I am a little up in the air on this one, as Michelle and Rox and I were just talking about. So I'm just putting it out there. I feel like this is one of many parenting issues that people respond to in a gut way, without really thinking through the underlying issues. And that's fine, because who has the time to really develop a full-fledged theory of your child's speech acts? Much easier to just stop swearing.
Except I sort of like swearing. It's a part of adult life, unlike going to shows or staying out late dancing or having one too many beers, that I did not necessarily have to give up when I became a parent. And not only is it a marker of my adulthood in general, my language is a marker of the particular mode of adulthood I have chosen: a little irreverent, a little outside of bourgeois norms, a little funny, a little bit free of a some ideas of tidy, euphemistic, womanhood. I'm not the kind of woman who drinks wine coolers and watches her tongue. I drink beer, and I swear. I am not a delicate flower.
I mention this because I think something we might talk about more often is how our children's swearing reflects upon us as parents, and mothers in particular. When our children swear, it's not so much that adults judge them, it's that they judge us. As a wise women I know once said: "when kids swear, people think their mother's don't love them." I think that's sort of sadly true, because mother's are the ones we still expect to teach our children moral propriety.
Swearing has this sort of metonymic significance: if you reject proper language, maybe you also reject other socially appropriate behaviors! Like, if you don't teach your child not to swear, you might also not teach your child to be clean, or not to litter, or to go to school on time, or not to be unkind, or not to be lazy, or to keep their promises or live in a principled way at all. And if you don't teach your child those things, well, you are clearly a bad mom.
Now, of course, one of the reasons why I find bourgeois norms irritating is that I would like to break the association between trivial things like swearing and important things like living a principled life. But here's the deal: bourgeois norms might be outdated and irritating. But they are still powerful.
So I think if we don't teach our children how to behave in polite and tidy bourgeois society, it's still a sign that we aren't giving our child access to the power of that world. And it's one thing for them to opt out on their own. It's another for us not to teach them how to behave there.
And, quite frankly, even if I do often swear or speak irreverently, there are times when I don't want that part of my personality on display. I don't think swearing is very taboo, but my grandmother thinks it is--so I don't swear around her, because in her mind it would move form being "irreverent" to being "sinful," which is completely different. And I can't expect my child to respect my boundaries if I haven't taught them that those boundaries are important.
I guess swearing is one of the places, if a trivial one where real life meets ideal life, and then you just have to decide if this is a battle you want to fight.
On a completely different tack, so I'll just say this real quick like, it occurs to me that I am very casual about swearing because most swear words involve references to sex and the body, and those are things that I think we should be more casual about. I don't think, most of the time, that the body or its actions or excretions, should be taboo issues. But that doesn't mean I don't have my own set of taboos. I am not at all casual about language that I find racist or sexist or homophobic, for example, and I don't think Elliot should be, either.
Which I guess leave us here: if you hear Elliot say "shit," feel free to shake your head in my general direction. But if you hear him call someone a fag, call me immediately and I shall proceed to wash his mouth out with a series of rigorous essays by Judith Butler on hate crimes and speech act theory. Like soap, but different.