Grow the Cuss Up

The class assignment was to write a personal essay. Teachers understand such assignments are a risk. No telling what students will write about when their starting point is a coming-of-age place.

Some write of their parents divorce.

Some write about their own broken romances.

It is not uncommon to get essays about bullying, rejection and the overall isolation a student can feel in high school.

She wrote about the way her daddy talked to her.

Called her a c–t whenever he was angry or frustrated with her, which seemed to happen a lot.

The hardest thing she’s ever had to do is to build a sense of self-worth while growing up in a home where her daddy felt it was perfectly okay to refer to her in such a demeaning fashion.

The really bad words we use here in this country almost always are gender-biased. You are a M**** F*****. A C***. A P***Y. A B****H. Or a  Son of a B****C.

The only bad words we have for men is fucker or fuck you.

This sort of language has become so commonplace  that I have literally received thousands of emails and Twitter messages this week, many by Christians, telling me how plainly stupid I am for thinking Go the F*** To Sleep is an offensive book and that I have absolutely no sense of humor.

Very few of the thousands of statements made were reasoned arguments.  Most came couched in verbal assaults, almost all of them gender-biased — the C-word being a particular favorite among the rabid fans of Mansbach and his vulgarity-laced book.

I could have written 25 opeds about child abuse and never received the sort of response to those essays that I did to the article criticizing Go the F*** to Sleep.

It appears that here in America we take our right to humor more seriously than we do the right for a child to live in a safe environment.

A couple of years ago, the New York Times ran a piece about how shouting is the new form of spankingParental yelling today may be partly a releasing of stress for multitasking, overachieving adults, parenting experts say. “Yelling is done when parents feel irritable and anxious,” said Harold S. Koplewicz, the founder of the New York University Child Study Center. “It can be as simple as ‘I’m overwhelmed, I’m running late for work, I had a fight with my wife, I have a project due — and my son left his homework upstairs.’ ”

In other words, today’s parents are often stressed out. And, as they have made abundantly clear through their words this week, when angered, they think nothing of cussing.

More than one person has said that they think saying F*** doesn’t have the weight that it did during my child-rearing days. It’s just a word. It doesn’t literally mean to procreate or to perform a  sex act.

Although, I’d like to point out that I was repeatedly told to go do just that by the audience who thinks the F-word has no meaning.

The assumption that the problem I had with Mansbach’s book can be summed up by the use of the F-word is just plain wrong.

I didn’t like the book at all because I think it is mean-spirited parody done poorly and packaged with eye-candy appeal that children of any age would be hard-pressed to resist.

Perhaps Mansbach and his friends are fortunate to enough to live in a bubble where parents who cuss among themselves with abandon can then flip a switch and in front of their children speak in only the most rationale, civil, polite and respectful ways. But I find that most people who use abusive language as a daily practice are then unable to speak to children in a manner that honors those children, and doesn’t demean them.

I have a difficult time believing otherwise, given the scores of examples I received this past week of the coarse language they employ when somebody disagrees with them or challenges them. I would bet my last Yankee-Dime that the bulk of those writing to cuss at me have used those very words when speaking to their spouses, partners, and children.

Words are important.

And so are their meanings.

Which is exactly why those who were angry over the oped I wrote felt the need to use abusive language.

To say that F-word has little meaning is to be disingenuous about why these same people resort to it whenever they are trying to verbally attack others.

But to be clear, it was not simply the F-word that sparked me to write the oped. It was the entire tone of Mansbach’s book and the placement of the words he used. As a writer, Mansbach understands the power of words and the importance of sentence-structure and phraseology. He can claim the book is a parody all he wants but here are some of the lines I find particularly disturbing:

- I know you are not thirsty. That’s bullshit. Quit lying. Lie the fuck down, my darling, and sleep.

-It’s been thirty-eight minutes already, Jesus Christ, what the fuck? Go to sleep.

- Hell no, you can’ t to the bathroom. You know where you can go? The fuck to sleep.

- A hot crimson rage fills my heart, love. For real, shut the fuck up and sleep.

