Oh, I see you. How could I not? The righteous indignation that started in your eyebrow crease has crawled all the way down to your lower lip, pushing your chin against your neck in a silent gasp of judgmental horror. You also don’t think I see you lifting your smartphone up and opening your favourite mummy Facebook group to one-thumb type what you just witnessed: a mother using swear words in front of her darling offspring.
Well, guess what? I. Don’t. Care. I’m perfectly okay with swearing in front of my kids—and you’re welcome to, too. If you can ever get over yourself long enough to do so.
No, I wasn’t brought up with parents who swore in front of me. In fact, they forbade language in the household, fullstop. Even slightly crass words like “puke” or “fart” were considered as off-limits as the f-bomb and his friends. I didn’t hear my own mother mutter a single profanity until she got cancer in her sixties, and even then she didn’t manage anything worse than, “This really sucks.” I knew my father swore, but he didn’t do it in front of us kids, and expected us to keep our language clean in the home, too. They were my parents, so I obeyed their rule (and still do).
Once I had kids, it was my turn to make up the rules. When my kids were first learning to talk, I was careful about not swearing in front of them. I didn’t want them to pick up on my own bad habits or start muttering swears they didn’t understand the meaning of in front of their fellow preschoolers. Now that they are older, I’m more comfortable letting the lesser swear words slip past my lips in their presence. But I’ve also been clear that just because I say it, doesn’t mean they can say it.
I’m the adult here, in charge of far too many things to count. I’ve earned the right to relax and be myself, to do things in my home that my kids can’t do. Maybe once they are well into their teen years and have mastered the English language a bit more I’ll be okay(ish) with some swearing, but we’re not there yet.
My kids do have my full permission to ask me the definition of any word they hear or read, no matter what. This means that they know what all the swear words I use mean. By hearing me use them in a natural way, they are also learning the how and why someone might use that sort of language, and reading the situations more accurately (my saying, “That is sexist” is very different than my saying, “That is sexist bullsh*t” in a conversation). I’m not sheltering them from something they will be exposed to out there in the real world, forcing them to figure out how to tell when the words have weight or are just added colour on their own. And so far their ears have not burst into flames.
One of my favourite mothers lives across the street from me. She is someone who makes me a better parent each time she gives me advice, bakes the best crumb cake you’ll ever eat in your life, and could make a dirty drunken pirate blush when she talks. When her eldest child was a tween, they were talking to someone who stopped her mid-story and suggested that maybe she shouldn’t use foul language in front of her kid. Her daughter respectfully chimed in to say in response, “If having a mum who swears is the worst thing I need to deal with, then I have it pretty good.” I agree.
Cursing now and again is just a part of who I am. I’m not sorry about it. Showing that part of me to my kids is not doing them any harm, and it’s giving them useful tools like the ability to read more kinds of language.
So there’s no need to freak the freak out and gossip to your friends that I must be a horrible mum because my sweet-faced child overheard me say that something was, “a pain in my a*s.” Because no matter what your opinion is about how I speak, my kids have it pretty darn good.