Be warned. This post is all, in its entirety, about the word "f*ck." Or maybe mostly about f*ck, but when you read it, know that this could really be about your word. Could be sh*t, or goddamn it or muzzfuzzer. You know your word.
Because every parent has their "word." It's the one you often mutter when things go wrong, but it's also one that gets shouted out the rolled-down car window from time to time. Or it's yelled at the blackened pile that was supposed to be dinner that is now smoking in the oven as the fire alarm blares so loudly that the kids are covering their ears and calling you a terrible parent. Your word is one you think makes you a terrible parent because you use it so often. It's one of the worst parts of you and it's one you feel bad about sharing with your kids. But your word is part of your DNA, just like your kids. Your word is their word, and they will learn it.
I'm not here to judge, because my word is "f*ck," and my word is right near the top (but not at the top) of the list of words we think our kids should never learn -- or at least never learn from us. It's a word that hides in between my teeth most of the time, sometimes on the roof of my mouth or under my tongue. And it jumps out at very inopportune times. Like when I'm in the car with my family and someone doesn't use their blinker to merge, or when the girls have fought for 37 minutes straight about whether the blue table in the kitchen is brown or red.
Or when my youngest daughter says "f*ck," and so I say, "Oh, f*ck."
We know our kids will learn these words at some point, and many of us consider learning them a natural stage of development. I remember sitting in class in elementary school (maybe French class) and looking up at the nicely displayed letters of the alphabet that adorned the walls all around the room. Beside "A" was a picture of an apple, beside "B," some books. Beside "C" was a cat, and so on and so forth. Sitting at my desk, I made it my mission to think of a swear word for each and every one of those letters (often checking with peers for help, because who knows "X" swear words?). I didn't do this because my parents sat me down with my swearing textbook once my math homework was incorrectly finished; I did it because I liked to push my imagination. Over time, I've forgotten many of the swears, but I still hold f*ck near and dear to me.
You see, that word and I have a long history that I wasn't even aware of until my mother came clean on the way I was raised. Which, ironically (or naturally), seems similar to the way my kids are being raised. I was raised by someone who -- allegedly -- also had the word "f*ck" hanging out of her mouth. Maybe it was buried a little deeper; maybe it rested in her throat and didn't make the journey out as often. But it was there. And, I've been told, it was used.
My mother told me: "When you were a baby you cried all the time, and I'd get so frustrated that sometimes when I was done with the gentle rocking and singing of Mother Goose songs I'd simply tell you to 'shut the f*ck up.'"
Because, ladies and gentlemen, that is parenting. I'm not sure if that is my mother's "word," because she now hides it far better than she evidently used to, but I've read letters she had written as a new parent, and based on this circumstantial evidence, I'd say it's her word, too. We've grown closer recently because of f*ck. It's become an oft-repeated story and an oft-mentioned word when on the golf course. "F*ck" has strengthened our bond, as these words do. Because we give so much power to them.
Of course, "context" is what we all worry about. Example: "My kid knows the word 'f*ck,' but she thinks it means peeling potatoes for a long time and then cutting your finger when you're almost done. So she doesn't get it at all" -- or so we convince ourselves, happy to go about our days knowing that when it's mashed potato night, little Florence is going to think mom or dad is "f*ck"ing the potatoes again for supper. It's all good then.
But, the minute mom or dad starts peeling the "f*ck"ing potatoes, the phrase moves from "This is cute" to "Oh my God, she's going to say this in front of other people and they're going to think we're horrible parents because our little girl says 'f*ck.'"
Well, you know what? We're all walking around fearing our kids are going to do that. I can see it on the faces of parents of young kids as we walk through the cereal aisle and a kid gets told they can't have Count Chocula for breakfast this week. The dad looks at me uncomfortably when the kid yells, "I want the chocolate cereal, not the corn flakes!" I can see in his eyes that he's thinking, Yesterday, this little kid told me to 'f*ck right off' for not letting him eat chocolate chips in his grilled cheese. And this cereal is so close to chocolate chips. He's going to say 'f*ck' right in front of another parent and I'm going to have to laugh or yell or I don't know what! I'm going to lose my kid!
Meanwhile, I'm looking at him, thinking, What if my kid calls the little boy a 'f*cking whiner'? Will they take my girls away from me if they say that in front of another parent? They wouldn't say that right now, would they? But yesterday they did tell me to 'get my sh*t together, old man,' so maybe they would. F*ck.
But nothing comes of it. We both make awkward eye contact and in an instant, share an "I'm so f*cking lucky they didn't swear right there" moment.
I don't care, yo. Not if you're a dad who swears, a mom who swears, a grandma who swears, a puppet who swears. Swearing isn't my top indicator for good person vs. evil person. In fact, it's pretty damn low on the list. If you swear around your kids, you're a human being raising little human beings who don't listen to anything. If you didn't swear, I'd be worried robots had developed to the point that I couldn't tell the difference between them and us, except for the swearing.
Look, in the long run, "f*ck" is but a word. Is it a word that I'd prefer my kids not go around screaming? Yes. But it's only bad because we've been conditioned to get so worked up about swearing. In all honesty, I'd rather my kid turn to the woman at the table behind us at the restaurant and tell her, "My baby just won't stop f*cking crying," than turn around to her and tell her that she's "fat and your hair makes you look like a horse."
Seriously, we give 15 fewer f*cks about our kids taking stuff from other kids than we do about them saying our "words." We'll pressure them to kiss one another even if they don't want to because it's so cute, but we only think we're doing a bad job if they side-mutter to their friend that "the f*cking cat got out again last night and dad is pissed." Swear words can be wrong without being the thing we feel the greatest level of shame over.
My ultimate goal as a parent is to make sure my kids respect everyone around them and understand that we're all different and we're all cool with that. I go about that in strange ways, and some of them involve me using my "word." Would I be happy if my kids never used it? Yes. Do I think the fact that my kids hear it is causing deep psychological damage? No.
My daughter thinks the word "gun" is a bad word. She snickers, as kids do, when a word ends in -ass. She thinks it's sad when someone has to sit in class without friends. She also sometimes says "f*ck." And I don't really care.