Words are powerful—we all know that. They have concrete definitions but carry different weight depending on usage. The F-word alone is a magically versatile tool that can be thrown into literally any sentence as a noun, adjective or verb. It can be combined with other words to create sweary compounds, shouted at the top of your lungs or muttered under your breath. But would you say it in front of your children?
Most of us are pretty intentional in the way we speak to our kids—intentional, but with unique values, perceptions and tolerances. Some parents are more stern or more gentle, some of us allow more “potty talk” than others, some parents swear in front of their kids and others do not, and “appropriate” can mean different things to different people.
Naturally, not all families are the same, and furthermore, not all married couples agree on where the line is. My husband and I are more or less on the same page when it comes to parenting our two kids, but there are moments where we diverge. For example, when my four-year-old son picked up “Oh my God” at school, I started correcting him to “Oh my goodness”—something my husband rolls his eyes at (We’re not religious, but I grew up in a family where you couldn’t say ‘jeez’ because it was short for ‘Jesus’ and it was NOT cool to toss that around—old habits die hard).
I have friends who curse like sailors in front of their kids (Hi, Sandra!) and friends who make fart jokes without hesitation. Meanwhile, I’m basically the prude of the bunch—or at least, I am when my children are around. I essentially live a double life wherein I speak like a Sunday school teacher in front of my kids and drop the F-word like it’s my job when they’re not around. I’m the politically correct mom who speaks deliberately, hates potty words, calls out cultural insensitivity and has no tolerance for racist, homophobic, ablest or misogynistic language. In short, I’m no fun at all…but I love the F-word. When I start typing “mother” in a text message, my phone autocompletes to “fucker”. So why won’t I say it in front of my kids?
It’s all about that line, and I know I’m on the extreme side of it. I don’t want my kids using language that is offensive, demeaning or sexual (the latter is not really an issue since they currently have zero concept of sex). They’re children! I want them to be wholesome while they can be. So in their presence, I say things like “toot” and choke out, “That’s some very silly driving” when I want to yell “USE YOUR SIGNAL YOU F**KING IDIOT!” Oh, restraint, how close we’ve become over the past six years.
My friends make fun of me. My husband makes fun of me. My children like to torture me with talk of butts and poop, and know that they can make my blood boil by launching into the start of “Baby Got Back” in public (thanks, Sing!). Some people think I’m ridiculous, and I get it. I’m also a total hypocrite because I mutter “Jesus Christ” under my breath the whole time I’m trying to get my kids out the door to school and make liberal use of curse words in adult company. But again, I’m in my 30s, and they’re kids. They can discover the F-word in middle school like the rest of us did (or in kindergarten, if I’m to believe the stories that come home these days).
So imagine my surprise when I discovered limitations that exceeded my own uptight-church-lady mothering style. I don’t like to judge, but I’m going to go ahead and say this is ABSOLUTELY CRAZY. Like, blew-my-mind-crazy censorship that made me want to laugh and cry for humanity. It also came from someone without kids, so it’s not technically mom-shaming. Yeah!
I was picking up my kids from their after-school program when I found my son playing a board game. The game had long, thin pieces of plastic that were used to prop up other elements of the game. My son casually picked up one of the pieces and made an innocent observation: ‘This looks like a needle’. He then put the piece down and continued playing.
The after-school care supervisor’s head shot up, and she turned to my son with a stern look. “We don’t say needle,” she intoned, looking at me for backup. “We don’t use that word.”
Wait, what? My son looked just as confused as I was, so I asked for clarification.
“We are advised not to say things like needle or gun or, you know…” she trailed off. My son interrupted. “But it looks like a needle?” The supervisor shook her head no as I nodded my head yes. It totally did, and what’s wrong with that? My kids are vaccinated—it’s not like he was making a heroin reference or something. “It does look like a needle,” I pointed out with a forced smile. “Which isn’t a bad word. He’s four. He has no concept of needles outside of a medical scope, or like, pine needles.”
“Did you mean pine needle?” The supervisor asked my son, seriously. I stared in amazement.
“Maybe he should say syringe?” Another staffer called out from across the room, also not joking.
“Syringe and needle are the same thing…like, if you think he’s making a drug reference, that doesn’t help,” I said as I helped my confused son into his jacket. “But again, he’s four, and it does look like a needle, which is not a gun.”
“Well, we don’t use that language here,” the supervisor firmly asserted, at which point my brain melted out of my ears and I died.
So what else is there to say, honestly? That’s fucked up.