These lines follow each other like drumbeats on a page. The anger is building. A parent at their wits end.  A child intent on not sleeping. A parent intent on forcing the child to sleep.

I raised four children, including a set of twins.  Out of those four children, one slept. The other three did not. The only way my son would sleep is if I picked him up and rocked him to sleep, which I did until he was three-years old. The twins would only sleep if I nursed them, which I did until they were 16-months old.

But of all my parenting challenges, bedtime was the least of my worries. Seriously. I want to say to all these people who bought Mansbach’s book in swarms because they thought it so funny, that if you think putting a child to bed is your biggest parental challenge, you ain’t seen nothing yet.

You need to grow the cuss up.

You don’t have a clue.

And those of you who wrote me all that rage-filled mail, you should take a day and go spend it at your local courthouse,  sit in on a child abuse case of shaken baby syndrome. Or volunteer at a local domestic violence shelter. Or check out the movie Precious and watch it.

Or maybe you should just go to your local school and volunteer. Listen to the stories children tell about the way their parents speak to them.

Get outside your insulated bubble and understand the very thing I wrote about in the oped — that for far too many children Mansbach’s book reflects their daily lives.

And the next time you want to make the argument that words don’t mean anything, remember the high school girl whose daddy called her a c–t.

I can assure you he didn’t mean it as a term of endearment.

About Karen Spears Zacharias

Author. Speaker. Journalism Instructor. Four kids. Three dogs. One grandson.

  • http://www.timthurmansblog.blogspot.com Tim Thurman

    1. Thank you for writing the op-ed piece, for “standing in the gap.”
    2. I am sorry people have been abusive.
    3. Please keep writing and speaking your mind.
    4. I think you have a wonderful sense of humor. One of the funniest writers I know.

  • http://wayiseeit-eleanor.blogspot.com/ Eleanor

    I am now, as I was when I read the original blog about this, in utter agreement with you, Karen. I am no prude where language is concerned — on its face, anyway — but having seen and read a copy of this book I was struck more by the anger DIRECTED AT THE CHILD than by any particular set of letters.

    That’s what I think people are missing. You are so right – words matter, and they matter deeply.

    All God’s children get angry and/or frustrated. It’s what we say, what we do, where we put those feelings that define us.

    Thank you.

  • http://middletree.blogspot.com JamesW

    Karen, I am one has argued, and still believes, that Christians are wrong when they claim that saying the F word is a sin, as such a theological stance is just not biblical.

    That said, it is very rude, and can, as you point out, constitute abuse when directed to a child, especially when coming from a parent.

    I respect the right of many to disagree with you. In fact, I think Jordan Green did it right. But the majority of responses I read in the comments section of the CNN piece are inexcusable. And more to the point, they are based on an inaccurate understanding of just what it is you had a problem with. To say that you shouldn’t object to the book “just because of the use of one word” is intellectual dishonesty. And a lot of people said that very thing.

  • Terri Pinkston

    I understand and do hear so much of this language directed at children. I have never yelled such things at my child nor will I ever. However I did/do find the book amusing on the grounds of having a child who hardly slept at all until he was 5 years old. I do not let my children read the book, it is not even anywhere they can get to it. I think this is just a choice of bad parenting and no book in the world no matter what the content is going to change the way people use/abuse their children. I thank you for your views and your work.

  • http://koinepdx1.blogspot.com AF Roger

    Today I’m very angry and disappointed with myself. I was sweatily trimming a very tall hedge yesterday as a very unhappy Mom and a Grandma finished a picnic under the shade of a walnut tree just across the fence in the schoolyard. As they and their three little bedroom slipper dogs squeezed through the gate in the fence, I assumed that the loud mouthed, foul mouthed Mom was talking to one of her doglets who wasn’t getting into the car. But people don’t usually count “One… two… don’t make me come after your &*()+_)(*& little ass” to their dogs. Dogs don’t count. But in an odd way they do seem to count far more than children.

