Why I Decided to Teach My 8-Year-Old Daughter How to Curse

Why I Decided to Teach My 8-Year-Old Daughter How to Curse

Like any good parents, my husband and I spent our child’s early years carefully watching what we said in her presence.

We created kid-friendly playlists so we didn’t accidentally broadcast explicit lyrics. I taught myself to blurt words like “Fudge!” whenever I stubbed a toe.

And if a visiting childless friend made the mistake of speaking the way we used to when we were all in college, my husband and I eyed each other and nervously laughed, hoping the offense had gone unnoticed by our pure and otherwise untainted daughter.

Of course we also vowed to never invite that person over again until our daughter was safely tucked away at college (somehow the irony escaped us).

So when my daughter came home from school one day with a glint in her eye and the news that she had learned some “bad words,” we were prepared for the worst.

Daughter: I learned the S-word today.
Me: Oh yeah? What is it?
Daughter: Stupid!
Me: Uhhhhhh….
Daughter: I learned the other S-word too!
Me: Let’s hear it.
Daughter (leaning in for a whisper): Sexy

My husband’s thinking was, “Whew! We dodged a bullet there!”

Initially, I felt the same way. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that something had gone horribly wrong. And I had to fix it.

What did you just say?!

My childhood, as best I can remember it, was quite different. My father had this wild idea that every word has a flavor and one of the joys in life is putting words together the same way you would a feast. There is no such thing as a bad word, he would tell me, just badly chosen words.

That kind of hippy philosophy served me fine as a kid, but as a parent? It felt risky.

I mean, I can barely trust my daughter not to fart, loudly, in public places without a lot of giggling. Can she really be trusted to not shock polite society, armed with a list of naughty words? Can any kid resist something so, well, irresistible?

Yes, I believe they can. In fact, I believe they must.

It occurred to me that if I am prepared to teach my daughter someday about the necessity of condoms or the dangers of drinking until you are absolutely convinced you need to share your thoughts with the world via a bullhorn, well, I could survive a talk about a few lousy words.

So I sat my daughter down to give her an education she’d never forget.

An asshole is a body part no more nefarious than an elbow, I explained. And while you may shock fewer people by substituting “jerk” for the more common usage of the word “asshole,” you don’t spare anyone’s feelings.

But if I’m being completely honest, I told her, nothing will soothe a stubbed toe or a broken heart as much as letting loose a torrent of these “bad” words … just preferably while by yourself.

Wait, but why?

I know some may think I’m crazy. It’s one thing to teach a child what the words technically mean, but it’s quite another to teach her how to throw around these bad boys with conviction.

But there are few things I’m as passionate about as giving my daughter a voice—her voice—along with the authority and autonomy to use it.

In the end, this is an issue of control. I’m not really referring to parental control so much as the control that society tries to place upon us “for our own good.”

I don’t think it’s an accident that one of the supposed bad words my daughter learned was sexy. Society has served up sexy as a role model for younger and younger girls (witness what’s happened to Halloween costumes), while simultaneously punishing them just a few years later with another S-word: slut.

It’s not the knowledge of these words that will ultimately taint my daughter but her ignorance.

Because as long as these words remain a mystery, I allow other people to determine their meaning and impact for her. As long as I insist on protecting her from her own presumed linguistic rebelliousness, the more I communicate that I don’t trust her to be the responsible, thoughtful child I know her to be.

And if I can’t trust her to control her own words, how in the world can I expect her to one day control her own life?

The issue is not whether we should teach our kids about curse words. Like it or not, they’re going to hear them and ultimately use them. I think we owe them an ounce of guidance before they go off to college to exercise their new found right to make fools of themselves.

The question is: how do we know when they’re ready, not just for dirty words, but for the dirty realities of life? Isn’t that what we’re really worried about?

I’d be lying if I said a part of me wasn’t scared about getting a call from an angry parent demanding, “Do you know what your daughter just told my daughter?” I waited a while to write this, because like any parent, I didn’t know if my intuition would prove wise or worthy of my own reality show.

I’m proud to say that my daughter can curse with the best of them, but she doesn’t. Except for the one day when her feelings were badly hurt by some girl drama that I have conveniently wiped from my own childhood memories.

On that day, she walked up to her room and closed the door. I wisely resisted the urge to make sure the windows were shut or to listen at the door, ready to correct any grammatical mistakes. (Because, to be fair, if there’s anything worse than compulsive cursing, it has to be grammatically incorrect compulsive cursing.)

Instead, I waited downstairs, sipping my tea, until she reemerged and smiled.

“I feel better now,” she told me.

And so do I.

The Hope Effect: Giving Orphans (And Yourself) a Brighter Future

The Hope Effect: Giving Orphans (And Yourself) a Brighter Future

Everyone deserves a chance.

