Bad Words: a parenting strategy

I often think it’s funny that I write about parenting, because I am not a stellar parent. I make mistakes and my kids will tell you I am often inconsistent, sometimes unfair, I can err on the side of controlling (which is usually my response to anxiety) and there have probably been many times when they have wished they had a different mother, even if only for a day!

But there is one aspect of parenting that I think I got right; something happened this morning that reminded me of it… and it made me smile.

We live next door to a kindergarten. My son was a kindy kid there and I have always loved that I could watch him play through my kitchen window. Now that he is a big Year 5 kid, I still sometimes remember his little self as I see all those little kids during their playtime. They’re adorable. And sometimes, they are challenging little so-and-so’s… just like him.

Today, there is a spirited little girl next door. She charged out into the playground that borders our house and began her reign of terror among her playmates, running through the sandpit, kicking all the buckets, making merry mayhem.

“SHUTUP!” she bellowed at the first person who spoke to her. Immediately, a teacher approached, crouched down and said gently
“We don’t say that word here.”

I could see her sizing up her teacher as if to say, ‘good for you. But we is not me‘.  At her full tiny height that little girl retorted, right into her teacher’s face,
“SHUT!
UUUUP!”  
The teacher sighed and said more firmly, “that’s a bad word. We don’t use it here.”

Five more times the girl yelled the word, every time anyone said anything to her. Eventually the teacher said, tight-lipped and in a that’s the end of that, tone,
“You. cannot. use. that. word. at. our. kindy.”
The girl gulped. Turned and ran off to the corner of the playground, where she encountered another little person.

“THUCK!” she screamed in his face, and grinned. He registered that whatever that word was, it was pretty impressive. He gathered in all his breath and tried it out for himself,
“thUCK! thuck!  THUCK THUCK THUCK!”

My phone rang, so I left my window and answered it.  I don’t know how the ‘bad word episode’ finished. But I can imagine her poor Mum will get a call tonight.  Toddlers, just beginning to acquire language, love trying out new words. They love the sound of them, the power of them. And when particular words are used by adults with total conviction, they notice them immediately. They hear them on the TV, in their kitchen, when their parents are fighting, or from older friends and siblings. You cannot avoid little kids hearing swear words, it will happen.  And it is natural for them to want to try those potent suckers out.

Once, when my girl was a sweet little pigtailed toddler, one of her favourite toys broke. She took it to her Daddy, (a.k.a the-Fixer-Upper) and he asked,
“What is wrong with it?”
she replied confidently,
“-it’s fucked”.
We were floored. Ashamed, horrified.

When I had regained some composure I sat down with her and told her that she hadn’t done anything wrong, but I needed to tell her that there are some words that are only for grown ups. That word “fucked” is a word she can only choose to use when she’s as big as Mummy and Daddy, but until then, she could say “stuffed” or “munted” or simply “broken”.  She wanted to know why she could only choose that word when she is bigger and I told her that when she was bigger and her brain knew more stuff, she would know when it was okay to say that word. It’s a tricky word, because sometimes, when you say it, people get very upset.  I didn’t call it a “bad word” because I honestly believe there are no such things as bad words, just different words for expressing different things. The definition of the word may be negative, but the word itself is not.  In our house, we call swear words grown-up words.

Of course, every kid is different, so our approach with the little man was appropriate for him, but the message was the same. He was older, and when we had the discussion about those words with him, he wanted to know all the words that we considered to be grown up words. We told him. And very occasionally, in the car, I let them both have a go at saying one or two of those words. They say them at least ten times, they laugh them, they shout them, they whisper them. I explain what their chosen word means, which is usually accompanied with shock. And then, we agree that they won’t use that word in public until they are grown ups, and then, only if it is the best choice.  Let’s face it, sometimes it will be.

I’ll never forget the universal power of the expression “fuck off”. I used it when I was a young woman being harassed by a stranger in Germany. I said it to him with anger, with all the intimidation I could muster. I don’t even know if he spoke English, but he fucked off!  A win for choice language.

Being reasonable with the kids about swear words has taken away the mystique. Explaining why it’s not okay to use them, and letting them try them out in a controlled environment worked a treat for us. Occasionally, there are things that need further explaining, like why it’s offensive to use the name of a religion’s God as a term for exasperation. But so far, so good. It’s a parenting win I’m happy to lay claim to… (so far, here come the teenage years so we’ll see how that goes, haha)!

I just thought I would write about it in case there are any of you with little ones who are about to launch into word experimentation. It might work for you, too.
But right now, I’m going to walk around my house and quietly list all the things in my life that are thucked, all the things that are not, and feel grateful that I get to mother these funny creatures.  I hope when the mother of the little girl next door gets that phone call tonight about her daughter’s playground vernacular, she is able to put it all into perspective. I like a kid with a bit of chutzpah.  You can teach a kid many things, but you can’t teach a kid to have spirit. I predict a future in communications for that one, she’ll go far.