    I’m angry with myself for NOT saying, “Ma’am, I’ll thank you if you’d please not talk to your son that way in my presence. Thank you.” I should have used the hedge clippers on this woman’s tongue.

    Some day, a violent man named Patrick may sit in jail for crimes against women and his own children. Because of the way his Mom talked to him in front of my house. Which is probably the usual pattern if my presence in full earshot made no difference to her.

    I wonder how Mom got talked to when she was a little girl. I think I know. I’m mad at me for holding my own tongue. Father, forgive me. And save the life of this child.

  • http://perichoreticlife.blogspot.com/ Michael

    God spoke and creation came into existence. Words are powerful and what you have written about here is just the tip of the iceberg. Words shape both the speaker and the listener.

    I find it interesting that Christians, who would never utter the words, feel fine about using the abbreviated “text” equivalents. The listener still says the words long-form in her head. Communication should always serve the listener.

  • Debbie

    From your first blog I could sense your ire wasn’t so much over a certain word, it was the intent of the whole book that bothered you…the plight of some children is very much as you say and I know this because as a single parent of four who was abused herself as a child I have had times when I believe it was dangerous for my children to be in my care, like nights such as tonight…knowing the right thing and then actually doing it can truly escape me sometimes…I am ashamed…I yell and I drop the f word too and then I pick up the phone in tears wondering if I ought to call child services on myself…

  • Sharon O

    I am so against child abuse in any form whether that be physical, emotional, sexual etc. Parents NEED TO GROW up. It takes no brains to get pregnant it takes LOTS of RESPONSIBILITY to raise a child. One who will grow up learning to respect and honor and have a right attitude for law and rules. I am amazed we have to take drivers ed and be educated to prove we can handle the task of driving a car, but we can just BECOME parents, and take that precious bundle of innocense home and all of a sudden we are parents. It is very sad, we place no value on our children. Thank you for being a voice for those who have none.

  • william

    you genuinely, honestly,l deeply belive that there is no difference between the parent of the child you describe in your post and the parent in the book. I can not tell you how earth shatteringly wrong you are. You are so bound by your convictions (as you’ve so clearly stated that you “can’t be convinced otherwise”) that I can think of no words or argument that could explain to you WHY you are wrong. as a parent who has raised a fairly healthy and normal child, who has had his fair share of highs and lows, has done thing he is proud of and done things that in hindsight I cringe over, had mom ents of elation and moments of prfound anger I can say that yes, I have been that frustrated parent in the book just wishing for all wishes that my child would just go to bed. I’m tired, you’ve been up way past your bed time, I’m dig tired and you’re run me ragged, please, I’m begging you, please please please just go to sleep.

    and I never told him to go the fuck to sleep. I realize that you can’t comprehend this. And I find that disapointing because I realize I can’t have a discussion with you because your mind is made up. I thought after the first blog psot and a few posts that maybe there was dialogue that we could have but this post made it very clear where you were writing from and that is a deep misunderstanding of what this book is all about and a mischaracteriziation of the type of parent depicted. and I can’t argue with that.

    • william

      i realize that somehow two sentences got omited somehow. I meant to add that I have thought it (it being “go the fuck to sleep”) but I did not say it. I know, shocking isn’t, the idea that a parent could exercise self restraint, I mean wow, you’d think that aren’t reading nasty emails and tweets full of profanity that gee, all parents must be scum sucking lowlifes right? amazing but that may not be representative of all of us! and thats the point.

      you seem to have this image that any parent who has experienced anger or frustration is somehow an evil bad person who is abusive and should have DYFS called on them immediately. This book is for the parent who swallows it and deals w/their child appropriately despite their frustration, n0t for the one lashes out. Any parent who actually said this to their kid is a jackass, and thats why this book is funny. it’s funny because it’s what you want to say but you know you can’t because you know it’s wrong.

      but you want to say it because you feel it so deep. Just. Go. To. Sleep. Damn It.

      and if you’ve never in your life felt that feeling, then you must not be human because to be human is to experience the full range of human emotions, even the unpleasant ones. and a book like this is like a release because it says “Hey I’m not the only one who’s been frustrated! I’m not the only one w/a kid who wouldn’t go to bed at the right time! I’m not the only one who thought thoughts that were probably bad thoughts! but I’m not a bad parent! so it’s ok!”

      as long as you don’t actually do that shit for real? yeah, it’s ok. it’s called being human.

