One of the most…challenging…things about having children is the fact that you are not supposed to swear in front of them. I realise that for many people this isn’t a challenge at all. Lots of people just don’t swear much. They are perfectly able to express their views, frustration, irritation and amusement without using offensive language. And well done to them. Many of my very best friends aren’t very sweary.
I fucking am, though.
It didn’t matter when The Boys were tiny. You can mutter “twat!” as much as you like in front of a 12-week-old. They don’t care. And you can coo sweetly at a teething six-month-old and say “Awww, you’re a really miserable little fucker today, aren’t you?” because as long as your tone is pleasant, you’re fine.
But now The Boys are seven and four and I have to be much more careful. The Big One is already picking words up at school and sharing them with his brother, so I have to try to make sure I’m not reinforcing the Bad Words at home.
This is not easy. Particularly when I’ve been at work all day where I am allowed – frankly expected – to swear freely and fluently every time I open my mouth. Getting home and remembering that “for fuck’s sake….” isn’t an appropriate response to another Pokémon anecdote is hard.
My worst slip was recently when I took The Boys to the office and went for lunch with some colleagues. The presence of work people apparently rendered me oblivious to my children and at some point I bellowed “Well, she can fuck right off then, can’t she?!” within two feet of their small ears. Unfortunate, I think we can agree.
The other problem with swearing around children is that when they do pick it up and then they use it correctly (people who can’t swear well are very annoying), it’s very, very funny. I’m not talking about 10 year olds shouting “wanker” at each other. That’s not funny, just a bit depressing. But little ones using not-so-bad words can, just occasionally, by bloody hilarious.
For example, when my Dad and I were in the garden after a moderately boozy lunch and I dropped something. I was good and didn’t swear. I just snapped “Oh………” and bit my lip while I tried to think of an appropriate word to use in front of the Big One (then three). He helpfully filled the silence with a resounding “Bugger!”
There were two sensible courses of action to take here. One was to tell him calmly and firmly that that’s not a word for little boys. The other was to pretend it hadn’t happened.
The problem is that I caught my father’s eye and we both took a third option. Pissing ourselves laughing. Which, naturally, led to the Big One merrily chanting “Bugger, bugger, bugger” for five minutes until The Mothership came and restored some manner of propriety. Which given she is a woman who regularly refers to things as a “bag of wank” shows exactly how desperate the situation had become.
The only sensible option in avoiding swearing is to seek out alternative words that are almost as satisfying to say and get into the habit of using them. My friends have a few, as do I, and I gift them to you here in case they work for you. None of them is as pleasing as shouting “Twat!” but you have to work with what you have.
- “Knickers”. A fine alternative to many Bad Words and usefully deployed when something minor goes wrong. Pleasingly British too and likely to baffle nearby Americans which is a bonus.
- “Oh, Bumblebees!” As above, and borrowed from my splendid chum. A bit of a mouthful, but useful and at least feels like you’re going in for a “bugger” or “bollocks”
- “Oh for FIVE minutes!” An excellent offering from a work chum which properly made me roar the first time I heard it. I don’t think I need explain the likely context here.
- “Spanner” or “spoon”. Pretty much any inanimate, blunt item works here as a term of mockery for small children. Useful because it’s apparently frowned upon to call a small child a dick. Shame, because it’s so often true…still, there we have it.
I’m sure there are many more, and do feel free to share them. It’s essentially a public service, and hopefully will mean that when there’s a child bellowing “Cockwomble” across the playground, it won’t be ours. At least, not yet.