That Time I Cussed Out My Baby
Could running my potty mouth at my baby cause a real problem?
The subject of parents swearing crops up every so often in the media and the blogosphere. What I’ve noticed is that the conversation usually revolves around those times when the children’s presence is incidental to the parents’ swearing. For instance, junior may be around when a paper cut prompts the S-word to slip out of your mouth, or maybe he’s there when you stub your toe and drop an F-bomb.
Some argue that parents ought to have better self-control and shield their children from offensive language. Others say it’s OK for kids to hear the blue stuff every once in a while and understand that their parents are human, too.
What I’ve heard discussed much less often—if at all—is swearing directly at your children… which makes sense, because there’s really no debate to be had about that. The idea of actively hurling profanity at tiny tots is disgusting, despicable and certainly not something any decent person would do.
Well, call me disgusting, despicable and indecent because, oops, just the other night, my potty mouth erupted… on my baby.
That’s right, I cussed out my baby.
Here’s the context: It was, of course, late. I was, of course, tired. He was, of course, not sleeping. None of my usual soothing tricks were working, and finally I’d had it: “What is your [expletive]ing problem?” I screamed. “Just go to sleep, you little [expletive.]”
In my defense, I’d like to say this doesn’t happen regularly. I do have a temper—just try to steal my parking spot, I dare you—but I do my best to keep it in check in front of my children. I raise my voice, but I never disparage, use degrading adjectives—i.e. “stupid,” “useless”—and, until this week, curse.
When it finally did happen, I felt guilty. But it helps to know I’m definitely not alone. I’ve heard from other moms—responsible, loving, happy parents—who, in the heat of the moment, aimed obscenities at their littles too.
My fellow BabyZone blogger Taylor Hengen Newman did it recently when her son dumped out the contents of her purse on the sidewalk.
“I never do it deliberately, but sometimes it just happens, you know?” she said.
Blogger Chelsea Day, of Someday I’ll Learn, did it after her “pinchy” 7-month-old twisted her skin… and then quickly regretted it.
“Seeing his eyes looking up at me in fear and his little lip quivering was my saddest parenting moment to date,” she said.
Fortunately for me, my 13-month-old didn’t seem too bothered by my choice of words. He seemed momentarily stunned but then quickly reverted to happy (not the least bit drowsy) babbles.
Research on the subject, or at least the little I’ve found, is mixed. The authors of a recent article for the Association for Psychological Science’s Observer journal argue that in general, swearing isn’t necessarily bad.
“Swear words can achieve a number of outcomes, as when used positively for joking or storytelling, stress management, fitting in with the crowd or as a substitute for physical aggression,” write Timothy Jay and Kristin Janschewitz.
Jay and Janschewitz, who are professors at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Marist College, respectively, recorded 10,000 episodes of public swearing by children and adults. “(R)arely have we witnessed negative consequences,” they said in their article.
On the opposite end of the spectrum is a 2011 study from Brigham Young University. As TIME Magazine reports, researchers found that middle-schoolers who were exposed to more swear words in the media were more violent than their peers. The children were also more likely to use swear words themselves.
“(T)here are behavioral implications for exposure to profanity,” study leader Sarah Coyne told TIME.
But what I found most compelling, personally, was the idea that it’s the anger behind your words—more than the words themselves—that may really have a detrimental impact on your kids.
“Studies have shown that parents who express a lot of anger in front of their kids end up with less empathetic children. These kids are more aggressive and more depressed than peers from calmer families, and they perform worse in school,” psychologist Matthew McKay told Yahoo Shine. “Anger has a way of undermining a kid’s ability to adapt to the world.”
Maybe I should worry less about the occasional F-bomb and more about my (raised) tone of voice. I guess a few deep breaths are in order, huh?
But I also like Taylor’s realistic approach to parenting and cussing. She’s in the “we are only human” camp.
“I think it’s okay for our kids to know we sometimes swear, even though we, and they, know we shouldn’t,” she said. “Parents are people, too!”
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