Swearing In Front of Children – Guilty.

Why I Swear in Front of My Children



Swearing in front of children is not something I do for sport, but I don’t edit myself either.

Adults Can Swear

Over the holidays, I went out to dinner with a group of people my husband works with. There were around 8 couples at a long table in the banquet room of a local restaurant. Though I knew most people at dinner, I was seated at the end of the table with a group I didn’t know well. As it always goes, soon the men were talking shop and the women were trying to find common ground.

I was having more difficulty than usual connecting with one woman who I had just been introduced. I was really reaching to find a shared experience beyond our vaginas. I heard something out of the corner of my ear that offered a little explanation. Her husband mentioned to the guys that his wife had a visceral reaction to curse words; the f word made her flinch.

I wasn’t sure if I had offended her yet, but I probably would at some point since we had yet to place our drink order. As the evening progressed there was a lot of attention placed on this woman’s dislike of cursing. Her assertion made some uncomfortable. I didn’t really give a shit, I just knew she had picked the wrong dinner party to attend. I knew first hand this crowd could get pretty raunchy.

I Swear, My Kids Don’t

It’s not like I personally swear superfluously. I always have a good reason. Though my mouth can get me in trouble at times, I usually have enough sense to censor myself around those I don’t know, at PTA meetings and other people’s children.

Swearing in front of children I’ve given birth to, is a different story. All kids will hear curse words eventually. I believe they need to be taught what is acceptable and unacceptable language for children. If they hear from another source, chances are they will repeat before they are told it is inappropriate.

When my 5 year old son substituted the word nuts for testicles, I know he didn’t learn it at home. I probably bristled at this more than if he would have repeated one of my commonly used shit, piss or damns. Hearing curse words is not the same as permission to use them.

Early exposure to adult language doesn’t necessarily translate to having a teenager with a foul mouth either. Having a daughter in high school who communicates with her friends almost exclusively via text message and very monitored social media provides me an opportunity to see how she behaves when she thinks I’m not paying attention. Certainly it is only anecdotal and she does know I can check at any time, but she keeps it fairly clean. In contrast, some of the kids with parents who appear externally rigid, seem like they have taken Eminem, the language course, offered by Rosetta Stone.

When our evening ended, I realized I really had been on my best behavior because I wouldn’t purposefully offend anyone. It was also only 8:30 because it’s not very much fun to edit yourself in the presence of someone who has difficulty functioning in the real world. Though she never said if her parents swore in front of her, obviously she didn’t swear in front of her children. While it is my goal to raise courteous and respectful children too, I really hope they are the kind of people I’d want on my end of the table at a dinner party when they reach adulthood.


Poppy is a runner, writer, and mother of 3 children ranging in ages from 5 to 14. By day she's shuttling teenagers to the mall or someone to a birthday party in between Costco trips. She may not have had a pedicure in 5 years, but she still makes time for moms night out, girls nights in, or local PDX events with good friends. Recovery from fun nights out include a healthy lifestyle of marathon training, triathlon training, and lean eating. Parenthood can be messy, but Poppy always manages to find the funny under the snot.

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60 Responses to Swearing In Front of Children – Guilty.
  1. Eva Gallant
    February 5, 2013 | 5:01 am

    I’m proud of you for making the effort! And I agree with your point of view.

    • Poppy
      February 5, 2013 | 1:33 pm

      Thanks Eva, I’m much filthier on paper or screen :)

  2. Arnebya
    February 5, 2013 | 5:53 am

    I’m glad you at least had her interests at heart and didn’t purposely offend her. On the other hand…FUCK THAT. I’ma be me and, well, the me that I usually am splashes her conversation with colorful language. I recently caught myself cursing in front of my 12 yr old. Just last year I would have never considered more than a damn but now? I have no more damns to give! I was pissed and I expressed it appropriately. She gave me an eye but she also giggled because we’ve had the discussion. It’s inappropriate for her to say but hearing me say it takes away the mystery/desire to pepper curse words in every sentence (like the kids who ride the bus with me in the morning. It’s like no one bothered to teach them cussing etiquette. Assholes.)

