Zero Fucks Given! Why It’s Okay to Swear in Front of Your Kids


Zero Fucks Given! Why It’s Okay to Swear in Front of Your Kids

Illustration: Shruti Yatam

“Mama, what’s a ‘ho’?”

My seven-year-old daughter rattles me after I hang up with a friend I’d addressed as “ho-bag”. It’s a term of endearment we use for each other, a tiny piece of wildness kept alive from our twenties. Today we have kids, jobs we love and hate, mortgages, aches that gnaw the insides of our bodies. The closest we get to being “hos” is when we’re down two bottles of wine and comparing vibrators.

I respond to the child with many “erms” and then thankfully, one of her favourite songs plays on the radio and her mind shoots off in that direction. Sometimes I worry that her knowledge of expletives is quite extensive for her age.

I’ve made a lot of sacrifices in the name of motherhood but swearing is the one vice I hold on to like a life raft. While most mothers I knew transitioned to using questionable substitutes like sugar or fish in the presence of their kids, I haven’t been able to do so, not for lack of trying.

I wouldn’t call myself a potty-mouth. I just find cussing therapeutic in situations when I need the perfect word to describe the extent of my rage. Sometimes a person is an “asshole” and circumstances are “fucked up” and everything is “shitty”. That’s just how it is and no PG13 word can offer me the catharsis I need.

Sometimes I worry that my daughter’s knowledge of expletives is quite extensive for her age.

When my daughter was a toddler and learning to talk, I consciously tried self-censoring. I aggressively shushed people who swore when they were around her, leaping to cover her ears. Back then, I still cared about my tattered Dr Spock bible and was hopeful about parenting the “ideal” way.

I remember the day I broke my resolution. I’d taken her to the supermarket and strolled about for an hour with my shopping list with one of those trolleys that had a plastic car attachment. When I was done placing all the cleaning supplies, food items, and other knick-knacks, on the counter for billing, I discovered that I’d left my wallet at home. I stood there and said “fuck” thrice, quite loudly. The counter lady was nice enough to tell me she’d keep my things aside and I could return and pay. The daughter stared at me in shock and was cranky the whole drive back home. It was then that I realised that she didn’t care so much about the words that came out of my mouth as much as the energy I radiated.

Fast-forward to a few years and she has become the kid who threatens me, “You know I’ll repeat what you say right? You should be careful.” Or when she hears me muttering under my breath, she’ll go, “What was that word, mama?”, with an evil Chucky-style grin.

In my defence, she rolls her eyes at me when I call someone an idiot as well. I find it hard to believe that this is the same girl who can have a full-blown meltdown over a lollipop flavour AND tell me off for calling people names behind their backs. She is young and impressionable but is also mature enough to understand context. The other day when we decided to watch Kevin Hart: Zero F***s Given, she grinned when he started talking (because for Hart, same thing). When we told her to go to the room, she told us she knew what word he said.

Growing up, my father never swore in front of us and when he did, we knew that he was truly pissed. My mother, on the other hand, would curse more casually in Tamil and English. I was raised between their extreme approaches to “reacting” to the irritations of the world and its people. And I turned out okay, even if I am the only one who thinks so.

After all, bad language is everywhere.

To all the folks out there with motormouths like mine, the good news is you can set the guilt (if any) aside. Benjamin Bergen, a cognitive scientist, asserts that if we aren’t swearing at our kids or using racial slurs, they’ll be fine if they hear the occasional blasphemous bombs. After all, bad language is everywhere – television, radio, other people’s conversations. It’s unavoidable.

And why must we sugar-coat our identities for our children? Shouldn’t they find some chinks in our armours? I lucked out with an offspring who gets that being an adult has a few perks that she will have to wait to have access to someday. Perhaps that theory about getting the children we deserve holds true.

In the just-released trailer of “The history of swear words”, the one where Nicolas Cage opens with a massive F-bomb, there is a theory that if two groups of people inserted their hand in a bucket of ice, those who swore would last 50 per cent longer than those who didn’t.

So, there you go – I am merely trying to survive this shit-filled ice bucket called life.