Go ahead and look it up right here. And then come right on back because I’m not quite done talking about this yet.
Welcome back. Don’t say I never taught you anything.
Kids repeat everything that we say. And much of what we do. And I do mean everything– the good, the bad and the stuff that we really, really wish that they wouldn’t. We work oh-so-very-hard to make sure that they say their pleases and thank yous (check), chew with their mouths um- closed (still working on this one) and use their silverware instead of well, their fingers (sadly, rudely, grossly still working on this one as well).
We model, goal-set and read up on how to live our lives in the best possible ways. For ourselves, but also (sometimes mostly), for our children. We want them to notice, remember and carry on our best traits. Not our…wait for it…foul ones.
Except when it comes to language, we Mamas sometimes slip, flub and just plain talk crudely. Not at someone, mind you. But when telling a juicy story. Or while living our lives. Late (again), stained shirt (again), spilled milk (again). And then it just kind of slips-rightonout. All natural and normal. You know, like it’s okay or something.
I think it’s fascinating, hilarious and somewhat confusing that we Mamas do this. At least many of us. Not you, of course. I didn’t mean you. But for the rest of us, is it the sleep deprivation? Or the amount of time spent talking about colors? And animals? And the colors of animals? Are those the things that make us talk like that?
As you all know I consider my Israeli Mama friends to be some of the sassiest and bad-assiest of the bunch so I asked them what they thought and I, of course, learned a thing. Or two.
In Israeli mentality, what’s considered a swear word is much broader than what we’re used to here. It includes words like metumtemet (stupid), mechueret (ugly), and magila (disgusting). And the whole cursing phenomenon that’s sweeping our Mamas? Not so much happening in Israel. Words with a negative connotation are just generally not used by the Mama set. And if you do use them? It’s perceived as a sign of being a tad bit uncultured, that you’re capable of violence or simply that you still need to grow out of it, and hopefully soon.
I know that in general in the States, we favor kindness. But I just don’t think that we’d ever consider mean words to be uncouth or swear words. But maybe we should? It’s much easier to fathom explaining to my kids why those are bad words rather than the ones that “mommy sometimes says when something’s really, really ouchy!”
I had two favorite caveats from the swear-talk explanations from the Mamas. The first was about that unsavory, but quite often muttered under our breath, word: s#!t. One Mama shared that it’s not considered a swear word by most Israelis. It’s pronounced sheeeet, is often uttered by the most dignified and that many people don’t actually know what it means. I had forgotten all about this phenomenon and joltedly remembered how shocked I was the first time that I heard it in Israel. It was a similar experience to the first time that I heard a Minnesotan student say, “crap,” which is considered just fine to say here in the Midwest. Since “bad language” seems to be wrapped around meaning and intention, I do think it’s interesting that we have “stand-in words.” Do they then become the “naughty words” because their intention is, you know, bad?
And the second caveat that I love so-very-much? On the highway, anything goes. I’m kind of thinking ’nuff said about that one.
I remember friends sharing tales of their own Mamas’ word choices and thinking, telling, even proclaiming that mine was just about as innocent as can be. I practically envisioned a halo lighting up (ding!) every time that she talked. Why? Because I honestly couldn’t pinpoint a time when I heard her say a “bad” word. You know, like all of the other moms. Until, that is, I heard her exclaim l’azazel when our car wouldn’t start. Or we were late to one thing. Or we forgot something else.
And then I realized something important. An angel, my Ima is not. But smart? That she is. Perhaps I should find a choice word or two that my kids don’t know and aren’t likely to repeat so that you (yes, you) don’t hear “frickin” from Chloe or “crap” from Kayli. Sigh.
When I spill on my clothes (this happens often), or I drop something on my toes (also, interestingly enough, happens often) it really “ticks me off.” I personally have never thought of this phrase as being in the not-to-say category. But when I heard Chloe repeating it this week, I cringed inside because it sounded all wrong coming from her sweet (debatable, but only sometimes) self. So I decided to sit right down and have a little talk about our language, young lady! And indeed, we did sit down together. I took a deep breath, smiled and then realized that I had no idea what to say! I can say it, but you can’t? It’s okay at home but not out? Other people might find it offensive?
