Language warning: please do not read if you’re easily offended by curse words.
My current parenting policy on swearing was formed about 30 years ago. The kid-that-I-was I had goofed – messed up bigtime. My mom was MAD at me! And it took a little explaining for me to understand it, because I had no idea what it was I had done that was so bad.
I used a “bad” word. I don’t even remember what word – probably damn or something similar. Whatever it was, it made my normally calm mom upset and flustered. You see, in our little sheltered circle, kids didn’t use swear words. In fact, kids who swore had their mouths washed out with soap: a holdover from a more corporal punishment kind of time. Swearing was bad. Swearing was dirty. Good girls didn’t swear.
Good girls were taught to say prissy little words like ‘darn it,’ or ‘gosh.’ So I did. And one memorable summer at a church camp, my grandfather heard me say “darn it.” He was the camp leader and a pastor. He didn’t like me saying “darn it” any more than my mother liked me saying “damn.” Not only did I get the full lecture in front of the entire group of kids – but he went on to preach a sermon about it at our next assembly.
He said “saying darn it means the same thing as saying damn.” And he was right. It is. Now, he thought we shouldn’t say either because it wasn’t godly. Maybe he’s right. I don’t know. All I know is that I’m human – and sometimes the only way to express how I feel is through an expletive.
The thing that stuck in my memory the most wasn’t the utter humiliation that I felt during my grandfather’s lecture, it was the burning anger that I felt over the whole situation. You see, I asked my mother to write up a list of swear words that I could read and know so that I wouldn’t goof up again. After all, I had no idea that damn wasn’t acceptable. I didn’t want to make the same mistake again.
It took me several long years to understand why she got even more upset and refused to give me the list! At the time, I was angry. Here I was, already messing up because I didn’t know the bad words. What if I accidentally did it again? All she had to do was tell me and I wouldn’t do it. I never got that list.
Fast forward to now. My kids know a lot of swear words, and use them in appropriate settings. The 5-year-old thunked a toy on his foot and said “damn!” The 2-year-old had trouble putting his shoes on and said “shit!” I try not to laugh when they come out with a new one, but it doesn’t really bother me that much.
We’re teaching our kids appropriate social manners: they know that swear words can offend people, and they know the rule is we don’t swear out in public. As they get older we’re going to work on that rule more.
I much prefer an honest swear word over a prissy, hypocritical word. Be honest. If you mean damn, say damn. If you mean ass, say it. If you think that using the F word is the only way to express how you really feel, go for it. But know I might send my 5-year-old over so that you can explain it when he asked questions, because we haven’t covered that term yet.
Now, while I’m extremely permissive about swearing, I crack down hard on other things. If I ever hear my kids use a racial slur, a derogatory phrase, or a word like “retard,” mamma’s going to come down like the wrath of god! We don’t accept insulting, rude, demeaning, or hurtful words in our house. That can be as simple as telling someone “you’re stupid,” or telling someone that they look fat. Not acceptable.
And unlike 90% of the people we know, I feel very strongly about using the phrase “Oh my god!” It’s disrespectful and rude, and I will be far more harsh about that phrase than I will the F bomb.
I’m all about honesty. Be truthful. Be real. Lies only get you so far, so you might as well make life easier on yourself and stay honest.
If my kids start sounding like the teenagers at the basketball court with every other word an expletive, then we’re going to have a little discussion about how that can make you sound ignorant. Vocabulary lessons will occur, and easy-going mom will start sounding like a thesaurus.
No, I’m far more worried about the other things my kids say. Like this weekend: Mr. Genius was trying to reign in a rambunctious Engineer at my mother’s day dinner out. He quietly whispered “what are you ruining right now?” (mom’s dinner) to the Engineer, who turned and replied “Daddy’s life?”
We didn’t say that to him, ever! He came up with that all on his own.
I would have been happier if he had just said damn.