A chance at health and happiness, love and community. A chance at deeply meaningful work that you can be proud of. A chance to start over, at any age or circumstance, and pursue your curiosity and passion wherever they may take you.

These are some of the guiding principles in my business and I’ve worked hard to extend those chances to as many people as possible. But it’s not just about chances, is it?

It’s about having the capacity—the mindset, confidence, and resilience—to recognize and capitalize on life’s opportunities. To avoid the feelings of helplessness when you suffer setbacks. To believe in your ability to navigate the unknown or uncertain.

These things aren’t easy for any of us, but few factors are as important as the environment you experienced during your formative years.

That’s why I’ve decided to team up with my friend Joshua Becker in support of his nonprofit, The Hope Effect, which aims to bring a better life to orphans around the world.

8 million children live in orphanages. But there is growing research that the traditional, institutional care that most orphans receive may do long-term harm. When children do not receive adequate personal interaction within a loving environment, development is stunted and learning abilities are delayed or lost. Many kids age out only to face a future of crime, prostitution, or trafficking.

The Hope Effect aims to change that by rethinking the orphanage design. Family-style homes for two caretakers and eight children in a campus-like setting provide opportunity for each child to flourish and thrive. Access to health, dental, and social care is provided while each child is prepared for the future through education, responsibility, support and the structure that parents were designed to provide.

I’m asking the Everyday Bright community to help me raise $2000 to extend the chance at a better life to orphans in Honduras. If just 100 people donated $20 (the same amount many of us spend on silly gifts for the office holiday party), we’d hit the goal.

But as a fellow big-hearted citizen of the world, I know there are many, many worthwhile causes asking for your support, so I wanted to find a way to make this a bigger win-win for everyone involved. Here’s what I’m proposing: (more…)

Why Your Kids Need to See You Struggle

Why Your Kids Need to See You Struggle

E ver since I was a little kid, I’ve been afraid of bees, even though I’ve never actually been stung.

Actually, that’s a good lesson right there. We’re often most afraid of the things we’ve never experienced.

Anyway, having a stinging insect phobia as a resident of Florida was certainly inconvenient. That’s something they don’t put in the state publicity material.

It’s not just bees, wasps, and yellow jackets either, though there are lots of those. I was once chased by a biting fly around my yard, which unfortunately no one could see but I could hear buzzing along behind me.

I don’t know what made my dad decide he needed to intervene. Maybe it was because no matter how many times he tried to tell me to be brave, I wasn’t. Maybe it was because for all his demands that I not whine, wince, or otherwise squeal in their presence, I did anyway. I couldn’t help it.

I guess in his mind, that left only one alternative: put me in the middle of a bee swarm. (more…)

Dear Today, I’m Sorry I Wasted Our Time Together

Dear Today, I’m Sorry I Wasted Our Time Together

It was never intentional.

I let myself get distracted by the quarter inch of dust over the stove’s exhaust, by the bare refrigerator, by the cat who wanted her mousey thrown again and again. Then there was lunch, and the cleaning up after lunch, and the laundry basket that never empties.

The rational part of me says that some days will be like this. That I shouldn’t expect to win every battle, much less a battle everyday.  In order to fight and win, you have to endure some endless days of marching.

Besides, I have a cold. (more…)

Life Lessons From My 4-year-old

Life Lessons From My 4-year-old

She almost wasn’t born … twice.

For most of my life, I was fairly certain I didn’t want children.  I grew up in a dysfunctional household and my father regularly told me I was the cause of his unhappy marriage.  It was a tough message to hear, but as a kid it’s hard not to take such messages to heart.

So when I fell in love with my husband, I was scared.  I told him I didn’t want kids.

Not only did I change my mind after witnessing the birth of my nephew, it turned out having kids wasn’t going to be easy.  Our daughter is a miracle.  After she was born I learned there was an 80% chance I’d miscarry.

To say she’s changed my life is an understatement.

So in honor of Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share just a few of the things she’s taught me about the wonders of life. (more…)

Why I Fired My Father (And Maybe You Should Too)

Why I Fired My Father (And Maybe You Should Too)

I was 28 years old when I told my dad I never wanted to speak to him again.

I wasn’t trying to hurt him. I was just defending myself from someone I was absolutely certain was ruining my life.

Growing up, things were pretty tense in our house. One minute my dad would entertain me by reciting poems from Longfellow and the next he’d complain my birth had ruined his marriage. He also had the weird habit of hiding under trees every time a plane flew over the house.

It only got worse when my mother passed away. I realized he wasn’t just moody and a little “off.” He was clinically depressed, highly paranoid, and quickly becoming unpredictable.

Like the time he made me cancel a bike ride with Sheila Widnall (then Secretary of the Air Force) because he felt I was abandoning him. Or the time he sent my aunt a paper bag full of excrement after a disagreement.

One day, I’d had enough. I picked up the phone and ended our relationship forever.

And you know what?

It was the best career move I ever made. (more…)