While I can easily explain not saying “stupid,” my best reason for not saying “frickin” is that I don’t really want other people judging my parenting based on my kids’ penchant for “bad words.” Why do we do that as Mamas? Worry so much about public parenting and what other Moms (and Dads) think? And “for heaven’s sakes” (clean. oh-so-very clean word choice right there) why do we sometimes change our parenting, wording, decisions, boundaries based on other people, their kids and their parenting? Don’t we all need to say, try, do whatever works best for our kids and our family?
I guess that we all want to fit into societal norms. At least somewhat. We don’t want to be known as that mom whose that kid says that word. Or even worse, that mom whose that kid taught your kid that word. About that, sorry. Really. So what am I going to tell my kids about choice words? I’m not quite sure yet. But whatever I end up saying, it’ll be clean. I promise.
Ed. Note: We hope that you, like us, want TC Jewfolk to stick around for a very long time. So we’re asking for a few minutes of your time so we can learn more about you. Oh, and if warm fuzzies aren’t enough motivation, maybe this is: the awesome folks at Parasole Restaurants (think Chino Latino, Salut, Il Gato and Burger Jones to name a few) have generously donated a $50 gift card for us to give away to one lucky survey taker. Your chance to enter is at the end of the survey. Click here to take the survey.
Family story I’ve never lived down: I was watching “The Departed” in my bedroom with my then-5-year-old playing games in another room. The denouement was crazy and exciting and thrilling, and I needed for my boy to stay put for only five minutes more so I could see the end of a movie in peace for the first time in forever. Of course, he bursts through the door right as one of the characters was telling another one to stfu. Jon Alex was delighted! The look on his face was pure joy. He turned to me and asked: can I say that? Just one time? Please mommy please mommy please mommy mommy please.
This went on for months. Please let me say (stfu) one time, Mommy.
Now I’m the parent in the family who supposedly lets my kids watch films filled with violence and mature language, and that’s not true. It was just that one time. Haha. Oh well.
What to say to the kids? How about what (I think) you’re saying here: Some words and phrases should not be used in polite company unless you want to appear ignorant or rude or both. But sometimes we all lose our temper or are surprised by something, or for some other reason say a word or phrase we wish we hadn’t said out loud.
And if you think it’s hard for parents, think about how hard it is for rabbis (and rabbis who are parents). I actually felt honored the first time my rabbi used a swear word in front of me (in private of course) because it said to me that he recognizes I see him as a real person, not “just” a rabbi, and he feels comfortable enough with me to relax and say what springs to mind when it’s just me there. Not that he swears often, and never in public. Nor would I want him to.
To be completely honest, I swear pretty much every single day. That being said, when my kids were little I didn’t. Or, if I did, it wasn’t in front of them until they got older. There was a lot of “OH MY STARS” and “WHAT IN THE WORLD” coming out of my mouth back then. And you know what? My kids never swore. And if they did, they never did it in front of me.
They do now. Not a whole lot, but they’re all adults and they can curse with the best of them. But, like me, they know when it’ll be accepted for what it is and when it’s improper. And they’d never do it in front of their Grandparents. Respect is what it is.
Do I think they don’t respect me because they know they can curse in front of me? Not at all. I gave them permission:)
Call me crazy, but it works for me.
You are a good mama, Galit. Your kids are blessed to have such thoughtful and caring parents.
Great post and interesting for me ie: the Israeli Mentality.
The last two paragraphs are of particular interest and deserve another post (or two).
I think that the whole judging thing is worth talking about and examining.
I really don’t understand the pressure.
I have noticed a consistent theme in your writing regarding “doing what works best for our kids and our families.”
AND I LIKE IT!
Not having children or grandchildren…I have always said whatever I wanted and swearing is a big part pf my vocabulary….It is SOOOO Satisfying sometimes!
