Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of listening to Jessica Mills read from her parenting manifesto, “My Mother Wears Combat Boots,” at Broad Vocabulary. Aside from being a writer, Mills is a 37-year-old mother to two daughters and political activist. She is also a smart and likable person.
I went to this reading because Mills writes about some of the issues I feel strongly about, and I thought the event would be a feel-good reinforcement of what I already knew and thought. What I didn’t expect was to radically change my stance on the issue of kids and swearing.
Prior to her reading, I was struggling with my son’s experimentation with the seedy underbelly of the English language, but after hearing Mills’ thoughts on kids cussing -- and then thinking about it for a few days -- I came to the conclusion that I don't care if my kid swears. As long as he’s not using the words to name call or hurt someone’s feelings.
During the reading, Mills read one of her chapters titled “Who gives a sh*t about kids swearing.” In short, she believes that bad words are those that hurt or attack other people. Name-calling is not acceptable, but if a kid stubs his toe, it’s not a big deal if the F-word slips out.
“What’s the difference, really, between ‘fudge’ and ‘(expletive)’?” she asks.
The truth is, even though I try not to, I swear. My husband is much better than I am at yelling “nuts and bolts!” or “mac ‘n’ cheeses!” when the bottom drops out on a bag of groceries. However, I put my kid in a “time out” when he uttered a word that I knew he mined directly from my vocabulary. That doesn’t seem fair, rather the old “do as I say, not as I do,” and I don’t want to be that kind of parent.
That’s not to say I feel this way about everything. For example, just because I drink beer doesn’t mean I’m going to serve it to my son with his pizza bagel.
Also, I think that kids should know that certain words should be avoided around certain people, like teachers and grandparents. Guaranteed, this is tricky, and probably difficult to achieve. Basically, it means that swearing is another dicey topic that should be discussed and explained to a child.
They should also know that swearing could offend some people. I know that a lot of people don’t like to hear a kid swear like a wasted sailor, and I really don’t want to offend anyone, but in the grand scheme of things, who cares if they express frustration with the occasional cuss word? And I really don't think word experimentation has anything to do with family values.
I'm not going to encourage it, but swearing just doesn’t seem like that big of a deal to me anymore. Plus, my guess is he’ll be less likely to do if I don't make a fuss.
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.