Mommy A to Z

Motherhood, Alphabetized.

My Toddler Has a Potty Mouth



“You made me a turkey sandwich, again?” my toddler asks, looking up at me, his blue eyes sparkling, his entire 3-foot frame radiating mischief. “What the f@&k?”

I wince, and explain to him, yet again, that his word choice isn’t nice or appropriate for a 3-year-old. Yes, he heard Daddy say it. Yes, grownups sometimes say bad words. Yes, Mommy and Daddy should try harder to clean up our act.

This conversation has become exhausting.

I never thought I’d be one of those “don’t say that in front of the children!” parents. But here I am, a 40-year-old woman, watching my every word so my son doesn’t repeat at show and tell the bad word Mommy said when the frozen chicken fell from the freezer onto my head. And it gets worse. Think being called a “poopyhead” is a minor offense? Wait until your little one calls you a “f@&khead.” It’s enough to make you want to drop what you’re doing and research Shakespearean insults. I’ll take being called a “dried neat’s-tongue” over that gem any day.

Every car ride has become a pop quiz. Is damn a bad word? Heck? What about damn heck? Does he get extra points for that one?

The terrain grows a bit murky, from a philosophical standpoint. I’m a writer by trade, and I like to think words are neither good nor bad, but merely ways of describing the world around us. Some of the most famous writers throughout history have employed colorful vocabularies, from D. H. Lawrence to Henry Miller. I’m not thrilled about censoring my son, about imbuing certain words (outside of obvious racial epithets) with positive or negative values.

But then there’s the whole societal expectation thing. Because every time my toddler curses in public, he might as well be flying a banner that says “My mommy is a terrible, irresponsible parent raising me to be a juvenile delinquent. Please call social services immediately, motherf@%ker!”

And then, certain phrases are even more problematic.

“Is Jesus Christ a bad word?” my son asks, genuinely confused.

I’m confused too. As a mixed-faith household, religion doesn’t figure prominently into our lives. My husband and I haven’t yet figured out how to explain certain concepts to our kids, and I’m fairly certain my toddler has no idea who Jesus Christ is, let alone what irreverent means.

“No, it’s not a bad word,” I respond slowly, not sure where I’m headed. “It’s just… it’s just not something you say in casual conversation.”

“But you and Daddy say it all the time.” And this is true. Again, I’m floundering, trying to help my son adjust to expectations that seem wildly inconsistent. Where do you set the bar? Is “Oh my God!” offensive? Will mobs with bibles and pitchforks descend upon me if I utter “What the heck?”—a transparent substitute for the more unholy word choice? Will the house burst into flames if Daddy shouts “Gosh darn it!”?

And what about that whole “glass houses” thing? Society frowns on a 3-year-old blurting out “Jesus Christ!” when informed there’s no more orange paint in his art set. And yet, pretty much every adult I know is guilty of this irreverence—even the ones who make it to church more than twice a year. But hypocrisy is another concept my son is probably too young to understand.

And so I do my best to steer my son toward “clean” language, even if sometimes my explanations make no sense and some of the adults in his life use language that would make Chris Rock blush. I hope that he follows my teachings and the positive example I really do try to set. I urge him to use “nice words,” and consider his manners, and always, always follow the Golden Rule.

And, if he offends, you have my sincere, f@&king apologies.

* * *

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  1. I think you should teach him to say “oy” or “oy gevalt” in those special moments.

  2. What an adorable child! Great post :)

  3. Your husband feels absolutely horrible for his son calling his Mother a fuckhead. He wants his son to respect his Mother at all times.

  4. I am not perfect. I sometimes say the wrong thing. I try not say it in front of my grandkids. All can do is try. He will hear these things from his friends at school. Tell him to leave them there.

  5. There is always the good old thing called punishment. He might understand that.

  6. Hilarious! because it’s all true! My 5 yr old daughter recently started saying “What the hell???” with the exact right inflection & with perfect timing. She clearly understands precisely how to use this phrase–from over exposure?–which compounds both the humor and the humiliation. My second grader interrogates me about this, too. “But Mom, I noticed you say bad words,” he asks politely puzzled, like a perfect gentlemen. I leveled with him & told him that after we learn all the rules, we can think about them and we might decide we don’t want to follow some. Maybe I’ll just let the kindergarten teacher handle it from here…

    Thanks for the funny & reflective post!

    • Glad to know I’m not alone. I like to think it’s a phase. I’m sure as they get older they’ll move on to newer, equally annoying habits. Thanks for reading!

  7. I find myself in the same situation with my daughter. As a sociologist, I try to avoid letting society dictate my parenting style; but, you are right in saying that it can come across as a reflection of your parenting. It’s a struggle we all face. Just know in your heart that you’re doing the best you can and that this too will pass. Happy parenting to you!

    • You too! I’m happy to see we’re all in the same, obscenity-filled boat. This too shall pass (I think). Thanks for stopping by!

  8. F@#cking hilarious and so true!

  9. I love this! I have 3 kids of my own and with the first two I was little more careful about cursing in front of them. If they ever blurted a bad word, I’ll promptly tell them that those words were only appropriate for adults. With my youngest, who is 7, we weren’t that careful. Somehow, she’s developed awareness on her own that she shouldn’t be using bad words. The other day, my son was annoying her and in response she said to him, ‘Oooooh do I have some bad words to say to you when I get older!” It was pretty hilarious.

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