About a year ago, my laptop died.  For a technogeek like me, this was nothing short of a disaster, and I became a general nuisance around my household.  I would hijack George’s computer, much to his disgust, or I would hover restlessly behind my betrothed’s left shoulder because I wanted him to get off his computer so I could update my Facebook status.  After a few days of this, Gerard got fed up (who can blame the poor man?) and went out to buy me a new laptop.  James, who had just turned four, accompanied him.

From what I’ve been told, the actual shopping part of the trip was uneventful. It was the trip home that got interesting.

It all started when James, from his booster seat in the back, announced that he wanted a donut.  Gerard told him to look out for a donut shop, and for the next few minutes they were bantering back and forth:

“Is that a donut shop?”

“Noooo, that’s a McDonalds.  Yuck!” (James thinks McDonalds is gross).

“Is that a donut shop?”

“No, Daddy!  That’s a gas station!  You’re silly!”

And so on.

The bantering died a natural death and a comfortable silence fell for the next ten minutes or so.  Gerard just assumed that the moment had passed.  But then, all of a sudden, James spoke.  In a voice of utter perplexity, he said, “Where’s the f*cking donut shop?”

Gerard says he almost choked on his own saliva.  “WHAT did you just say?” he asked, giving James a stern look in the rear-view mirror.

James innocently held his hands palm-side-up in a “What?” gesture and said, “Where’s the – ummmm – donut shop?”

Gerard did not reprimand James.  He was afraid that if he opened his mouth, he would burst out laughing.  He almost dislocated his jaw in his efforts to keep it shut.  And then when he got home and told me the story, I clapped my hand over my mouth and doubled over in silent fits of laughter. Both of us were in hysterics over the fact that our four-year-old had used a profanity.  That’s what good parents we are.

I mean, c’mon.  It’s FUNNY.

Don’t get me wrong.  I don’t condone this kind of language coming from the mouths of my babes. Gerard and I try our best to model appropriate language.  We make a point of saying please and thank you, of talking to each other in a respectful manner, and of avoiding negativity and profanity.  In short, we talk in the way we would like our kids to talk.

I’m really, really sorry about the time the leg of lamb fell out of the freezer and hit me on the leg, prompting me to use the F word very loudly.  Yes, the kids were present, but I couldn’t stop myself.  Frozen legs of lamb are very hard and it hurt a lot.

Part of the problem, of course, is that as parents, we cannot always control the external influences that our children are subjected to, even before they head off for the first day of school.

Take TV, for instance.  Parents differ in their approaches to their kids’ TV time – some veto it altogether, while others allow their kids to watch a certain amount of age-appropriate programming.  Most parents do what makes sense to them, and there are very few who will allow their kids to watch what they want, when they want.  When the kids are in bed and supposedly sleeping, the parents will watch the TV shows of their choice.  What we learned, however, is that kids can pick up a surprising amount between the time they sneak out of their rooms at night and the time they are detected and dispatched back to their beds by a stern parent. Case in point:  James used Lego to re-enact the Haiti earthquake, despite having not been exposed to any daytime news coverage of the event.

Then there are the influences of computers (parental control software is great and all, but it’s not foolproof, and have you seen what people are doing with Dora the Explorer on YouTube videos these days?).  And as soon our precious babes leave the protectiveness of our embrace to go to school, we have to deal with what they are picking from other people.

At one time, I thought it was my responsibility to not allow my kids to be exposed to stuff like violence and bad language, but I am increasingly coming to the realization that I cannot control this.  I cannot completely shelter them unless I keep them in a locked room with no technology, no books, and no human interaction.  So my responsibility as I see it has shifted: now it is up to me to teach my kids how to respond to various influences they encounter.  They need to learn that when they hear bad language, they shouldn’t use it themselves.  When they see or hear about violence, they should know that it is wrong and that there are always better ways to solve a problem.

As a follow-up to the donut shop story, we have only heard James use that word twice since then.  In both cases, we have dealt with it appropriately by discussing it with James like responsible parents, and then we have retreated to the privacy of our bedroom to have a quiet giggle about the humourous side of it.

How do you handle it when your kids use bad language?  Do you ever accidentally let bad words slip out in the presence of your kids?

This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Kirsten Jessiman of Toronto, Canada.  Kirsten can also be found on her blog, Running for Autism.

Photo credit to http://www.flickr.com/photos/iansoper/409534704/. This photo has a creative commons attribution license.

Kirsten Doyle (Canada)

Kirsten Doyle was born in South Africa. After completing university, she drifted for a while and finally washed up in Canada in 2000. She is Mom to two boys who have reached the stage of eating everything in sight (but still remaining skinny). Kirsten was a computer programmer for a while before migrating into I.T. project management. Eventually she tossed in the corporate life entirely in order to be a self-employed writer and editor. When Kirsten is not wrestling with her kids or writing up a storm, she can be seen on Toronto's streets putting many miles onto her running shoes. Every year, she runs a half-marathon to benefit children with autism, inspired by her older son who lives life on the autism spectrum. Final piece of information: Kirsten is lucky enough to be married to the funniest guy in the world. Connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter @running4autism. Be sure to check out her personal blog, Running for Autism!

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