F’n Thin Mints. I posted this on Facebook a few days ago as I tossed the empty box into the blue bin, and right before I began to jot down a few thoughts for this blog. I don’t swear in front of my kids. Really, I don’t. Ever. And I have to give props to my husband, who also keeps it clean in front of the family. That said, when the little ones are out of earshot, we have both been known to add a few four-letter flourishes to our sentences.
In part, the double life has arisen because the “do as I say, not as I do” mantra falls on deaf ears in our household. If we’re serious about keeping our kids’ language clean, then ours will have to be above reproach as well. And in my mind, swearing is analogous to eating an entire sleeve of Thin Mints: I wish I could say I never do it; there really is no justification for it; I don’t do it in front of the kids; and while I’m realistic about the fact that they will have their own vices at some point, there’s no way I’m going to condone them doing it on my watch.
Peter Scowen , in his Globe & Mail article about potty-mouthed parents, cites a variety of empirical and anecdotal data supporting the notion that swearing in front of the kids (and them swearing in turn) is no big deal. So why does it bother me?
It comes down to two things. First, I love words. My left-brained self has always appreciated that the English language – with over ten times the number of words as, for example, French – allows us to describe a feeling, situation or event with almost laser-like precision. Using a one-size fits all curse word to reflect anger, shock, pain, surprise, thrill, regret, or to merely fill a pause in the conversation might, to some, seem efficient. To me, it’s like having tunnel vision. Also, I am generally partial to couth.
Last week, I ended up in the unlikely situation of being at a Drake concert, during which Drake implored his audience to “make some motherf—ing noise”. I couldn’t help but wonder…how loud is motherf—ing noise? I don’t know a lot of Drake’s music, but I do know a lot of mothers. And my sense is that mother f—ing noise is actually, often, very very quiet. As in, “above all else do NOT wake the kids in the next room” quiet.
OK, so Drake clearly wasn’t intending for his adjective to be taken literally, and perhaps I should consider that swear words are highly effective for emphasis. But really, if I am LMFAO at something, does that mean the joke is significantly more hilarious than if I’m simply (more kid-friendly) LMAO or (G-rated) ROFL?
And I understand that there’s nothing like blood-boiling rage to get the f-bombs flowing. However, there is also no easier way to be immediately written off as a raving lunatic. The person on the receiving end of your expletive-laden wrath will zone out, wait for your tirade to be over, and then ask you to either leave or hang up. I’m fairly certain Rogers customer service has one of my phone calls recorded for “quality assurance” that would illustrate this point beautifully.
As parents, we all pick our priorities. One of mine is teaching my kids to be effective communicators. Keeping the language clean and fostering an environment where we all use respectful, thoughtful, varied and appropriate vocabulary is a key component of this. Swearing in this context would seem to undermine all of our efforts.
And so, in our house, if my kids use an undesirable word (and they are still young enough that we’re primarily dealing with epithets like “stupid” and “idiot”), I make them stop and articulate at least a few other ways they could express what they are thinking or feeling at that moment. My grand hope is that they become accustomed to expressing themselves using a rich variety of words. At a bare minimum, I hope it will be such a pain in the neck for my boys to swear in my presence that they hone their little self-censoring filters – something that will serve them well in life. Sort of like putting the Thin Mints at the back of the top shelf of the pantry, requiring a step stool and a complete kitchen reorganization to reach them. F’n Thin Mints.
Kristi has a degree in Economics from Princeton University and worked for eight years at a Wall Street firm in New York and London. She and her husband settled in Toronto, and she is now a stay-at-home mom to three busy boys ages 3, 5 and 7.