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I let my kid say ‘f—k’ and it’s not a ‘f—king’ big deal

Feb 6, 2018

My son dropped his first f-bomb when he was five-years-old. We were walking across a street in Vancouver, and he came bounding up behind us hollering, “Run for your f--king lives!”  I collapsed with laughter. It was so random, so out of the blue and I was frankly delighted that he’d inherited or acquired the McLeod clan's oddball sense of humour. Even my partner found it hysterical. On the other hand, my sister-in-law was mortified.

I likely swear more than a lot of the suburban moms you know. Hey, I grew up in Scarborough and spent 25 years working at a newspaper among adrenaline-fueled reporters who were always on deadline. In addition to my sailor's mouth, my son’s father is a chef and my partner is a roofer. And if you want to find people who can swear like angry stevedores, hang out in a professional kitchen or on a building site.


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Basically, we all swear. And Callum hears it. 

When you’re eight, swearing is just something else to experiment with, like that time I stuck my foot in the front spokes of my bike just because my idiot brother told me not to. I got hurt, but I wasn't permanently scarred.

My Trouble With Swearing

Looking back, my mom never made a big deal about swearing, although she rarely cursed. And because she was the product of a strict Presbyterian upbringing, the only curse forbidden was "Jesus Christ" and any of its variations.  As a result, my brother and I never got hung up on swearing. By the time we were tweens, “s--t” was tacitly OK, but we used it sparingly because we respected our mother. 

Let’s face it: F--k is a terrific word.

Incidentally, the one time I ever got in trouble at school it was for swearing at a high school teacher. We were forbidden from walking in the hallways during lunch periods, but walking through the school meant a shorter trek than walking around it, and I wasn’t the first student to try to break that rule. I was within a few steps of the side door when I got caught, and an overzealous teacher chewed me out and sent me back to the main doors. I muttered “Jesus Christ” under my breath and got suspended for three days. (The ‘80s were such benign times!) When my mother found out, she was appalled — not at my swearing, but at my indefensible choice. “Couldn’t you just have told her to f--k off?”

Why I Use It, Why I'm OK with Him Using It

Let’s face it: F--k is a terrific word. It’s a verb, a noun and a f--king adverb. If you tweak it a little, it’s an adjective. Plus, it still has the power to freak out some people, and that can be useful. Used sparingly, of course, lest it loses its heft. 

Swear words are descriptive, and as someone who has worked as an editor many times, I respect how concise they are. Saying, "The dog s--t on the floor" encapsulates not just the act itself, but your feelings about it. “He pooped on the floor” makes it sound like you thought it was kind of cute. 

Environment is important, too. Something inappropriate in a business meeting could be your best choice when you’re trying to drill home a point over a beer later. Even the worst of them — arguably, the C-word — become less poignant after you spend some time in the Scottish highlands. During my last visit, I heard residents throw it around with all the casualness of “mate.” Sussing out the connotations of cusses in their natural habitat is interesting, and I’m glad my boy is just as fascinated by words as I am. 

Being Frank About the F-Word

I recognize that an eight-year-old with a mouth like a trucker is not appealing. I tell him in no uncertain terms that swearing has an effect, and you don’t dabble in it until you understand that. He’s not to use swear words at school or spread them around among his friends. He needs a better grasp on how they can make people react before he unleashes them on the public. It’s just for us at home — at least for now. 

He’s not to use them at school or spread them around among his friends.

Mercifully, he has an agreeable disposition and still usually asks before he'll let one go. “Mom, is it OK if I say a bad word?” always gets a yes because I’m endlessly curious what word he’ll come out with. He recently said a friend of his was acting like a “douche” and I let that one go out of cowardice — I just didn’t feel up to explaining to him what a douche actually is, and why it has somehow become pejorative. He’ll figure it out.


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So, yeah, spontaneous swearing doesn’t always get addressed. The other day, I heard a “f--k yeah!” coming from the rec room where he was playing by himself, and I could immediately picture him conquering some new level in Mario Odyssey and pumping his fist. I let him have that one, because who am I to ruin a good Mario moment?

While these words are still just used at home, I know the phone call from school is coming someday. And it’ll absof--kinglutely be worth it.
 

Article Author Annette McLeod
Annette McLeod

Read more from Annette here.

Toronto-based freelance writer Annette McLeod is partner to roofing contractor Brian, and mom to eight-year-old Callum, two cats and Harley, the beloved mongrel. They try to keep it all together by laughing a lot and not sweating the small stuff. She is an award-winning feature writer, contest-winning short story author and produced playwright. When not stringing words together, she obsesses over Pinterest and fights the urge to buy more knitting books. You’ll find her online at nettiewrites.ca.

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