As a militant potty-mouth, I've always wondered whether it was right or wrong of me to launch clusterbombs of foul language during moments of anger, frustration and joy, or to embellish otherwise mundane thoughts with a random expletive, in the presence of my children. Empirical evidence suggests that I was perfectly right to do it, as they've grown into well-adjusted young adults who swear artfully, but never gratuitously. My [expletive deleted] work is done.
And so I say to Nicole C. Kear, writing on the Salon website on Sunday, that there is nothing wrong with the fact that "Mommy's got a potty mouth." In a very funny and expletive-laden piece, Kear recounts how her children, aged 8, 6 and "toddler," have begun sprinkling their utterances with dirty language as a result of her inability to clean up her own.
"I curse. A lot," admits Kears. "More, certainly, than many other mothers of three young children; more, maybe, than most people in general, excepting phone sex workers, sailors and actors in Tarantino films."
Kears, however, decides that she is wrong to swear in front of her children. She examines the reasons for her blue streak and finds herself lacking. She blames it on habit, and blames "sheer laziness" for not being able to break the habit. And, she adds, "if I'm being honest, there's a part of me that uses the profanity as a shorthand to communicate to the world at large that I'm an edgy, cool mom, not one of those uptight, sanctimommies that are so often objects of disdain."
Finally, she says, she thinks kids should learn the rules before being allowed to bend them, and that, for her, the rules are the traditional ones: "I don't think it's OK for my kids to swear, not at home, not at third-grade recess, not on special occasions. Until they can scan iambic pentameter or explain dramatic irony, my kids will have to keep their language G-rated."
Another blogger has the opposite view, writing in April on the parenting website The Stir that it's okay to swear in front of your kids, and listing five reasons for it. They include: studies that show that swearing increases group solidarity and reduces stress; the notion that it is merely a form of self-expression that shouldn't be discouraged; and, perhaps most compelling, that letting your kids see you swear "helps to demonstrate rules of etiquette dictated by society, as in which behaviours are appropriate under which circumstances: 'You can say these words at home, but if you say them at school, you'll get in big trouble and it won't be fun.' "
Regardless of your position, most likely at some point your child will hear you use a dirty word, at least according to one poll done in Britain. In the end, the only rules that everyone agrees on is that you should not swear in the presence of other people's kids, and never, ever AT your own children (no matter how much you want to sometimes).