I understand when you have children your priorities change a bit when it comes to swearing….
I enjoy reading about your personal feelings about “parenting” and I love seeing pictures of your kids!
I LOVE those two mismatched socks! I think it could start a trend…! And I am serious!
Ahhh, you missed a really important one. Here in Israel the F word is used quite commonly. Pronounced with an a not a u and even used to replace the word messup. As in Eize F-A-C-K aseetee. (what a mess I have made) gah! it made me cringe. Sadly over the years although I have gotten more used to hearing it, I still recognize it as a bad word.
Here sadly the s word is used as commonly as lots of other words.
Then there is the whole swearing in arabic that goes on. (Kind of what you don’t really understand doesn’t sound soo bad)
Off to do the dishes and practice not swearing under my breath . 🙂
great great post. i try SOOOO hard and I’m constantly finding new words that come out of my 8 year old’s mouth that I find to be “inappropriate.” I feel like there’s a constant revision. His current favorite word is “Dang” which makes me cringe. It’s not that it’s so BAD, it just sounds icky to me. Luckily he’s figured out when I don’t like a word, he tries hard to change it so I don’t start charging him for its usage (25 cents an infraction?) – that’s what worked for the grownups!!! 🙂
Great post, this subject is always a conundrum in our house. We have three cultures’ worth of curse words to be aware of, Israeli, American and British. What is perfectly acceptable in one is not always in the other (hint: don’t mention your fanny pack to a Brit, not a good thing). I’ve been told that words I find offensive in Hebrew are not that offensive after all (my daughters’ friends could never understand why the Hebrew word pustemah (akin to bimbo) is not allowed in our house). My Brit stepchildren are offended that I get pissed off (angry), but it is okay for them to get pissed (drunk).
Best conversation I ever had with my youngest step-son when he was about 9:
Me: do you want dark meat or a breast?
Him: You can’t say that word!
Me: Oh yes I can.
Him (thinking about it): Oh, yes, you can….
Very true about Israelis and English swear words. Even some religious Israelis, who are otherwise very careful about their speech, have been known to use some of these words, and it’s quite obvious that they would be horrified to learn what it is that they’re actually saying! 😉
Have a wonderful week!
Excellent post on a really sticky subject. We live in a tri-cultural home (Israeli, American and British) and you wouldn’t believe how some words are acceptable in one culture yet verboten in another. You mentioned the word sheeeet, which my girls learned in kindergarden (!!!!) and couldn’t believe their mother going apesheeeeet when they came home with that one. But then, talk to a Brit about a fanny pack and watch them blush. My British stepkids get offended when I get pissed off, but not when someone gets pissed. It’s a fricken’ conundrum (and BTW, fricken’ is not allowed in our house when the grandbaby is around). My husband came up with a good rule, if the word is superfluous, if you can say the sentence without that word and it still means the same thing, don’t use that word.
One of my favorite conversations at the Shabbat table last year with my then 10 year old stepson:
Me: Would you like some dark meat or a breast?
Him: You can’t say that word.
Me: Yes I can, think about it.
Him (thinking aboout it): Um, yes, you can.
Thanks for the shoutout! 🙂 I’m trying to be more aware of my word choice – having a 2-year old repeat everything after me can do that! Seriously, sometimes it’s like a long-distance-call-echo! I also use words in Hebrew that don’t sound too bad to me, but are jaw-dropping to my husband. Oops! I’ve had my son come home from day care with words I certainly did not teach him, and I don’t want him being the child who teaches the other kids American curses(despite how cute that may sound).
I hardly swear; my parents didn’t and I supose it influnced me. However I can get very angry and then the tone I use is probably as bad as swear words.
I am sending this to my American husband to explain why I am allowed to say sheeet (which I do) but he is not allowed to say, well, the things he sometimes lets slip! You hit the nail on the head. Speaking in vulgar language sounds uncultured and aggressive to me. But certain words that are considered vulgar in the US don’t have the same connotation when used in speaking Hebrew.
