Quitting Swearing Is As Hard As Giving Up Cigarettes

I smoked all through my late teens and early twenties. I thought puffing on a cigarette made me look all grunge and sexy cool. Mostly though, I was addicted and had no idea how the hell to quit. It wasn’t until my husband and I decided that we wanted to have kids that I finally made myself kick the habit. I didn’t want to be jonesing for a smoke while also dealing with weird cravings and morning sickness.

When I did finally quit, it was messy and took forever. I went cold turkey, but I screwed up a hundred times before I gave up cigarettes entirely. (I still snuck them at parties because it was somehow cooler to be a “social smoker” than a “regular smoker.”) Eventually, the idea of being a non-smoker was far more powerful than my urge to light up, and my days as a smoker were over.


This is precisely how the process of quitting swearing feels. I’ve promised myself over and over again that I’d stop….then, inevitably, I just don’t. See, just like smoking, swearing makes me feel cool. It has become such an ingrained habit that I don’t even realize when I’ve just said, “sh*t,” or “for fu*k’s sake!” This year, however, I’ve vow to kick my nasty word habit and clean up my language for good.

My kids hear me swear all the time and, for better or for worse, they’re totally immune to it. They are not shocked when they hear me mutter “goddamn it” under my breath when I spill coffee. They don’t wince when I pepper my language with salty words because they’ve heard it all.

Now, to be super clear, my swearing is never directed at them. But even so, they shouldn’t hear me (of all people!) swearing as much as I do. And while they never repeat these words, I’ve most certainly taught them by example how to use profanity accurately and for effect.

This is why, just like when I quit smoking, I am putting all my effort into quitting swearing, too. I’ve replaced “sh*t” with “sugardoodle” and “fu*k” with “fluffanutter sandwich.” I have no idea whether this trick will work, but it feels like an appropriate first step.

I’m holding my tongue and I’m editing my words, but it is so damn hard. Every time I open my mouth now, I just automatically assume that my children, Mother Teresa, and my grandmother are all listening to me, and I try my best to keep it clean.

Here’s the thing though: I miss shouting out a foul word when it really counts, like when I stub my toe, realize at 5:30 in the morning that I forgot to buy coffee the night before, or step on the scale and see that my stupid diet isn’t working. Swear words can punch through air and make me feel relieved in the same way that smoking used to.

I guess I replaced smoking with swearing and now I want to stop swearing — and, ultimately, get that feeling of relief in healthier ways.

The swear jar my kids set up for me on the kitchen counter currently has around $37 in change. While that may sound like I am failing miserably at this bullsh*t, I should note that through a Herculean effort I’ve managed to quit swearing completely in front of my kids.

I feel pretty rotten about my love of swearing, but it helps to remind myself that people have far worse habits to kick in order to raise great kids. I’ve been open and honest with my kids about the importance of language, and I’ve pointed out that I’ve been a failure by swearing in front of them. They see me recognizing a flaw and actively trying to clean up my act so that I can be a better person.

It’s this last part that I hope my kids are paying the most attention to. I want them to learn that grown-ups screw up, too, but that it’s always possible to change for the better.

Photo: Getty