      • Debbie

        Everything you said here is all about you!!! You say that parents who do say those words their children are jackasses…I am a jackass…I have said those words to my kids and I have felt deep remorse and shame immediately…you my friend say it in your head and think your are a superstar because you never said it out loud…and you feel so much relief that here comes a guy who writes a book just to comfort you…the superstar who never said it out loud! Who is comforting the children who do this for real? You?

        • Debbie

          What did you feel reading about a little girl whose Daddy calls her a that name? Oh yeah…you said he would be a jackass….WHAT DID YOU FEEL FOR THE LITTLE GIRL?????????????? Jackass.

          • william

            have you forgotten to take your meds today? you seem to be…. off. calm down. we’re trying to have a serious conversation here. no idea where your anger and hysteria is coming from but it’s adding nothing here. I can’t even follow the incoherence that is the post you made.

  • Karen Spears Zacharias

    So y’all will have to excuse me — been out of pocket today. Just now catching up on the comments. I’d remind you all to keep the discussion from heading down the same path as the book in question.

    • Debbie

      My apologies Karen. And William you are right I doubt I could ever have a coherent conversation with you either. I could never find a med strong enough.

      • william

        well considering you were typing in caps and calling me names… yeah.

  • http://www.johilder.com Jo Hilder

    Karen is right, and we all know she is. The book is yucky. It’s okay if you like it, just own up to liking a yucky book, instead of saying there is no way it’s a yucky book. For crying out loud, are we not adults? If it weren’t offensive and horrible, nobody would bother with it. Just be a grown up and say I like the f___ing yucky book, already. Sheesh.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Ahh, but JH, we have to make everybody like what we like — it’s the whole trick to being one of the uber-cool — they always run in packs like wild dogs.

    • Debbie

      I like you very very very very much.

    • william

      i admit to giggling at your choice to call it yucky. that said, I fully admit to liking it for what it, and I know tons of people who like it for that reason. I acknowledge it is not high brow and I celebrate the fact that it is low brow humor. it ranks right up there (down there?) with three stooges and pink panther movies and airplane and naked gun humor, and I fully get that it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. and if it’s not, then different strokes for different folks.

      but let’s not try to make it out to be more then what it is or read into it beyond what it is. and for god’s sake let’s not attack people who like it either. there’s just no need. and don’t be surprised when you do that and people defend themselves.

    • Jimmy

      I actually don’t know a lot of adults who use the word “yucky” when expressing their opinions. And those that do probably don’t end up having their opinions taken very seriously.

  • http://simplydarlene.wordpress.com/me/ Simply Darlene

    Me, too, I am sorry for flak you’ve been getting. You have an opinion (& I happen to agree with it) but I would also say this:

    A soft answer turns away wrath,
    But a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1 NKJV)

    Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. (Ephesians 4:29 NKJV)

    And those quotes are from a book. And it’s my opinion that this particular book has a lot to not only teach, but to offer. I will thump my bible because #1 I love the Lord, #2 we can still do this in America, #3 I want to read it, #4 I want to be a better person (not better than the yucky-book-readers, but better than I used to be, better than I am), and #5 it’s helped me a lot so far.

    The disrespect in cussing and the cutting of the soul by using such words is real. Two generations ago something like this never would have been an issue. Have we fallen so far that it’s now considered humorous? I guess so. It makes me sad.

    You all read what you want, talk it up, chew on other people for having opposing views if you like, but where, I wonder, is the decency and respect? Can one disagree without being obscene?

    You all are also in my prayers today. For you, I wish for kind hearts and healthy relationships and loving families and respectful kids and for someone to smile at you–and for you to smile back.

    Blessings.

