords appropriately - and that he will copy everything I say, even if I think he's not paying attention. But I just realized the other day that, supposing I'm able to dial up my self-censorship meter to high enough levels to prevent Truman from hearing any more of it - he'll just learn it from his brother.

So now I know why kids always seem to know how to swear, even when their parents are the primmest and properest by the time the children reach high school and feel comfortable using the language they've learned in casual conversations with their buddies. Parents who swear when their babies are babies come to a crossroads around preschool. Either they swear off swearing entirely, hoping that their reform will have an impact on their kids, or they throw in the towel and hope they can just teach their kids to use swear words judiciously. Either way - every child learns to swear.

In my final analysis, I've decided that it's impossible to keep your kids from swearing unless you, yourself, have never been a swearing type. So will I work to stop anyway, or just accept my fate as the mom of potty-mouthed boys? That is the question.