It was a warm and wholesome summer’s day at the BBC Countryfile Live show at Blenheim Palace – just outside Woodstock in Oxfordshire, England – and everything was very civilised. You know, one of those posh(ish) events with the standard dress code being — at the very least — wellies and of course a Range Rover front row lockout in the parking lot. It was a fantastic day out though, with everything countryside, farming and homemade marmalade on display and great outdoor activities for the kids. My youngest, who just turned 3 at the time, was riding on the shoulders of his uncle whilst we were browsing the latest in traditional boat making technology, riveting I know. Now this section of the event, whilst relatively busy, was the quieter area and of course, as parenting goes, my youngest decided to loudly share the richness of his innocent, childish lexicon: “Whad da fu–— ees gowing onn?” It was brutal. First thing that went through my mind is “Which one of us did he get that from, my wife or me!”, I needed to get my story straight, you know the “Oh, he heard that from his mum” line. But to my surprise the crowd of people around us just bursted into laughter — probably a shock response — thank goodness, we dodged a bullet on this one.
“Whad da fu–— ees gowing onn?”
Here’s the thing though, we’re rather liberal about swearing in our house, very liberal indeed – both the grandma’s had to swallow the minor heart attacks back down when they first encountered the ‘flagrant’ use of the “f” word – we’ve never made cussing a original sin in our house. The only rule is that when we are in public and at school cussing is prohibited for the sake of being polite and, well “civilised”. Even if they shoot off the occasional sh–– or fu–– in public we will gently remind them of the rule. You would think that this freedom to fling the f—s would make for a men’s locker room at home but the thing is, at home the swearing is very occasional and is usually expressed during moments of strong emotions. When my eldest swears I know to check in, it’s usually at that point when his emotions have boiled over and we [the parents] know to step in and help him manage the strong, overwhelming emotions, feelings he has yet to understand. As you can imagine this approach wasn’t an easy one to take – I’m sure you can imagine the onslaught of hints and apoplectic stares from grandparents – but I found vindication in a book called “Swearing is good for you” by Emma Byrne; she’s a real scientist you know. (Did I mention that I’m partial to a good non-fiction read or audiobook?)
“…it’s time to step in and be a dad”
In her book Emma sets out a strong case for the freedom to swear but also for us to start listening and paying attention to the emotion that’s attached to the strong response of swearing. My main take away was that swearing is a deep and ancient response in the human being directly connected with our deepest emotions. There’s stunning data from studies done on swearing such as pain threshold increasing during swearing — YUP! — and chimpanzees preferring sign language “s—“ over flinging their excrement(!) (Thinking back I can think of one or two random toddlers who seriously need to learn some sign language.) Swearing reduces stress and reduces the likelihood for men to resort to violence, it’s absolutely fascinating! Don’t get me wrong, swearing isn’t exactly the most elegant way of expressing oneself but it seems to be the most primal, and directly attached to our implicit — true — feelings. According to the book there are two forms of swearing presented in the book, propositional swearing (the intended swearing my youngest shouted at the Countryfile event) and non-propositional swearing (the swearing my eldest does when he’s deeply frustrated and defeated). The way I see it is to — as parents — manage the propositional swearing by laying down clear guidelines for when it’s okay to swear — within reason — and carefully listen and pay attention to when our kids use non-propositional swearing because something deep and real is going on; it’s a clear sign to me that it’s time to step in and be a dad.
Well, that’s what I took away from it anyway, I strongly recommend you read the book and see what you think for yourself; it’s a great and hilarious read. Let me know what you think? It takes a village to raise these kids and we need all the help we can get.
Stay awesome family!