“Use any profanity that you feel will accurately reflect your feeling in the moment.”
As I tell my 10 and eight-year-old sons that they may swear, I find myself questioning my sanity. Is this a responsible thing to do? As a sensible and realistic parent, should I really be encouraging my children to swear? Honestly, I think not. But, there was a valuable lesson in this somewhere for myself and my kids that I felt compelled to explore.
I am not going to lie and pretend to be the perfect parent who never swears in front of my kids—in fact, I’m the complete opposite. My kids have probably heard every curse under the sun slip from my lips at one time or another. Until about a year ago, I would always tell them not to repeat that word, or, “that’s a naughty word; we shouldn’t say that.” But then I got thinking: why don’t we let our kids swear? Why shouldn’t they be able to express their feelings and emotions using these words? After all, they are just words.
Up until this point my kids, as all kids, were fascinated by the whole concept of swearing. “Why can’t we say those words” was a frequent curiosity. “Just let us say one” was thrown out for bargaining. The no-go approach only made them want to swear more, and the fear of my kids being caught using socially unacceptable language on the playground or elsewhere was something I wanted to avoid.
So I started my experiment to take the taboo out of swearing, and fully understood that it could easily backfire.
I started by analysing where and why I swear.
Was I actually causing offence or offending anyone in the process? Largely, no. When I say this, I mean my language is not directed at anyone; if someone wants to find offence in my language, then surely that is their issue, right?
I found my swearing was purely an outlet or expression of emotion in a particular moment. Don’t get me wrong, I do occasionally tell my husband he is a d*ck, but that’s another story.
Society has led us to believe that profanities are offensive and are socially unacceptable, but why? I get that these words have certain connotations in history and their origins are not fantastic, but when I use them, they are just a string of random words that actually make no scene in the context in which they are blurted out.
Next, I announced our first ever bout of swearing.
It was a Friday night. I wanted to know what my kids knew, and they surprised me. Every word I knew, they knew. Fair enough, but did they know the meaning behind these words that they were saying?
“What are they slang for,” I asked. Neither of my kids could answer this. So, I began educating, telling them and explaining the meanings behind all of these new and fun words they had been opened up to. I thought it had been productive for our first Friday night swear session. I got reactions that I couldn’t have dreamed of, and we had a giggle along the way.
Of course, some of the words we use have a sexual meaning and there was a sensitive way to approach these meanings and explain them. But I had made the decision to do this, and I was fully committed to seeing it through. Initial reactions were things like, “Why would you say that when it means something so disgusting?”
The productivity of the session was only cemented further when my eldest son came home from school one day and proceeded to tell me a playground tale: “This one kids said one of the swear words today mum. He sounded like an idiot; he didn’t know what he was saying.” This was good, clearly there was some thought process happening in his head with regard to what is acceptable and what isn’t.
It was as if that little red button that was once there was shrinking. I had opened this world for them to explore; I had made it okay, and so in some way, this now made it okay to talk to us about the use of “adult language.”
I have often questioned my job, as a parent. What is my aim or end goal? What do I want out of this journey and what do I want my kids to take from this?
All too often, I hear other parents referring to their kids as their best friends. “I want a friendship with my child so they know they can always talk to me.” This might sound controversial, but I don’t really think I am here to befriend my kids. I have friends already just as my kids do. Friends are here to play a certain role in our lives, and I sincerely believe my role as a parent is quite different to that of friend.
In my mind I am here to guide them, to educate them, to advise and counsel so that they go off in to the big, wide world as well-rounded individuals who have the appropriate tool kit to deal and cope with the world that they are going to live in. I want them to be able to question social norms and life in general so that they can make well-educated decisions and choices about their life and how they want to live it—obviously while doing so honestly both to themselves and within the constraints of the law. Surely if I keep elements of that world hidden, then the tool kit that I am looking to provide won’t be complete.
Kids develop at different stages, and I wouldn’t think of doing this with my children unless I thought they were intellectually and emotionally ready.
There is definitely a level of understanding needed around social norms and conformity beforehand, which both of my kids have and get. They also clearly understand that these societal values and norms differ from person to person, place to place, country to country, and culture to culture; while they aren’t set in stone like the laws of the land in our country, they may well be in others.
With this in mind, I continued their education.
My next lesson involved the use of these new-found words.
“Give me as many swear words as you can off the top of your head,” I said. And they let rip. Funny is an under statement.
Next, I wanted them to construct a sentence but it had to make sense—the words must be in context. There’s something a little surreal when you hear the words mum and c*nt in the same sentence. “Mum you have a f*cking c*nt, rang out across our lounge, and I couldn’t contain myself. “Well done, Son! Very good and technically correct.” I think that night we all belly laughed so hard we physically hurt the next day.
I don’t use the word c*nt, personally. I don’t like it; it sounds wrong, but my husband lets the word slip occasionally and that’s okay. We are all entitled to our own opinion, after all. I would rather him let out his anger or frustration in this way than he destroy something or himself for that matter.
We live in a society where it is acceptable to vent our emotion. We are constantly telling everyone that talking is better than keeping it in. Swearing is but a vehicle to express my feelings in a certain situation—when no other words work, when there is no sense to be made of a situation that annoys the crap out me just because.
Further education on this matter and in particular relation to empathy and compassion for other people’s feelings and values had to be discussed.
All too often we discredit other people for wanting to be 100 percent happy and content, ourselves. Empathy and compassion for others is only a problem when our own values or happiness suffers greatly as a result and let’s be honest, the lack or inability to use profanities in public places is not going to significantly impact our happiness. There are times when I slip up and find myself apologising to those around me, but more often than not, people get it and are completely fine. It’s the years-old values and connotations that make something like swearing taboo, and really for no reason.
I’ll tell you this: I’ve opened the depths of profanity to my kids and as of yet, in a whole year, I have only heard one of my kids use such a word, off the cuff, once. And I’m okay with that. What matters to me more is that they feel secure in their own mind knowing that they can be free to let go of feelings and emotions using words that they fully understand while being empathetic to the values of those that surround them.
They often come home telling stories of how classmates use swear words that they don’t feel they understand and in situations where they aren’t being considerate to others.
We live in such a world where, as parents, we need to be ready to have difficult and sometimes awkward conversations due to the prevalence and ease of access to grown-up material.
Neither of my kids ask me if they can say “a naughty word” any more, and when I started writing this, I asked them what had changed. They told me that now that they understand the whys, meaning, and origins of the language, they don’t feel the need or desire to use it; it’s not as fun, because there isn’t the big, black veil hiding the whole concept. Essentially, there is no novelty or big issue around the use of a certain word anymore. To me, that’s a success.
One more issue demystified and undemonized, but not quite normalised; a perfect balance.