Forget The Swear Jar, We're Doing This Instead

by Elizabeth Broadbent
Originally Published: 

Our swear jar has two coins in it. One of them came when my 7-year-old was five. He looked at something in the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University gift shop and said, in an unnaturally deep voice, “What the hell is that?” Then he looked up at me and said, “Don’t cry, mama.” The other coin came last week when his older brother took his queen while they were playing chess. “You bastard!” August cursed. At least he used the word correctly. That’s our swear jar. A whole 20 cents.

That’s because we don’t count songs or song titles. My 7-year-old’s favorite David Bowie song is “Queen Bitch” and he asks for it with relish (I’m starting to notice a pattern here). All the kids sing along to “O! You Pretty Things,” including the line “The other’s a bitch.” They all know all the lyrics to Hamilton, which include “My name is Hercules Mulligan/When you knock me down I get the fuck back up again!” And yes, I let them sing the unfiltered Hamildrop of the Benjamin Franklin song, the chorus of which is “Do you know who the fuck I am?” Clearly, I don’t care what words come out of my kids’ mouths. The swear jar is effectively useless.

Anyway, every time they cuss, all we do is tell them sternly to put a coin in the swear jar, then hide in another room and laugh our asses off.

I’m ready for an alternative to the damn swear jar. It’s stupid. It’s useless. I don’t care if my kids say “fuck,” as long as they don’t say it in front of Nana or Grandma. And use it in the proper context.

I do, however, care if my kids are kind. I care a hell of a lot if I catch them tormenting each other, being mean to each other, or teasing one another. I care when I see the my oldest ignoring his younger brother when he talks. I care when I see my middle son chasing his unarmed brothers with a squirt gun. I care when I see them kicking each other, chanting “August is a poop cow,” or refusing to help one another. I don’t give a fuck if my kids grow up to cuss like I do. I give a fuck that my kids grow up to be kind, empathetic, and compassionate human beings.

Enter the Meanness Jar.

The Meanness Jar is like the Swear Jar, but it’s gonna fill up a hell of a lot faster. Any time I catch a kid being mean to one another, a coin goes in the Meanness Jar (side bonus: they’re going to have to do a lot of mental math to remember how many dollars and cents they have left in their allowances). General violations will include the standard sibling stuff: fighting with each other, a refusal to help one another, huffing at each other, using unkind words, refusing to listen , and calling names.

They will also include tattling, which is a willful attempt to get someone else into trouble in order to seek benefit for yourself. Touching someone in a way they don’t want to be touched, after they say those words, will be a triple violation. Theoretically, August calling his older brother a bastard would be a fineable violation. Not because the Meanness Jar is a Swear Jar. But because calling your brother a “bastard” is kind of mean.

Violations will also include being mean to their father and me. I’m not including a refusal to listen; that would make it a general Disobedience Jar rather than a Meanness Jar, and kids will be kids. But I will include backtalk that’s willfully mean and meant to hurt feelings. It will include saying things like ‘I hate you.’

This jar will fill up fast. This is not because my kids are particularly horrid to each other — on the contrary, they’re actually very sweet to one another. My oldest is always the first one there when his youngest brother hurts himself. My middle son gave my youngest a third of his allowance — and not an insignificant amount, either — without any thought, so little Simon could get a toy at Target (after I swallowed the mama tears, I leaned down and whispered to August that I would replace the money, just this one time). My boys are kind. But like any 9-, 7-, and 5 year-olds, they’re also complete jerks to one another on a regular basis. They make stupid noises at each other just to annoy one another. They take each other’s toys. They jump onto each other’s heads. They tattle a lot.

And once the jar fills up, we’ll have quite a sum.

Emma Kim/Getty

Because it’s a Meanness Jar, I feel like some of it should go to a charity of their choice, so I’ll give them some places to pick from, including their friend Hayden’s mom’s kitten rescue. The rest of the money belongs to the family, and therefore should be spent on something for the family. That should include gas for a trip or part of the payment for a campsite. To show the kids what the money means, I want to take them to help get the coins rolled (or roll them ourselves). That way they realize that this isn’t just a few cents. It’s real money.

Maybe, just maybe, if it comes out of their pockets, they’ll be kinder to one another. Maybe it’ll help them think before they speak.

Even if it doesn’t, it gives me a decent way to provide tangible consequences for unkindness.

Anyway, it’s a better alternative than that stupid-ass swear jar.

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