It really is a complicated thing. On the one hand, hurtful or derogatory language is so not okay with me. On the other hand, an uncouth word is just a word, in the end. It doesn’t make someone a bad person to say it once out of frustration. So I don’t make a huge big deal out of it, but I also am mindful about what we say in our home.
I loved it! What a funny, observant post!
I mentioned ‘sheeeet’ as an Israeli favorite, but I did make one fashla – I omitted the other star of the show, ‘fak’, as Susie above noted. Not quite as innocent as ‘sheeet’, it’s still used by otherwise respectable people.
I think the Arabic swear words are considered a lot more vulgar than the English ones in these parts. More people know what they mean, and they often involve insulting one’s mother along the way.
Anyway, I really don’t swear. Ever. I wish I could say that makes me a perfect mother, however, I must say I fail on all the other counts you mention: I haven’t succeeded much with the pleases and the thank-yous, the closed mouth or the silverware. And we’re talking teenagers here, alas….!
But thanks for the double link, it really made my day! 🙂
I was raised with very clean language and continued until now, although my parents later on began using “nasty” stuff. My kids speak “clean.”
I think there are cleverer ways of insulting people if that’s what you want to do. Dirty language is a cop-out.
I think I’m living in a different Israel than some of your other Israeli mama friends, or perhaps just a more socio-economically and culturally diverse one (we’ve got everything in my city – except anglos!) I walked my daughter and her friend to kindergarten this morning. When we arrived the gate was locked (no biggie, we just needed to ring the bell). M’s friend rattled the gate and started going “sheeet, sheeet, sheeet!” They literally have no idea what it means though, and why it might not be okay. OTOH, some of their mothers are not exactly in the running for the language purity award, shall we say. Since we’re an English speaking household in a Hebrew speaking neighborhood I always know with certainty which slipups are my fault (and I’ve been known to make a sailor blush at times of duress) and which to blame on their peers ;).
My photography is available for purchase – visit Around the Island Photography and bring home something beautiful today!
How we hold ourselves to so many (tough) standards! The cultural comparisons are so illuminating all around…
oh, look at all of us dialoguing about something like this! absolutely LOVE it! i suppose if we can talk about diapers, we can talk about *this,* too!! 🙂
erica– love the family story! although you’re 100% right– nearly impossible to live down! especially once the kids can start repeating said stories, as well!!
susan– what an amazing, excellent point!! i could *never* imagine a rabbi swearing, much the way many could *never* imagine a mama swearing!! *sigh*
christine– even after such a short time, i can totally imagine the “oh my stars!” moments! for sure, word choices must look different with grown-up children! love that you gave them permission and the skills to “choose their audience.” brilliant!
michelle– hi! hooray! you’re here! 🙂 you’re 100% right, that *is* my mantra about most things love that you noticed and called that out right away! and indeed, i’ve danced around those last two paragraphs many-a-times and i *should* just sit down and write it out! if you beat me to it, leave us the link here!!
oolofthehills– thanks lady! it *is* different around kids, and not. i felt the same way as a school teacher. the way i was in public mattered b/c what if a student (former or current) was around! i *love* c’s mismatched socks, too! between that and all of those ponytails, she’s a trendsetter for sure!!
susie— hi there! thanks for filling in my fashla (or whatever other word we should insert there!!). i think that the swearing in arabic is FASCINATING!! and indeed, if we don;t know the meaning i wonder if it does seem less bad, threatening, something? good luck with those dishes! i know how bleep bleep they can be! 🙂
phyllis– thanks so much lady! i’ll take a compliment from you any day! i agree completely that some things just sound…odd from little mouths. probably b/c of what they mean to us? i’ve heard of the “fining” before and so, so glad it works for you guys!! what do you end up doing with the pot-o-money?!
