The other day I was talking to our occasional sitter by phone, and just as I was about to hang up, she said she had something to tell me. Apparently the last time my 5-year-old was at her house, he’d let an expletive slip. A boy with whom he’d been playing had told his mom, who reported it to the sitter. “Honestly, I didn’t hear it myself, but I just thought you should know,” she said.
I wish I’d have reacted with utter disbelief, but it wasn’t his first public offense. Last summer, this same child, at 4, was sent home by a neighbor after letting one fly in her back-yard sandbox. He’d apparently received a warning already, so out he went after the second slip. I concurred with her decision, knowing she was only trying to protect the innocence of her child, also 4 and an only child who’d not been unfairly influenced by older siblings.
Nevertheless I was saddened that it had happened in the first place. As the youngest of five, our littlest son is deeply aware of the injustices of his small world, and as such, has struggled to keep his strong emotions in check. That doesn’t give him an excuse but at least explains the disposition preceding his blunder.
I greatly admire families who have managed to stave off the curse of the potty mouth. Unfortunately, much as I’ve wished to be among them, a few choice words have slipped into our home here and there throughout the years. And once they’re out, it’s mighty hard to erase them. Curse words are like poison that seeps into the soul of a home with the goal of taking up residence, affecting all those within and beyond.
Unfortunately, I’ve had no help from the culture with my mission to eliminate profane words from our corner. I’m continually shocked by the steep downhill slide I’ve witnessed over the years regarding the acceptance level of cursing in the media, for example, even in light of my own childhood environment on the reservation, where graffiti on the outside walls of our school paved the way for my learning the facts of life, and expletives flowed freely and easily, often as an expression of inward pain.
Certainly, I can’t be the only mother out there saddened by witnessing her child’s absorption of negative words, and realizing he sees them as powerful, something to be used as a weapon when things feel unfair. Even though I know there are things I can do to help curb the problem, it’s a challenge, to say the least.
When I hear a curse word emanate from the lips of my children, I feel powerless to some extent, because even if a corrective is issued, irrevocable damage already has been done. I can try to guide, correct, and parent him or her through it, but all the same, the words sting my heart and shout “Failure!” into my ears.
Despite our culture’s ready acceptance of curse words, despite my own weakness at different times in my life to properly ward them off, I view them as extremely lame substitutes for real words. As a word lover who believes mightily in the power of life-giving words, I abhor curse words even as I fight to keep them at bay within my home. I see them as a feeble excuses for expressing our brokenness. Though they might attract attention and garner a swift response, there are far more honorable ways to accomplish the same.
I would love all the curse words to dry up and vanish. But since that’s unlikely to happen, I must accept them as stark reminders of the imperfections of my family, motherhood and self. Curse words reveal the constant battle of good and evil that is within me — and everybody else who has roamed the earth. As a parent, when I hear them, I’m forced to confront my family’s weaknesses. This can be painful for those of us doing our best to raise respectful citizens and better ourselves.
Even if we parents who have experienced curse words within our home feel powerless in the moment of utterance, God’s grace gives us all that we need to keep trying to improve. In fact, the other day, an idea popped into my head to this end. I told the kids the next time I hear a curse word from them, they’ll be resigned to doing bathroom chores. “If you insist on having a potty mouth, you’ll be assigned toilet-cleaning duty.” We’ll see if the idea flushes.
We have three toilets, each typically in need of a good cleaning. My preference now would be that I end up having to clean them myself; that the curse of the potty mouth will have been lifted from our hearth. But if that doesn’t happen right off, if this turns out to be a cross I’m to bear for a while longer, at the very least…our toilets will sparkle.
If you’ve been afflicted by the curse of the potty mouth in your home, what are some things you’ve implemented to keep your family from using “choice words” to air frustration?