  • http://www.stephindialogue.com Stephanie Smith

    I’m saddened to hear this is the response you’ve been getting–and I thank you for affirming that language has lasting effects on our living, our character, our parenting and our personhood.

    I linked to this post on my blog today, discussing how language matters because we become the very words we speak. It’s never “just a joke” because it’s not “just the Incarnation”–the very core of the Christian faith that affirms words become manifest in living. http://t.co/mYOvBGb

    Also I have to say: when an MSNBC gets fired for calling the president of our country a “dick,” we embarrass ourselves to excuse verbal abuse of children.

    • Debbie

      I like you very very very much too…and Simply Darlene…thank you for praying for me.

  • http://cartermcneese.wordpress.com cm1165

    When I read the first post I have to admit that I thought it was a little over the top. I certainly understood Karen’s point, I just thought that her reaction to the book was a little too much for me. Granted, I haven’t read the book.

    That said, ANYONE who feels so violated by her post that they need to lash out in the ugly ways that she is reporting obviously has some other issues going on. Me thinks, perhaps, a guilty conscience?

    I am always loath to link books/movies/music to certain behaviors as I feel that is a dangerous road that leads to censorship that the potential stifling of ideas (I am pretty absolutest on the First Amendment too many people, including family members, fought and died to protect your right to be a jackass). However the extreme anger that Karen has experienced has just gone to prove her point that an unfortunate majority of the the readers of this “book” are angry foul mouth jerks who need to find a more intelligent way of expressing themselves.

  • http://www.theproblemwithkevin.com kevin s.

    The majority of the criticism (including mine) that I saw stemmed from comparing children to oppressed minorities, which was entirely over the top. People send profanity-laced tirades to people because they are too stupid to express their thoughts in any cogent way. It isn’t fair to categorize opposition to the piece as a mere celebration of vulgarity.

    Also, per cuss words and men, a-hole, cock, prick, bastard, douchebag (though that’s arguably feminine in origin) and s–thead.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      as would be bastard — again a reference to his mother. Only two of these are gender-specific to men.

      And as to your remark about opposition to the piece being a “mere celebration of vulgarity” — I don’t think I said that anywhere.

      And I do believe that abusive language is commonplace for too many children of all colors.

  • Holly

    The huge reaction to your post is such a discouragement to me. Is this where we really are at? Is there any hope at all? I mean that, seriously. I am generally a very hopeful person – but if this is the true and accurate reflection of this generation of young parents….then we are so far gone I question any hope for civilization. You know, I don’t like the “culture wars,” but….this is why we have them. This is exactly where the cultural war leaders said we were headed.

    I would also add that I feel these words are not only abusive, but they are sexually abusive to children. Children are not even supposed to KNOW these words, let alone have them used against them. When a grown up uses sexual words against a child (particularly angry sexual words,) they have stolen innocence from them. Nothing good can come from that. I grieve what we’ve come to.

  • Nathan

    It’s not surprising you’re going to double down on this, given the strength of your opinion and the strength of push back from other opinions.

    Your concerns about child abuse qua child abuse are correct.

    But you’re still wrong about the book. :)

  • Nathan

    one other thing:

    the cuss words are “unintelligent” trope is pretty tired.

    words do have meaning and impact. you’re right.

    Certain cuss words are visceral expressions of visceral emotions. I’m thankful for the occasional, well-placed deployment of them. They actually capture certain things better than any other rhetoric available.

    That’s my nickel.

    • http://www.johilder.com Jo Hilder

      Er, then you would agree that the “occasional, well-placed deployment” of cuss words is not to use them, virtually or directly, towards little children. Ever. In any context. Because, as you say, said cuss words have “meaning and impact”. They mean the opposite of what little children need us to think and say to and about them. And the impact is obvious.
      The only visceral things children need be on the receiving end of where adults are concerned are overwhelming affection and vehement protection – from the stupidity of smart ass, sarcastic foul-mouthed adults. Cuss words are no doubt clever, I use them when I want to be clever, but cleverness is not the same as intelligence.

