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Swearing Off New Year's Promises

If you’ve ever hauled your butt out of bed for a wailing infant, you know kids can be great motivators.

If you’ve relinquished a weekly manicure to save for their college, hand-scrubbed a kitchen floor just so they could crawl on it, or been unnaturally kind to a telemarketer because your progeny were standing there listening — then you’ve seen firsthand how effectively children can agitate for change.

I recently re-learned this concept. The hard way.

I was chauffeuring my two-year-old home from daycare when the driver of a slow and sloppy pick-up truck lurched his vehicle in front of mine and slammed on his brakes to turn into a driveway without using his signal. I cursed, as any safety-conscious mother might. And what I called the gentleman was not nice, I grant you that. But neither was the sound of my toddler’s teeny-tiny voice echoing the four-letter sentiment from our back seat. And with chilling gusto.

He repeated the phrase all the way home, as if it were the prettiest string of letters ever to alight on his eardrums. He shouted it. He whispered it. He sang it. And then he greeted his Daddy with it at the door.

Now I had made some ambitious resolutions for the coming year: I was going to get my infinite photos into albums, schedule a weekly date night with my husband and wake up an hour early every day to do a Pilates video. (Yes, I’m serious and I don’t appreciate your snickering.)

But with my son’s utterly age-inappropriate utterance, those plans flew out the #@¢%ing window. I had a new goal demanding my focus: I resolved to stop swearing in front of my children.

And I knew it wouldn’t be easy.

Because even as our kids inspire us toward self-betterment — even as they challenge us to be cheerful, multi-tasking superhumans or else suffer the grueling guilt of failure — they also impede us from it, leaping into our paths like slow-moving, stubborn pick-up trucks. They’re adorable little cogs in the works, sucking up money, time, and energy faster than they can drain a juice box at a post-game pizza party. Most moms will tell you they never had so many goals — and so little shot at actually accomplishing them — as they have since becoming parents.

And never is that paradox more pronounced than at New Year’s. Resolutions promise a fresh start, a chance to finally fix the faults we’ve been unable to get our grocery-saddled and laundry-laden arms around so far. And even if it’s all a dirty little lie, we relish the fantasy of a life that’s neater, happier, healthier. More guilt-free. A life that looks more like we pictured it would be, with everything in its proper place, ample time for spousal romance and abs that would never dream of flopping over our waistbands as we bend down — sigh — to kiss our perfectly behaved children goodnight.

There are certain annual rituals that moms cherish: Fourth of July fireworks, back-to-school shopping, pumpkin carving. But many of us feel about New Year’s the way single folks feel about Valentine’s Day: Why assign a special date just to make us feel bad about ourselves when we’re capable of feeling that way all year long, and with little help?

So I propose we all go a little easier on ourselves this year. Sure, I’m still hoping to diffuse my internal F-bomb. But there’s something more important I want to teach my kids in 2008: That despite what any dictionary tells them, “guilt” is a four-letter word.

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