We consider ourselves to be fairly regular parents. We aren’t extreme to either end of the spectrum. We eat healthfully, but we love our french fries. We have schedules and routines, but we like to shake things up sometimes (just not bedtimes. OH GOD not the bedtimes). In one way that we are more liberal is in our view of language.
We don’t restrict the use of any words in our house. Our kids – from time to time – say things like “damn it” and “Jesus” and yes, “Oh shit.” We use these same phrases. We treat them like words. Which, you know; is what they are. When I was in high school, I had a friend who’s parents did not police language. She swore just as much as the rest of us. The difference was that she was swearing in front of her parents without fear of punishment, while the rest of us were catching ourselves mid-phrase and changing to “holy sheep” instead.
The other day, Sam’s best friend was walked over to our house by her uncle, for some play time with us. When she arrived, I was in the kitchen and Connor came and said, “Caleb* is here. He wants you to know that yesterday, when Sam was at Mary’s* house, he said ‘God damn it’.”
“Ohkayyy….” I said.
“Yeah,” Connor says, “He just wanted you to know.”
“Ok. Got it. Wait: is Caleb here?”
“Yes,” Connor replied solemnly. “He’s waiting to talk to you.”
You see, I hadn’t even heard the door bell ring, nor the door open. So not only was I surprised to be receiving this report (a day later, I might point out), but I was also surprised to know he was waiting in the front hall. I had no time to prepare, what was I going to say?
Will you be surprised to know I did not apologize? No, of course you won’t. You’ve been here before.
All 3 of my kids, plus Sam’s friend Mary, were in the front hall. I took a deep breath and started, “Hi Caleb, Connor’s filled me in and well, in our house, we don’t police language.”
“Oh…” he responded, eyes bugging out of his head and his chin pulled back (you know that look of judgement and shock all at once? Yeah, that one).
“We talk about how these are really just words. Our feeling is the more forbidden you make them the more likely they are to use them.”
“Well, it’s just that last year we took Mary off the bus because the language was getting out of hand. Mary was using it, Sam was using it and they were learning it on the bus.”
I dug in here. “No, not the case. Sam is learning the language here. At home, we use these words and phrases. Like I said, they are just words and we do not police them.”
“Well.” He was ruffled at this. “We do in our house.”
“Okay. We make a point to talk about how there are appropriate places for this type of language, and that it’s important to respect the rules of where you are. So Sam,” I called, looking at him “Now you know that you are not to use those words at Mary’s house. And if you do, there will be consequences. Are we clear?”
“Yep,” he happily responded!
I turned back to Caleb and smiled. He was backing out the door so fast I thought he was falling. “I’ll be back at 5 for Mary,” he said as he ran down our driveway.
I was left on my own, pondering the discussion. What is the big deal, anyway? It’s not the 1950’s anymore, and most of us who are parenting now were born well after the 50’s. Aren’t we freer? Many parents regularly allow their kids to watch violent cartoons. Mary in particular has a fondness for underground Japanese Anime series’ and she my friends, is 6. Her uncle Caleb is 27 and so should be more liberal than we are, being more than 10 years younger than us. And yet…
Am I wrong? Should we be policing our kid’s language, saving them from the plague of profanity? I can’t bring myself to that. Too many things are in the “when you’re older” box, and I am loathe to put language in there. I think there is a far greater value in helping their formative minds understand there are times when using these words are ok, and there are times when it’s not. Like with your Nanny, or your Grampa. They don’t appreciate that language, and you will offend them.
And then I go back to this idea here. I want my kids to feel comfortable talking to me as they grow. I want them to see me as a reasonable adult, who they can come to with big problems, and know that I will help them as best as I can, with as little judgement as I can muster. When I think back to that friend in high school who was allowed to swear at home, it’s interesting to note too that we all went to her Mom for advice and guidance. We were comfortable with her; we could talk to her.
Add to that, this is the time when they are already sorting and assessing situations, determining how they will behave. I think giving them this one other aspect – is it ok to swear here? – to consider and sort is fine. Responsible even.
But enough about me. What do you think?
*Names have been changed to protect the innocent