mirj– seriously FASCINATING! and your examples are absolutely priceless!! do you all just ever burst out laughing at the how the conversation ends up circling around all of the lingo?! can you have us over sometime so we can watch? one day, friend. on e day, indeed! 🙂
Mrs. S– hi lady! excellent to hear from you! agreed completely! i actually think children might be horrified to know what the meaning is on some of these words, too? maybe *that’s* the rub? once they know, it might be easier to navigate where and when (and why) some words are appropriate, or not?
debbie– anytime lady! anytime! indeed, they are *just* like little echoes!! i think it’s so, so interesting to hear what’s offensive to some but not to others. and, indeed, i remember babysitting for a little boy (maybe 2?) who used to say s**t all the time and everyone *would* laugh. so, so different when it’s your own kid!!
ilana– hi! indeed, i think we often do as or parents did. maybe that’s why i’m worried about it in front of my kids! and i couldn’t possibly agree more– the meaning is *all* in the delivery!!
bookishima– hi lady! great to hear from you! so much of it is wrapped around in intention, don’t you think? i really, really love how you think about that (and meaning) as you make your family rules, rather than just a sweeping generalization without thinking it through! smart, smart lady!
shira– hi! anytime for the links, lady! it’s my pleasure, for sure! i suppose once the meaning *is* known it changes it for people. i think that the infusion of all of the different languages used is really, really interesting, right? especially once we step back and observe (one of my favorite things to do, btw!)!
batya– hi lady! thanks for the comment and amen, sister! i’m, for sure, not talking about the insults. just the slips! and, lol, there *are* many, many creative ways to say things aren’t there?
robin– you, me, so-very-similar lol at the sailors blushing!! i think y’all are on the same page though ie: sheet and fak being a.o.k by most. INTERESTING about your neighborhood. i’d love to be a fly on the wall sometime, mostly just to see if i understand what’s being said!!
& sarah– hi! i wonder how different the standards are for ourselves versus those we have for others? and amen, sista– illuminating is the *perfect* word choice here!!
I think most people say those digusting words, because they think it’s the accepted way of showing anger, frustration and disgust. The actual meaning of the words isn’t of any real importance to them.
Ha – you had me laughing about Israelis and their “car talk.” Ah, memories.
– currently, anything scatalogical is simple fascinating to the toddler. We try not to (over)react, because when we do, that word sticks around.
– the peer pressure/judging thing. Yes, we all do that – how many of us run around picking up before company comes over? It’s the same sort of thing, and normal and healthy, I think, unless you actually aren’t sure where you stand on an issue and you’re letting your assumptions about your community lead you one way or another.
Apparently I swear like a pirate, so Bad Cohen will never let me forget that when our son was born, all that came out was “Jeepers!”
I really enjoyed this post and you’ve got me thinking. I am one of the big-time cursers, always have been, and I’ve attempted to temper my language around my children with some success. I rarely, if ever, curse in my writing because as you have said, it’s too easy. Better to be more descriptive. But in day to day casual conversation, cursing is fine with me. Still, as you say, it’s so crazy to hear the little ones say so many things. For a while when he was very small, my son started saying “dammit!” (I wondered where he learned THAT?) and it was simultaneously hilarious and horrifying. My husband and I chose not to react at all, and he stopped fairly quickly. His grandmother reacted to it, and that kept it going longer than it otherwise would have. At any rate, it’s taught me to watch my words. Not that I’m always successful. But so far, so good. Thanks again for such a thoughtful essay.
hi again, batya! for kids, though, it’s different. they absolutely love knowing the meanings behind things so maybe *that’s* where we can teach them the whys and the why nots?
tzipporah, hi! agreed 100%, so much of what they take on has to do with our reactions (or lack thereof). & indeed, i am so very guilty of the picking up before someone comes over. *but* i know it’s a real tried & true friendship when i don’t, and neither do they! and “jeepers?” i like it. i like it a lot! 🙂
marian, hi! thanks so much for the comment. i’m watching (and listening!), too. i suppose if we say it we have to take the “consequences” when they repeat it, right? and, at the very least, be prepared with our ammo-of-choice (at least for the day!)! excellent to hear from you! 🙂