True Confession: I swear in front of my kids.
Beth Falkenstein: True story: My father, who was a lawyer, used to tell us about the time he went to battle with our school district because they had suspended a boy for wearing a T-shirt to school with a swear word on it. He called it his "F**k Trial."
So it should come as no surprise that as a parent, I'm pretty laid-back about the use of "bad" words. (And as a writer, I don't believe in the existence of "bad" words.) Yet despite that upbringing, I did not grow up swearing like a sailor. Some words just didn't feel right coming out of my mouth. However, I did become comfortable with a few that I found personally very useful: "a**hole" was really the best word to describe someone driving like a maniac down the street; "s**t" was particularly cathartic when a carefully-laid-out plan goes awry; and "f**k"? Well, it's a multipurpose expletive in my book. There is a certain joke about a polar bear that just isn't funny without it.
But I nevertheless understood that there were rules. There are certain times when certain words are flat-out inappropriate. (That's why "flipping" and "freaking" were invented.) Consequently, I was careful with my speech when my children were young and still in the language-acquisition phase of their development. I knew they didn't understand that there is a difference between, for example, "Daddy's peeing" and "Daddy's pissing." So I made sure that Daddy always peed. And I never said my Big Three around them.
Eventually my kids got older and I suspected they had heard all these words at their school (mostly because I had heard them at their school). I allowed my self-censorship to relax and committed some lesser violations, like "crap" and "damn it." Finally, in a pique of utter frustration, I let the F-bomb slip. There was a moment of charged, amused silence between my kids. I apologized, but they quickly assured me there was no need. "Daddy says that all the time when we're in his car."
I knew a bridge had been crossed ... and burned. I became much freer with my language around them. That's when I knew it was time to teach them "the rules." I told them exactly what I believe: that I think there is no such thing as a bad word.
"But," I added, "some a**holes wouldn't agree, so you have to be careful."
|Beth Falkenstein was a sitcom writer and freelance contributor to "Self," "Redbook," and "YM" magazines before taking a full time job in her kitchen. She loves her new bosses (ages 13 and 10), and is grateful that they approve of inter-office romance, because Beth thinks her co-worker (Jim, age 45) is really hot.|