I get angry with my son sometimes (some days often). It’s the sort of anger that, in my experience, only a person you really love can inspire in you…the teary, frustrated anger you get when you’re thirteen and arguing with your sister. With my two and a half year old it’s also tinged with a feeling of failure on my behalf…‘I shouldn’t be this angry with him. I am the adult and I should be a pillar of zen-like calm at all times’.
A couple of months ago I read a blog post about parents getting angry at their children; in the post the parents in question were publicly, and it sounds quite viciously, swearing at their child I was nodding along at the unsavoury picture presented and the effect this must have on the children (particularly a public berating…not that I’m advocating such a one at home either). It was an unashamedly judgmental post and it worked – I eagerly scrolled down to comment and add my voice to the general consensus of agreement. But then I stopped – many commenters were expressing total condemnation for ANY swearing around children and swearing at children was blasted as tantamount to child abuse.
Eek. I got my coat.
Now I’m not known as a swearer – my family and friends would probably put me last on the list of people they know to swear. But even so, can even I in all honesty say I haven’t sworn in front of my child?
No I can’t. There’s the burnt finger from lethal toasted pittas moment; the pigeon almost hitting the car moment; the dinner is catching fire one, the ‘where are the shitting keys, we are late!’ one.
But of course I would never swear AT my child…I attempt to parent my son according to the philosophy of ToddlerCalm. It falls into the gentle parenting category, not permissive but definitely erring on the positive. I don’t know if it’s the best way, right or wrong, but I like it.
I also fall into the relatively rare breed of people that are mostly enjoying the ‘terribleness’ of the twos. I am proud of his development, I find his boundary-pushing fascinating and I feel sorry for him when he has the sort of overwhelming tantrum that only cries and kicks and time and cuddles will fix.
And so, having made some peace with it all, I trooped back to the blog post to comment and stand jury against parental swearing. At that moment my son came marching into the kitchen: ‘where is my sodding hammer?’. Uh oh…ummm, great impression son. I closed the computer.
I have sworn at my child. Probably more than once.
There’s the toddler has just put a small library of books down the toilet moment; the unwanted, uneaten spaghetti bolognese hitting the ceiling moment; the frustratingly well-crafted hammer flying through the air at speed towards my head moment; the same hammer bashing my hand, knee, nose episodes.
And maybe ‘sodding’ doesn’t seem like much of a swear word (although let’s face it, the hammer on the head incited much worse), and it’s certainly not a torrent of obscenities, but surely any word unnecessary to the meaning and expressed in anger does the same job…a child doesn’t much know the difference.
Well I’m not proud at all…I do not want my son to feel ‘abused’, ashamed or belittled and I really would like him to learn how to be emotionally intelligent. Believe it or not I am actually very committed to being a primary role model for that.
So I embarked on two things: firstly I wrote a post about anger management with a toddler. It turned out to be incredibly dull, and long. I won’t publish it, don’t worry. But it did make me reflect on all the good I do as well as the areas I need to improve on.
I also undertook a little survey of a few friends…and here’s the thing: it’s not constant, it’s not the thoughtless ranting that was described in the blog post I originally read, crucially it’s not name calling, and maybe I asked the friends who I knew would have experienced the same. But it turns out that, shhh, I’m not alone.
Swearing around your child or, dare I say, it in their general vicinity in anger is obviously an example of parental anger management needing work, it should not happen; and I think with practice it happens to us all less. BUT is it ok to blanket-judge that all swearing is terrible parenting and even bordering on abuse? I just don’t think it’s as simple as that. There’s no denying a lifetime of shaming and shouting can fall pretty neatly into the abusive category, and name-calling whether swearing or not is unacceptable from an adult to a child, but the odd moment of losing one’s inner calm, releasing a few expletives and then addressing it? Judge me if you will, but I think that’s entirely human.
I’m now going to borrow a little quote from Laura at Five Little Dove’s that hugely resonated with me. This didn’t relate to swearing in her blog post I hasten to add – I’m sure she has impeccable restraint, but it is a reminder that anger happens to all of us: