I delight in the versatility of the f-word and my wife could make a sailor blush (and old, cartoony sailor that swore a lot, not these new PC and OH&S types who are probably quite polite), so we should not have been surprised when our three-year-old recently got off a theme park ride and declared it to be “f***ing awesome”.
I wasn’t proud, but at the same time I had to try quite hard to muster up much shock or indignation.
Our job as parents is not to produce kids who don’t curse. The thing is, why set yourself up to fail? Why work so hard to stop them doing something you do so often?
Instead, our job is to teach them to swear correctly because swearing can be useful, and often quite f***ing funny. In fact, if there is an occupation that is likely to drive you to swearing , other than being a celebrity chef, parenting is it. Cussing is an outlet, a relief, and very handy when you step on a plastic picket fence.
But like that other parenting tool, alcohol, you can have too much of a good thing. Both my wife and myself make a half-hearted attempt not to swear around the kids, but we are unconsciously teaching the rhythm of the curse, “I don’t give a flying fluff” being a popular phrase in our house. We also tried using “heck” and “damn” but soon realised we were neither very disciplined, nor were we 19th century American school teachers.
That is not to say that I want a three-year-old swearing his way through daycare. But if we ban it, or overreact to it, then inevitably we’ll be making the forbidden words even more attractive.
So, our kids can now swear – that is what the bathroom is for. They can go in there, shut the door and swear to themselves to their heart’s content – something they almost never choose to do, because let’s be honest, what is the point of a well-placed f*** unless someone is around to be offended by it.
Ultimately, swearing is rebellion. And isn’t that pretty much the full-time job of small children to rebel? They are pushing the boundaries, getting away with what they can and understanding their place in things. And if they are anything like me, one way they do that is to pretend to be asleep before they really are. Then, with our flimsy apartment doors closed, they can eavesdrop on the adult conversation.
Imagine telling your kids that only horrible people swear, only to let rip about a hard day at the office. What message would you be sending? Are you horrible, or a liar? To me, it makes more sense to tell the kids that swearing is like coffee and alcohol – something that adults do in moderation. I would not deny my kids the pleasure of a good curse, but I would delay it.
It is us adults that need to loosen up a bit. F*** and its friends are just words and it is us who give them power. So much power that you are in fact seeing stars where the “uck” should be.
There are, of course, exceptions to our tolerance of bad language at home. Racial epithets, vilification, swearing at us are out of the question – but in our house we just call that being a good person.
Swearing just slipped down the list of parenting things to worry about. Children do not need to worry about some Celtic cussword. I am far too busy teaching my two kids to get along and to respect others. Teaching them to read, to eat well and express themselves properly (swear words and all) – things that we as parents really should give more of a f*** about.