Friday, March 6, 2009

DCMM: Why I Curse in Front of My Kids

I'd like to tell you right off the bat that one of my favorite words is motherfucker. Well, that and platypus. Or, even better, platypi, which I will insist to my dying day is the plural of platypus. If I ever have an opportunity to scream, "Stop that, you motherfucking platypi!" my life will be complete. Although I don't know what circumstance exactly would lead to such a situation.

Which brings me near my point, which is that I have sworn like a sailor since I was young. I don't have any problems with curse words. I just think that you have to know when it is appropriate to use them. This being my philosophy, I've had to put some thought into how to behave around my children.

Some of you might claim that, as a rule, curse words are not appropriate to use around children. Period. I'm not so sure. I don't necessarily try to use these words in front of them, but I don't think it bothers me or them to hear them every once in a while.

In fact, I remember being quite young and hanging out with my slightly older sister and her friend Tiffany. We were talking about the word shit. We couldn't quite figure out why it was a bad word. It was just a word, we said. How can just a word be bad?

There are words that I believe are inherently offensive and disrespectful curse words, but I believe that has just as much to do with context as with the word itself. "You are such an asshole!" sounds a lot the same as "You are such a dummy!" I don't generally use curse words as epithets because I do think it's disrespectful and mean, but pretty much any word can be made into an epithet.

I do, however, use curse words as adjectives. And adverbs. And punctuation. And exclamations. And as fun little extras that I can sprinkle into my language here and there.

I've done a pretty good job of figuring out when it's appropriate for me to swear. When I was in high school in Utah and had mostly conservative Mormon friends, I tried to pretty much only swear in front of my mother. Oy, my poor mother.

As a parent—and a friend—I try not to curse in front of other people's children. I also look at my friends and acquaintances and try to gauge what their curse word-tolerance is. I start by assuming that it is zero, and go from there. If I don't know that you're okay with swearing, I'm not going to do it in front of you. At least not on purpose.

So, yeah, my kids hear me swear. And they hear me say some words and phrases that a lot of you may think it is not okay to say in front of children. I try to keep it in check, so that my children are aware that those words have power. And also that they carry more power if used sparingly.

I gotta tell you though, if I drop a brick on my toe, I'm not going to shout, "Oopsie!" I'm gonna shout, "Motherfucker!" and then I'm going to whine for several days.

We've had some stumbles (that time my oldest said the f-word in preschool was not my proudest moment), but my kids seem to get that certain words are not for certain times and places. They will even occasionally chastise me for saying "a bad word."

If they do spout out a curse word now and again, I will tell them that just like soda and coffee, certain words are not usually for kids to use. I also tell them that some people don't like those words, so it's best not to use them. I'm trying to teach them respect and courtesy, not a list of words they shouldn't say.

I do realize that they are children and their judgment is not the best, which is why I generally tell them not to use the words at this point in their lives. I also realize that I have an autistic child who will repeat words and phrases that appeal to him, so I try extra hard not to curse in front of him.

Mostly what I try to teach my kids is that it is more important to choose a civil, friendly tone and treat people with respect than somewhat arbitrarily mark words off limits for no good reason.

I am aware that I have put forth a wobbly argument full of holes and hypocrisy. And I am aware that these words will probably come back to bite me in the ass some day—quite possibly someday soon.

But I've made a choice not to go to great pains to shield my children from these words. And I stand by my case.


Original DC Metro Moms Blog post.

If you like rampant—but well placed—cursing, visit Jean's blog at Stimeyland. If you like your cursing in 140 characters or less, follow Jean on twitter.

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