      • nathan

        couple things:

        1. The book in question is not meant to be actually read to a child. So with that critical understanding in place, that’s why the book is humor and why I think the kerfuffle over it is, well, a kerfuffle. The book is not directing people to actually speak that way to a child. And because of that, regardless of what kind of abuse is actually happening to children out there in society, it’s not, IMHO, a big deal.

        2. as far as cuss words go: I don’t use them to “be clever”. Most high-minded anti-cussers assume, wrongly, that people who use cuss words always do so because they are just provocative junior highers who want to show you that we can use naughty words. talk about a crock.

        my argument is that the categories of “clever” or “intelligent” or “unintelligent” don’t obtain when it comes to cuss words. It’s not in view except for people who want their personal preferences about language taboos to be imposed on other people. the argument is a rhetorical device designed to neutralize an honest discussion about the contingency of language.

        You see, for all their power, language is also contingent and culturally constructed. They exist in that tension and therefore, for me, when I use cuss words, I use them intentionally to aptly and succinctly capture the emotional dimension of a moment or situation. I’m thankful for those words, their usefulness, and the clarity that they can bring to a discussion or situation. They actually illuminate the discussions where I’ve intentionally used them.

        I respect your right to have your taboos. I respect that some people would rather not use certain words. I don’t respect your belief that you have the right to try to make people share your taboos.

  • Eric

    I have to admit that you take the book too literally. The book is for adult entertainment. It examines some action (sleeping) that seems so simple and cherished by a parent that gets taken advantage of by the child. In the end, its jealousy. I yearn for rest and relaxation, which gets taken away each time I have to check on my children because they are not sleeping. Obviously, the frustration can mount up. What the author did was vent it out in the form of a book. That seems pretty darn productive to me. To read this book and take it literally seems childish and short sighted to me.

  • Jed Walker

    Karen I’m as disappointed by the response to your column as I was by the book itself. Thank you for standing up and voicing the perspective that you’ve clearly reaffirmed here. The sad truth is that we live in a broken, fallen world that laughs at its own destructive behavior.

    As a father of four I know how frustrating it can be to try and get your kids to sleep, but I also know that being a father is a huge privilege and responsibility. I know that both my words and the way that I speak them have a massive impact children.

    And as someone who’s worked with college kids for 15+ years I know all too well that the majority of these high-performing, outwordly-successful young people come from difficult home environments.

    I love to laugh and I enjoy a wide-range of clever comedy, including adult material that works blue. But the tone of this book reinforces dangerous, unhealthy attitudes to parents who all need healthy encouragement and positive reinforcement to meet the incredibly difficult demands of this critically important task.

    Parents need to laugh but not by shaming or fueling negative attitudes toward their children. Sooner or later its going to come out in the relationship.

  • Jimmy

    I find it ironic that you complain that your critics don’t have “reasoned arguments,” considering that — with all due respect — there didn’t seem to be any logic to your criticism of Mansbach’s book at all. Your rant read like one long cheap shot. Who cares if substituting ethnic minorities for the child in the story would make the book offensive — wouldn’t that be true of pretty much ANY book? Think about it. It is your analogy likening ethnic minorities to toddlers that is offensive, not a book whose humor you don’t like.

    You also suggest that it’s inappropriate to make jokes about parental frustration because of instances in real life when parental frustration turns violent. But again, you do not seem to have thought through your reasoning. Frustration frequently leads to violence in the real world, so by your logic we shouldn’t joke about frustration at all. Feeling frustration is totally normal, and that’s basically what the book is about. Letting your frustration turn violent is bad in ANY context, but that is NOT what the book is about. Anyone who thinks GTFTS promotes violence against children either hasn’t read the book or needs a serious lesson in reading comprehension. It’s okay not to like something, it is NOT okay to accuse its creator encouraging child murder and liken him to a racist without any evidence or logic to back up your attacks.

    There is no abuse or violence depicted or even implied in the book, yet you dress your criticism of it up with myriad straw man arguments about child abuse. It think you are the one who needs to grow up (and maybe take a course in basic logic while you’re at it).


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