Being with my children 24/7 has many advantages. For example, we get to have the time and space for some really rich conversations.
A few times over the past 2 months we’ve talked about insults, their actual meanings and impacts. This blog post written by an 8th Grade Teacher describes the sort of conversations well.
Having conversations like these with my children, aged 10 and 12, plus reading some thought provoking posts from sites such as scarymommy.com have triggered me to rethink and shift how I handle swearing with my children.
Our previous mantra was:
“In this family we never swear.”
With this in place I actively invited my children to tell me what swear words they know and I’d explain exactly what they mean. I even developed a scale of ‘severity’ with them so they understood which were the words I NEVER wanted to hear them say EVER and which were less offensive.
On the whole this has served us well however, as with any concrete ‘Rule of Life’, any deviation from this rule runs the risk of feeling catastrophic.
For example, my 9-year old son was sworn at in the playground by another child and then, as a direct result, he was disruptive in class for the rest of the day and was still upset when I picked him up. In his words, it was a “minus 15 out of 10 day”. We have NEVER had a day in the minus numbers before or since!
(In this case the hurt my son felt was compounded when he reported the problem and the member of staff dismissed this issue giving the other child ‘the benefit of the doubt’ with no follow up or handover to his teacher.)
I know from personal experience that when you discover you have a concrete Rule of Life then it is a good idea to acknowledge it and then consciously or subconsciously soften it. For me “We never swear” shifted subconsciously, but noticeably over a few days last month.
During a swim in the sea, my children and I talked openly about condoms, contraception and relationships. I think the topic came up because we found a syringe/needle on the beach and I explained about why people don’t reuse needles and that got us onto STD’s. Afterwards I affectionately labelled it as a ‘sex ed’ class, but my children told me it as SRE (Social Relationship Education).
I think this was a turning point for me and must have got my subconscious whirring, because a few days later when I expressed my frustration at something my son was not doing by swearing, it took us both by surprise, and I used it as a catalyst for change.
By modelling appropriate swearing to my children, it is actually proving to be a great opportunity to explain the depth of my feelings and why I felt it was appropriate to use the word/s I did, in the way I did. It is win win, I get to deal with my emotions healthily and my children get to learn and healthy way of handling their emotions too.
For a long time I have proactively ensured that my children know what a particular swear word or sexual reference means and now I also I want them to know when and where it is appropriate to use (and not use) these words too.
Over the past few weeks my 10-year old asks me whether it is appropriate to swear and has quickly got the handle of how to use an appropriate swear word in the exactly the right situations. We are learning together.
However, I am having to get them to speak quieter when in a public place because I am not sure that I am ready yet for the people around us to take the odd word out of context, especially in a foreign country where we don’t understand all the subtleties of social taboos.
I’d say that our current manta goes something like:
“We sometimes use swear words to emphasise the strength of an emotion, however we are careful where and with whom we use them.”
I did find a boundary yesterday though. Currently, one of my favourite TV shows is Ru Paul’s Drag Race because I find that the warmth, humanity and courageousness makes for compelling viewing.
“If you can’t love yourself how the hell you gonna love someone else!” Ru Paul
I have just discovered past seasons of this outrageous show on Netflix, so have been using some of my downtime in hostels to binge watch Season Two on my iPhone. My 10-year old came and snuggled up next to me and asked if he could join in so I handed him one of my earphones and we watched together. While rated 13+ I only managed 10 minutes together before the language used got me putting down the phone, saying “No more” and explaining why I didn’t want him listening.
I realized that I am not yet ready to watch a show with my 10-year old where swearing is used as part of the everyday language and words at the very top of my offensive-o-meter are brandished about with utter disregard for the impact that they have.
Rue Paul’s Drag Show is definitely not the media I’d chose to teach my children about distinguishing the subtleties between what is said and what is meant. Media does have it’s place though, especially when it is well written literature or film that we share together. The film Hot Fuzz, was very much in the acceptability grey area for us, I think because the content was delivered with such irreverence and humour that it worked for both our children and us. The violence in the Hunger Games books and films also work for us too for completely different reasons.
We know that our children are coming across the realities of the ‘big bad world’ far sooner that either of us are comfortable with and, as we see on a daily basis, the internet accelerates this.
My hope is that these conversations with my children now and, yes, swearing with my children, are an investment in our future relationship together. I believe that we are paving the way for further conversations together as our children independently journey further into the world.