I’ll never forget the first time my son swore. It was Labor Day weekend, 2011. He was two and a half. We were in a motel room, unpacking our luggage and looking forward to celebrating the wedding of our good friends. He was toddling around, looking in drawers and suitcases. Then he asked me, “Where’s my god damn it hat?”
And would you believe I didn’t laugh?
I had him repeat himself a couple of times, just to be sure. It turns out he was looking for his Red Sox baseball cap, and why he referred to it as a “god damn it hat,” I’ll never know, but I knew I had to curb that shit… I mean, stuff.
Now, regular readers (and readers of the previous sentence) will know that I have no problem with swearing. There’s a time and a place for swearing. For comedic effect? You’re damn right. To convey strong emotion? Fuck, yeah! To complain when your son-of-a-bitching team is losing? Oh, maybe that’s where he got that…
As for places: in your own home is fine. Bars are acceptable. In your car, with the windows rolled up, is practically required. They don’t call us Massholes for nothing. But I won’t swear in front of children, the elderly, or strangers. It’s just not done, my dear. And I have no problem calling out people who swear in front of my child. Just ask those dirtbags who were loitering in the Petco parking lot last week. Never has a “Sorry, ma’am” been more hard-won, or more rightfully deserved.
As adorable as my son’s misuse of a swear was, I couldn’t allow it. Two is just too young to grasp all the nuances of appropriate swearing. So I sat him down and told him, “Honey, ‘damn’ is a grown-up word. Grown-up people have grown-up problems, and sometimes we need grown-up words to complain about them. You are two. Nothing in your life is so bad that it merits the use of a grown-up word. When you’re thirteen, you may use grown-up words.”
Yes, I told him he can swear when he’s thirteen. And you know what? I might even let him swear sooner. Growing up, I knew kids who swore as young as nine or ten (although I personally never uttered a swear until the ripe old age of twelve—it was “shit,” if you’re curious). Kids will swear. It’s unavoidable. But by giving him an actual, tangible date, I’ve taken the taboo out of it. Swearing isn’t something he’s not allowed to do, it’s something he’s not allowed to do yet, like drink coffee or drive a car.
He’s now five years old, and he’s never knowingly sworn since that day (I’m not counting “What does ‘bitch’ mean?” because it was my own damn fault for thinking I could watch that show in front of him).
I don’t claim to be a perfect parent, so I don’t often dole out advice, but I’ve got to say, I think I really fuckin’ nailed that one.
This post originally appeared on In the Powder Room