Monday, 1 February 2010

Oh Sh.....ugar!

I am rather a prolific swearer.

It's my mothers fault. She's far worse than me - honestly, she could make a navvy balk with her foul mouth.

I first realised that perhaps this was going to be an issue in terms of my parenting when Middle Son, aged four, began to refer to our local garage as 'The bloody garage'. As in, 'Look mummy, there's the bloody garage' each and every time we drove past it on the way to the supermarket. At the time we had a car that was continually dying a death, and then being resurrected with the aid of enormous amounts of money, only to promptly die again. Hence we were spending an awful lot of time at the bloody garage (and probably single handedly subsidising it aswell). I hadn't even been aware that that was what I called it untill it came out of the mouth of my four year old babe.

I really do try not to swear in front of the children. But obviously not hard enough, as last night Eldest Son threatened me for the umpteenth time with a swear box. The idea apparently is that every time I say a 'naughty word', I have to put fifty pence in it. Then at the end he, I presume, gets to collect all the money.

I'm not agreeing to that. I'm not fucking stupid.

The thing is, if I'm honest, I like swearing. It's expressive. It's cathartic. I don't just swear willy nilly, I mean there are rules - well one actually, which is that I never swear at anyone - and it's always in an appropriate context, for example if I've dropped something on my foot. That was in fact two rules wasn't it... The point is that it's not, to my mind, excessive. The excessive curser is lacking in both imagination and finesse in my opinion - in fact my favourite line from anything ever was: 'See you, you need a fucking thesaurus' from the brilliant The Thick Of It. No, swearing only serves its purpose if used judiciously and with precision. Dare I say it, there's an art to it.

But I digress. In this post I am primarily concerned with discussing the issue of swearing in the presence of children, and finding out what other parents views are on the subject.

The other day you see, I was having coffee with some other mums (the conversation, aswell as the threat of the swear box, providing the prompt for this post) and one of them declared - rather sanctimoniously I thought - that she never swore in front of her children. Her body language was all wide eyed and shocked, as if indignant at the mere suggestion that she could ever do such a thing, and to be honest, although I was a bit taken aback by what I felt was her slightly pious attitude, I also felt suddenly self conscious. I mumbled something about how I never swore at my kids, whilst simultaneously praying that social services would take a liberal view if she pounced on the phone and called them in horror, the minute I left. Now, I happen to know that this woman smacks her kids, which is something I genuinely never do, as for me, hitting children, even if it is 'just a little tap on the bum' is unacceptable. That doesn't mean I judge anyone who has, on reaching the absolute end of their tether, smacked once or twice and then gone on to regret it terribly and vow never to do it again, (I think lots of us have been there). It means I believe it is wrong to use it deliberately as part of an ongoing strategy to control behaviour. I certainly believe smacking to be far more harmful to children than hearing their mother say the odd 'Oh fuck it' when she spills or breaks something.

I suppose that ultimately this woman and I simply come from two very different points of view, and although I do disagree strongly with any use of physical punishment, I have no desire to get into a competitive 'I'm a better mummy than you, nurny nurny nur nur' discussion. I accept that we are all doing our level best with a difficult job. But I have written this post with the specific intent of asking others for their opinions on the issue of swearing. How do you feel about swearing in front of your kids? Relatively harmless on occasion? Or setting a really bad example? Is it naive to think that it's really no big deal? Feel free to throw any and every shade of grey into the mix. Let me know what you think.


  1. Crikey have you secretly visited my house, that is, the "House of the Swearing Mother"?? You would think that smacking was more controversial but it seems not. Our gutter mouths muttering in the kitchen/drivers seat etc is more damaging than the hands that slap. Can't subscribe to that myself.

    I'm an educated woman whose parents are a bookie and a landlord so I have a wide cussing vocab to draw upon. And I bloody well do. I agree, its expressive and its pretty harmless as long as not directed at someone with venom. "Fuck it" when you burn the dinner doesn't come near "Fuck you" to someone's face does it?

    Are we so risk-averse now for our kids that we are going to pretend everyone talks like a CBeebies presenter in the grown up world? Its life, its learning. Its normal for fuck's sake.

    To those mummies and daddies who NEVER swear around their little darlings (and I've met plenty and name some of my closest friends in that group with their patronising comments & body language) all I can say is respecting different styles of parenting early on in your parenting life will make things a lot easier the day your precious ones make you scream "For Fuck's Sake" at the top of your voice.

    Excuse the rant, but its rare to find a fellow mother swearer and one who manages to express their views on it so well. Well done you.


  2. I don't like swearing in front of the kids. But my partner is Irish and so is her mother. I probably needn't say more, but just in case you haven't had the pleasure of an Irishwoman's company, 'fucking' is every other word in a sentence.

    What can one do?

  3. I tried really hard not to have a policy on it because it was just one more thing I had to think about. (Christ like there's not enough already!)

    It's a bit disconcerting though when the 3-year-old yells "stupid fucking idiot driver!" every time he hears a car horn.

    I worry he's going to say it in front of our friend who works for DOCS. Then again, I presume she's heard and seen a lot worse.


  4. I don't -- mainly because it would probably get them in trouble at school. Funny about the garage.

  5. Thanks for the replies.

    I can totally understand where you're coming from with the point you make about school, Modern Mother. As far as I'm aware my children have never used bad language in school, but if they did get into trouble for it, I would feel very responsible indeed.

  6. It's a bad example and we've both done it! Unfortunately, the first time little elf lisps "Oh fuck", we'll probably giggle like crazy.

  7. I don't purposely swear in front of my children but it does happen and I don't worry about it too much. Kids who never hear swearing at home are more likely to think it's the naughtiest thing ever and thrill in repeating it ad nauseum to annoy their parents. All things in moderation, right? ;-)

    Once they're a bit older, I wouldn't even mind if my children swore (in context and not AT anyone) at home but would explain to them that it's only for around family and at home because so many others disapprove. I find the shock and horror at swearing quite ridiculous and stuffy but they have to learn to get on with the people for whom this is a big fucking deal (whoops!) so I'll teach them when, where and with whom it is appropriate.

    P.S. - Can you turn on the 'Name/URL' option for comments? Thanks!

    Noble Savage

  8. Yes Amity, I think your approach is quite similar to my own.

    Will change settings on the comments. I presume you just go into comment moderation and it's fairly self explanatory?

  9. I have to admit to trying to avoid swearing in front of my kids though not perfect! It was a shock when my kids started saying "bloody" this and "bloody" that as even though that's mild by adult standards it doesn't sound right coming from a child.

    My 6 y old daughter stopped using the "b" word as we call it when her little brother started using it. She now reports him for every use.

    I do find myself letting out the odd shit, bugger or fuck but try not to make it too loud if kids are around! They get exposed to the language in the streets etc but I'd rather they didn't start using those words themselves just yet..

  10. My Mom tried a donation box when my Dad used words at us that she found particularly offensive (any beginning with the G**- prefix). We each got a quarter if she overheard him saying anything. This stopped when she realized one of my brothers was making Dad angry on purpose to earn money for a trip to play video games and buy candy.

    Swearing is def not the worst thing kids are ever going to hear/see. If this is the only damage we do as parents, we are pretty damn impressive.