The latest installment of Dear Drudgery, a series in which we tell parenting tedium what’s what. The story so far: I was a fun-loving young sprite and then there were three children and also being married can be hard, and for a while I kind of lost the plot. Then I made a Commitment to Fun.
Now my life is daisies and nothing ever is the matter! It helped.
I don’t know that I’m a good person (seems unlikely), but I do do a lot of good-person things. I offer old people my seat on the bus and give money to people who need it. I’m polite to strangers, even though many of them bug the shit out of me. I call my parents. I try to do what’s best for the children.
And I swear like a motherfucking sailor.
I was raised better. I grew up in gentle gardens of dangits and shoots and, when the crud really hit the fan, my mom might let fly an effing or two. But while most of my peers likewise cleaned up their acts when parenthood hit, I’ve held my profanity close.
This isn’t, for one minute, because I think words don’t matter. Of course words matter. Their mattering is exactly why I can use them, in my ongoing campaign against drudgery.
See, the Drudge in me waxes and wanes, and I’m at my grumpy drudgiest when I’m feeling trapped in the Mom-role. (It’s the role I love most, but it can get kinda trappy in there, amirite? What with all the clutter and the exhaustion and all.) And just about everything I do—my sleep, my finances, where I live, how I spend my time—is determined, quite rightly, by that role.
But the way I talk—I can make that role-agnostic. Words are something I can choose exactly the way the non-parent me would choose them. When I stub my toe and say an honest Shit!—that’s the me of me speaking. (Sometimes I wonder wistfully what it would be like to have been born with a gentle temperament, the kind where daily annoyances don’t make you want to swear, or throw dishes.)
As I was evolving my Philosophy of Profanity, I noted that letting-me-be-me might be nice conceptually, but there really are good reasons not to swear in front of the children. For example, no one wants to hear kids swearing. And also, profanity offends people (who might then get judgey about my parenting).
Totally legit reasons! Oh my goodness, I should never swear in front of the kids! But when I looked a little closer. . .
1. We shouldn’t swear because we don’t want our kids to swear.
Um, hypocrisy much?
Most of us don’t want our toddlers knocking back martinis, yet we drink in front of the kids. We tell our children not to hit—then we turn on the football game. And violent rampages by evil geniuses are obviously verboten, but fuck me if every film in the entire James Bond canon isn’t some kind of PG.
Pick your poison. All of us have behaviors we don’t want our children to mimic, but we expose them anyway. (You don’t? Ever? Yay, you! Now, please never come to my house. I love my children very much and I fear that you will earnest them to death.)
2. Profanity is upsetting to others.
In all things, I figure, be kind. Swearing near children is going to bug some people. In those cases, minding my tongue isn’t not being myself. It’s simply being the self to whom my mama taught manners.
At our house, Youngest hates it when I swear. (She’s pretty status conscious; I think she doesn’t want me to sound common.) So I try to keep it clean when she’s around. As a parent, I prize caring for each other over any vocabulary option.
Along these lines, the one curse I stay away from is the one just about everyone else uses freely. How in the world did “Oh my God” (or G-d, for my friends in the Tribe) become the least sweary of all the swears? Of the myriad curse words available, that one is actually supposed to be sacred. It’s vested with emotion and meaning that people hold dear. (Okay, perhaps some people feel that way about the world asshole, but I’m going to posit that they’re an edge case, and not mine to worry about.)
I use a lot of words in vain, but not God. I ask my kids to refrain, too. Because words matter, I tell them.
* * *
Since I chose to employ profanity as a means of staying More Me, Less Drudge, I had to come up with some ground rules.
Swearing, I tell the adorables when they’re little, is a grown-up thing.
Later, I work to combat the notion that kids swearing is cool: You know that kid who always tries to act older than he is? Yeah, he looks ridiculous. Don’t be that guy. Leave the swearing to the professionals until you get your learner’s permit.
(Obviously, you have to be able to swear once you can drive.)
When to swear, and around whom, is nuanced. I figure (not rationalizing at all) that my profane ways provide a decent object lesson in situational ethics: I may swear around you but you may not swear around me; neither of us curses around grandma; how you talk with your friends is up to you. . . .
* * *
The jury’s still out on the good-person thing, but I’m pretty sure that my occasional “Fuck it!” is infinitely better than me lobbing the salad plates. And when Youngest hears me bite it back at “F…,” she knows I’m doing it for her.
What’s best for the children? A mama who feels like she’s many, many things—including a mother. A mama who recognizes that caring is reflected by more than whether our sentences would get past the FCC. In my case, that means being a mama who swears.
Illustration by Christine Juneau
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