 

Constance Hall and the F Bombs

Being REAL in a world full of curated gorgeousness is so needed.  We are all so desperate for a breath of fresh air!

'A Queen is a woman who just wants to love other women and not do that bitchy thing that so many of us do,' says Constance Hall.
‘A Queen is a woman who just wants to love other women and not do that bitchy thing that so many of us do,’ says Constance Hall.  (photo source abc.net.au)

 

Constance Hall is refreshingly real. She’s the actual ‘Bad Mom’ (have you seen that movie?  I hated it, but I got what they were trying to say… it’s time to let go of the ridiculousness between women that exists in mama-land).  She’s a skate-in-sideways chick. An Australian sensation, mother of 4 and insanely popular mummy blogger. And she has just released a book. It’s about her, about mothering four kids. It’s a no-holds-barred look at relationships and life after babies.

bookcoverconstancehall

Today I went to her book release Q & A session hosted by The Women’s Collective and the Pullman Hotel in Auckland. I knew she would be irreverant, I knew there would be some shock-factor stuff, because that is her trade. I knew there would be challenging statements, because she is the Constance Hall of the recent social media cyclone over the ditch (a fellow mummy blogger let rip about Con’s manner of mothering and Con retaliated. It sparked a ‘mum war’ on the internet). I stayed well clear of it because I hate the nastier side of social media. It makes me so sad.  But I was curious about this raw kind of mother. The tell-all kind of mum. It bucks the trend alright, I wanted to see if she was just a sensationalist, or if there was something deeper driving her work.

Me and my fellow Queens this morning, Trudy and Pascale.
Me and my fellow Queens this morning, Trudy and Pascale.  Yep, I am a Big Bird, and no, I am no longer going to stoop to try to be more diminutive than I am!  #tallgirlsproblems

I was fascinated. Con (we’re at nickname status already cos that is how she rolls) blew onto the stage like a kind of mini tornado. Her hair was frizzy in a way I recognise from my own morning mirror, but on top of it she was wearing a crown of flowers and jewels. She’s tiny in stature and massive in presence. You could say she kind of exploded onto the podium like a freak weather bomb; blowing in out of nowhere and taking off the roof.  Within two minutes she had reassured us that she was wearing undies, unlike the other four days she’d been in New Zealand, because she’d be catching a plane later and she needed somewhere to hide her wee. Her humour is as raw as she is and the whole way through her talk, f-bombs exploded like colourful fireworks, punctating her florid discussion. She’s kind of like what would happen if you could cross Frida Kahlo with Reese Witherspoon and Whoopi Goldberg. Kapow!

I loved her. I think everyone in the room did. I loved that she said out loud some of my hidden, inner thoughts. I even loved all the f-bombs, because they made us laugh. I dated a comedian in my younger years, he always said that people laugh at what they relate to, especially when it is rude. And because every human being can relate to toileting, sex and death, regardless of their individual circumstances, most comedy covers these subjects. It’s just funny for us to see our not-talked-about experiences mirrored by others. It makes us feel more normal. Apart from wees and poos, Con’s Q & A covered: marital sexy time, break-ups, behaviour management (of kids and husbands), dealing with a history of abuse, death of children and grandparents, suicide, wine, why it’s best not to fight in front of kids, the age-old working mum vs. stay at home mum debate, the importance of support, multiple birth mothering, dyslexia, The Sisterhood, dealing with judgmental people and the importance of connection.

I can’t wait to read her book; Like a Queen. She’s just adorable. She makes the very hard job of mothering feel so much more achievable. She makes us feel like we’re doing a great job. Like everyone has days when it goes to custard. I think we forget that, in our intensity around getting it right.  We forget to cut ourselves some slack occasionally. We forget that having a loving mother is much more important than any other type of benefit we can achieve for our kids.  That having a loving mother is more than many kids have.

There were tears today from we women in that packed out auditorium. Tears of recognition and relief.  I’ve come a long way since the early days of parenthood and my babies are much older than most of the little ones at the venue today, but the message was as relevant to me as for the new mums there.
Take a deep breath. Do you love your kids? Do they know it? Love wins, every time. And you know what? Extending a bit of that love in your own direction is a brilliant idea too from time to time. Might just stop you from losing your mother-f#$%ing mind!

This afternoon, I’m going to assess the impact of Cyclone Con. I reckon she demolished a few of the ideas in my head that were damaging my peace of mind. I am grateful. Who needs perfectionism anyway? All it has ever done for me is give me reasons to feel like a failure.  Good to see that particular idea hitting the dirt. And what  purpose comparison? See ya, wouldn’t wanna be ya. And that ol’ flower, success? It’s moved into a new neighbourhood. Into the love camp. Over there I am already a raging success and that matters more than anything else.  I’m going to make like Queen Con, and take heart that my heart is the most important part of mothering.

Open your windows, let the winds of change blow out some of your cobwebby corners, too. It’s liberating!

If you’re keen, you can buy Like a Queen, here: www.likeaqueen.com.au