As a "mindful parenting" blogger, I have written many times about the value of mantras -- centering phrases, like "Let it be" or "It is what it is" -- to sustain us through parenting's challenges. Mantras remind us to breathe and not let our frustration take over. Most of the time, they work.
But sometimes, they don't. I admit I don't always respond to my children's behavior with a calming breath and a serene Buddha smile. Sometimes, I think things like this instead:
It got a lot of likes. In fact, as I watched my Facebook Look Back video last week, that post popped up as my most-liked, smack in the middle of five years of pictures of happy children and a smiling mama. I'm guessing a lot of parents feel my pain.
The book Go the F*ck to Sleep was an instant bestseller, in part because so many parents could relate to the nightly challenge of getting little ones to bed. But we all know that had it simply been entitled, Go To Sleep, it would not have been as successful. It's that one magic word, the word Ralphie in A Christmas Story calls "THE word. The big one. The Queen Mother of dirty words," that makes all the difference.
Why? Why do we swear? Did you even know there are researchers who actually study this sh*t? Shut the front door!
So, before I provide you with some amusing and profanity-laced "anti-mantras" for the moments when cursing would be more helpful than deep breathing, let me take you on a brief tour of the science of swearing.
Psychologist Steven Pinker, in his book The Stuff of Thought, writes that swearing taps into "the deeper and older parts of the brain." Even patients with aphasia, who lose the ability to produce articulate language, continue to swear, like a British aphasic who repeatedly said "Bloody hell!" and "Oh you bugger!" and other more offensive phrases. Pinker states that taboo words are stored in our right hemisphere, which is more involved in negative emotion than the left side of our brain.
Just as mantras can be soothing, swearing can be cathartic. We swear in response to what Pinker calls the "Oh-Sh!t Wave" in the brain, similar to the "fearsome yelp" in other animals in response to pain or rage. But we are thinking mammals, and thus we know the precise cuss-word to use in a particular situation. Swearing "engages the full expanse of the brain: left and right, high and low, ancient and modern." Think about it -- you yell something different to the person who cuts you off in traffic than to the empty void in your kitchen when you drop and shatter a wine glass. We utter these so-called "response cries" to convey our frustration over a situation that others would likely understand. It's primal and contemplative.
Pinker writes that judicious swearing is our way of informing "the world that [a] setback matters to us, indeed, that it matters at an emotional level that calls up our worst thoughts...." It's our barbaric yawp, when the challenges of life lead us to shout over the rooftops of the world, when we become briefly untamed, yet, with all due respect to Walt Whitman, in a way that IS translatable to others.
And sometimes, that cathartic yawp, expressing a shared moment of common angst with parents, is exactly what we need. We love our children dearly and fiercely, which can often lead to equally strong feelings of frustration. That's why we buy books like Go the F*ck to Sleep.
So, for the times when you wish you could just swear, I am sharing with you some "anti-mantras" based on Go the F*ck to Sleep. They just might provide a needed catharsis and oxytocin-releasing smiles as we endure the daily challenges of parenting.
Here they are.
You're f*cking welcome.
A new day has dawned,
Full of playing and learning and more.
There's so much for us to do,
So please, let's just get the f*ck out the door!
I know it's hard when we go to Target,
Your eyes drawn to shelves glittering and shining.
But you have enough toys to fill a U-Haul, my love,
So quit your f*cking whining.
My two little angels,
You fill my heart with song.
I love seeing you play together,
So please, just f*cking get along.
You're getting so big now,
You rarely act naughty.
You're my big 4-year-old now,
So, PLEASE, sh*t in the f*cking potty.
I've seen you eat ice cream,
You do it like a winner!
I know you can do this,
So, please, eat your f*cking dinner.
Mommy loves you dearly,
With all her heart and in every bone.
But we've played together all day,
Now you need to leave mommy the f*ck alone.