Colourful language

One word uttered in secret and writer Chris Hunt knew he’d become a bad parent

There are moments in every parent’s life they will never forget. The moment their child is born. Their kids’ first steps. Their first words. Their first day of school.

The day they realized they were bad parents.

I remember that day vividly. My son was playing quietly in his room while his mother was doing dishes in the kitchen. I was where I always was when an epiphany strikes, on my way to the bathroom.

Without warning, my little boy excitedly shot out of his bedroom. His eyes were bright with mischief, his face beamed.

“Daddy,” he whispered as he grabbed my hand. “Come.” He led me into his room and motioned for me to sit on his bed while he quietly closed his bedroom door. His smile widened as he scurried to my side.

He leaned in to my face, covered my mouth with his tiny hand and began to talk so excitedly spittle rained on my cheeks.

“Daddy,” he whispered. “Don’t tell Mommy. At school today, I said the F word.”  Taken aback, I asked him what F word, exactly.

And then he said it.

Before the word was out of his mouth, I knew I was a bad parent. Not because he was swearing, but because he thought it was OK to tell me.

He didn’t think of me as an authority figure, but as a confidant. I was a buddy, someone to share in the laughter of his rude and crude utterances.

And I do laugh. My son uses vulgar words like they’re a verbal Mr. Potato Head – he throws them together to see what sticks. And it’s hard not to chuckle when your kid spits out phrases like ‘penis nipple.’

Prior to Riley going to school, his vocabulary had been moderately colourful. He’d drop the occasional ‘dumb’ or ‘stupid,’ and of course ‘fart’ was a virtual vocal staple, but that was usually as bad as it got.

In the months following his first day at school, his vocabulary expanded exponentially. The wayward ‘dumb’s and haphazard ‘stupid’s morphed into sincere ‘damn’s and ‘crap’s. And those eventually were augmented by the inappropriate use of various parts of the human anatomy. But the day he sat me on his bed was the first time he seriously swore. 

When we told our family about it, they nodded their heads sagely and told us the worse was yet to come. A storm was coming, they said. Batten down the hatches and weather it as best you can.

His mother and I drew up a battle plan to deal with his escalating vocabulary. We tried explaining that inappropriate words can be offensive to others.

That didn’t work.   

We tried giving him timeouts.

That didn’t work.

Then we tried explaining while giving him a timeout. That didn’t work.

The storm grew into a hurricane, and we were holding on for dear life. Then we had an idea.

Instead of punishment, why not reward him?

I bought a box of superhero toys and told him for every few days he went without using bad language, he could choose one.

It took him over a month to get his first one. That said, his mouth has since become significantly less acidic. Did the reward system work? Maybe. 

Or perhaps the storm just died down. For now. That’s the thing about parenting, right? You never know if it’s calm, or just the calm before the storm.


Photo: Angela Jacques