This is the first and most likely the only time that word will ever be used in this blog. One of my two year olds used it yesterday, in a very factual manner because I’d dropped a pen on the floor.
Since having the babies, I have been very good about toning down my language in while speaking to them. If they make a mess, or do something they’re not supposed to do, my response is “oh no!” or “uh-oh!” or “oops!” What I failed to take into account is that babies are listening to you all the time, not only when you are talking specifically to them. So engrained are swear words in my day-to-day life, I hardly even recognize them as such. While some people reserve such tawdry language for times of extreme crisis, to me, they are more of a habit than anything else. So that when I do drop a pen, or stub my toe, or forget something on the counter and have to go back for it, the f-word slips from my mouth as easily as my name, usually with no meaning attached.
For babies, however, every word has meaning, and it’s that meaning they are striving to figure out on a daily basis so that they might expand their communication skills and finally be able to tell the world exactly what they think of it.
When Dulce did drop the bomb, my husband and I looked at each other silently, over her head. What do we do now?
There are a number of ways we could curb this habit right from the start. The silliest, in my opinion, way people advise you to handle the habit is the “swear jar.” The idea behind it being, of course, that if someone swears around the babies, they are to put some amount of money into a jar as punishment. That will never work in this house. We’re tight enough on money as it is. Not to mention, playing games like that just doesn’t appeal to us. While this idea may work best in a household where there are teenagers about who really need a dollar and for whom putting money in a jar may be a fun punishment, for two adults living alone with two babies, it’s simply too juvenile to make a difference or provide us with anything but resentment on the part of the person being corrected.
We could use “substitution terms” like they do in that Orbitz gum commercial. “What the French Toast!?” But if you’re not consciously thinking that you are about to use a swear word, you’re not going to be able to catch yourself in time. Over weeks, you may make a difference in your speech. Of course, then you’ll go from sounding crass to sounding silly.
The best way to deal with an issue like swearing, I think, is to attack it from its source. Many times, a person will swear out of anger, or frustration, or fear. Perhaps, then, the easiest way to overcome the habit is to change the emotions surrounding it.
How frustrating is dropping a pen, really? Not really all that frustrating. How much of an inconvenience is wiping up that milk you spilled? It only takes a few minutes of your time. If adults can learn to be just a little more flexible, these tiny infractions impinging upon our days will cease to bother us, will cease, even, to graze our consciousness. If we could, in fact, learn from the babies we are teaching, we could be better role models for them.
For example, when something a toddler considers important goes mortally wrong, you can expect a screaming, writhing, excruciating tantrum. As the adult in that situation, we take them aside, calm them down, and essentially explain that whatever it is, it is not that important. What is swearing for an adult other than a semi-acceptable, shortened tantrum? We must learn that it is just not that important. Also, many things an adult considers important, a toddler doesn’t even notice. Messes, spills, schedules, family drama – they’re all small potatoes to a baby. Why should they be that important to adults that we should throw a mini-tantrum over them? No sense in crying over spilt milk, as they say. (This saying does not apply to the pumping mother. It is perfectly acceptable and possibly unavoidable to cry over that spilled milk.)
Since toddlers are sopping up information from their adult counterparts, it’s only natural that they swear if you swear. If you want to change their behavior, you need to look to yourself.
Swearing, really, is a meaningless byproduct of a more important conundrum. As someone once said to me, “You can’t make everyone change their speech around your child, but you can teach your own child right from wrong.” If you teach a child about right and wrong, and they know that swearing is wrong, then you’ve taught the bigger lesson. You’ve sounded the problem out rather than memorizing the solution, if you will.
In this house, I can say that I will be making my best effort to no longer get frustrated over something as small as dropping a pen. The f-word is not synonymous with “oh no!” and it never will be.
To be clear, the f-word is not the only swear word my babies know – but at least when they say “cock,” they mean timepiece, and when they say “shit,” they mean they’re taking a seat.