“Mama, What Does $*@#%! Mean?”

"Mama, What Does $*@#%! Mean?" // jessconnell.com

At some point it happens.

Maybe you’re watching a movie, or they hear it on the playground, maybe they read it on a sign… heck, I heard one referenced on CNN today…

At some point, even in the most protected environment, innocent eyes of our children look to us and ask-

“Mama, What Does $*@#%! Mean?”

I remember the piercing question that came to me in a sweet, still-slightly-squishy voice after bedtime prayers and snuggles…

“Mama, what does ‘fock you’ mean?” (yes, that’s the way he pronounced it)

I was shocked and suddenly felt nervous. Surely I wasn’t hearing what I was hearing. “Huh? What did you say?,” I asked.

He repeated the question.

I tried not to sound agitated, “Where did you hear that?”

“The boys around the corner on the playground were saying it to us. They were pointing at us and saying it over and over and over again before we played soccer. What does it mean, Mama?”

IMG_0572You see, we lived overseas back then. The little boys saying it to my sons did not even speak English. They’d probably picked up those words from an English movie, or from an older brother.

They didn’t even know what they were saying.

And my 7 & 5 year old boys certainly didn’t either. And now they were both looking to me.

So what does a Christian Mama do, in that moment?

Well, I’ll tell you what I did then– and what I do now every time.

First, I ask where they heard the word.

Sometimes you’ll already know the answer, but sometimes it’ll be from a source you didn’t expect… a book at the library, something they overheard from an extended family member… it’s good to know where they’ve encountered the word(s).

Then, I tell/remind them about cuss words–

I want them to have the context to understand what sort of word this is and why I wouldn’t want them to continue saying it.

“Ya know, that is a really ugly word people use to be mean to each other. Every language has words that are rude to say out loud, and that’s one that people use in English. I’d like for you not to use that word anymore.”

(Yes I still say this like this even though we don’t live overseas anymore. I want them to realize that this– ugly words specifically used in a derogatory way to tear down other people– is a situation common to man and there is nothing magical about those particular four letters or sounds put together. Every language has rude/cuss words, and sometimes what sounds fine in one language is a cuss word in another language. Certain English words were seen as filthy in Turkish, and we had to be careful not to even say those English words while out in public there, so as not to shock and offend our neighbors.

I want my kids to know: there is nothing set-apart or innately wicked about the sounds, but what is wrong is the way they are used in this language.)

EBMS @ park

Finally, I tell them what it means.

That means, yes, that I tell them the literal, actual meaning.

  • poo-poo
  • having sex, which is something special and loving that a mommy and daddy do together in private
  • a female dog
  • a child without a father
  • a rude word referring to men’s private parts
  • etc.
  • etc.
  • etc.

QUITE OFTEN, I have to explain that the way the cuss word is being used really has nothing to do with the literal, actual meaning, and that it’s generally just a way of being hateful toward another human being, or an idea.

Perhaps the majority of a time that these words are used has nothing to do with the actual literal meaning.

“Bastard” for example is no longer used to be rude to someone who has no father. Rather, it’s an all-purpose term to demean another person. So I explain that, too, to my kids.

When my two little boys were looking up at me that night before going to bed, that’s what I did:

“It’s a very, very rude thing to say. But they didn’t use the word according to its meaning. They are simply trying to be mean and repeat things they’ve heard. I’m confident those little boys don’t even understand what they were saying.”

“Why would they say it then?”

“Darlin, they probably just want to be mean. But you know, Jesus is our example in this– people teased Him and beat Him and were mean to Him and He offered love in return. He’ll help us do that too, when people hurt our feelings or say ugly things.”

“But what does it mean?”

“Well, when a man and woman get married, God has a special way for them to love each other– remember, called ‘sex?’ The word they used is used to refer to that, but in a way that’s rude and makes it seem ugly even though it’s not. Those little boys, though, don’t know what they’re saying and they’re using those words really in a way that means something more like, ‘We don’t like you. We want to hurt your feelings and tease you.'”

After praying for the boys, and reminding them that we want to show people the love of God, I hugged and kissed them goodnight.

WHY DO I HANDLE IT THIS WAY?
  • Because I want my kids to know they can ask me anything.
  • Because I want them to be confident that, throughout their lives, they’ll get the truth to the questions they ask.
  • Because I don’t want them to have misunderstandings about these things… the actual meanings, or the ways they are used
  • Because the truth is, these are just words. Yes, they may be *coarse* words, *rude* words, *hateful* words, but for the most part, our kids are just trying to understand the world around them, and giving them a context to understand the world is part of my job as mom.
IN THE COMMENTS, PLEASE SHARE: HOW DO YOU APPROACH CUSSWORDS WITH KIDS?

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Jess Connell

Jesus-follower, Happy wife, Mom of 8 neat people. Former world-traveler, now settled in Washington. Host of Mom On Purpose podcast (momonpurpose.com). I write and wrangle kids.

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2 Responses

  1. Sidenote: reintroduced to you by your intro at PlatformU!

    My husband is a pastor and earlier this year a leader in our church told me that her son (about 5 years old) told her that my 10 year old daughter called her son “a silly a**”. She didn’t believe her son.

    Upon further investigation, it turned out she did, in fact, call him that. When I said something to my 20 year old daughter she told me that she probably heard it from the movie “Indian in the Cupboard”. Sigh.

    We let her know that’s a bad word and we don’t say that in our family. Of all my kids, she’s the one who pushes boundaries. It hasn’t happened again (that I know of) but I’m not holding my breath!

    Thanks for your advice on how to handle this in a loving, wise way!

    • Jess Connell says:

      Oh man! We’ve had that happen.

      Actually, it was my sweet daughter, too… she had heard a movie that used “d**n” as an exclamation of surprise (I don’t even remember now what the movie was), and one day, when she was surprised by something, out that exclamation popped! Quite a crazy thing to hear from your dainty 4-year-old.

      Now, we are much more proactive about alerting our kids if we happen to hear an offensive word in a movie, so that they’ll know how to categorize that word they never hear in any other context.

      Glad to reconnect; hope to see you around again! :)

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