    • Poppy
      February 5, 2013 | 1:35 pm

      I love that – but it wouldn’t sound natural coming out of my mouth, maybe I should practice. ‘I have no more damns to give.’ I’ll let you know how it goes.

      It does sound terrible coming out of the mouths of teenagers, but they don’t know how to use it for emphasis. They use fuck in every sentence.

  3. angela
    February 5, 2013 | 6:07 am

    I always thought I’d feel like that, but I am still having a hard time with it. Maybe as they get a little older. Dylan thinks “inappropriate” things are hilarious, like talking about stinky butts and is still little enough (just 3) to repeat things over and over and over.

    • Poppy
      February 5, 2013 | 1:38 pm

      I have the biggest problem with the things that Hank finds funny which are often related to bodily functions and genitalia. I think it is a boy thing because he didn’t learn it at home and the girls were never fascinated.

  4. John (Daddy Runs a Lot)
    February 5, 2013 | 6:14 am

    A history teacher of mine summed up profanity quite well – it’s like dessert. Profanity is something wonderful, but if you have it all of the time, it just becomes useless.

    I used to think that I always made a conscious decision to swear — that I had enough control over what I was saying that I would choose to throw an f-bomb. Then I had kids and realized that I only have that much control some of the time.

    • Poppy
      February 5, 2013 | 1:39 pm

      Exactly. Though I totally get it with kids. I called a kid a dumb ass last week. I wish I could say it was at least the teenager.

      • Krista Swan
        February 7, 2013 | 7:51 pm

        But kids are the very definition of “dumb ass,” aren’t they? They are still learning how NOT to be dumb asses.

  5. Jessica
    February 5, 2013 | 9:57 am

    I can’t help myself when it comes to swearing. The words just roll off my tongue. The only place I can hold them back is in my writing and sometimes even that take serious effort.

    • Poppy
      February 5, 2013 | 1:40 pm

      Ha! And I’m totally the opposite – mostly.

  6. Tonya
    February 5, 2013 | 9:58 am

    Agree 100%.

    Sometimes there is just no substitute for a hell, shit, damn, nuts, or worse.

    Nuts isn’t a bad word, is it?

    • Poppy
      February 5, 2013 | 1:41 pm

      Depends who’s saying ‘nuts’ I guess! I don’t like slang for genitalia and I guess that’s my hang up, but I wouldn’t be offended by it!

  7. Kim Pugliano
    February 5, 2013 | 10:01 am

    My only rule (for the adults) is don’t curse AT and if you’re conversation is at all heated, don’t curse DURING. I am filthy (er than Hot Joe usually) and Noah knows that shit don’t fly out of his mouth. My aunt reads my blog and she is super conservative (I mean she’s said her curse words), very religious and just appropriate and whenever I curse on my blog I think, ‘Oh my god Aunt Sharon’s going to see I wrote FUCK!’ and then I think oh the fuck well. She doesn’t have to read the shit if she doesn’t want to.

    • Poppy
      February 5, 2013 | 1:41 pm

      You’re not a dirty little whore? I totally am.

  8. greta
    February 5, 2013 | 10:12 am

    You do make a good point. If kids hear things regularly and know that only grown ups are supposed to say them, it might take away some of the novelty. That’s an interesting perspective, Poppy. Also, can I sit at your end of the table? It sounds fun. :)

    • Poppy
      February 5, 2013 | 1:41 pm

      My end of the table is fun – no kids allowed!

  9. Elaine A.
    February 5, 2013 | 11:34 am

    My oldest loves to say “What the hell?” I’m not sure who he got THAT from *whistles off*. I try to curb it just because I do not want him going around saying it all the time but sometimes when he says it, I am also like “What the hell?” At least he uses it in context. ;)

    • Poppy
      February 5, 2013 | 1:43 pm

      Hahaha! Context is key.

  10. Lady Jennie
    February 5, 2013 | 11:43 am

    I don’t swear, but I don’t think I notice very much whether other people do or not. She must have something in her past …?

    And obviously this issue has no bearing on whether your kids will be happy, loving, well turned-out adults. We all take different roads to raise our children and as long as we love them and do our best, the rest falls into place somehow (I think – I’ll let you know when mine are grown). ;-)

    • Poppy
      February 5, 2013 | 1:45 pm

      I think she was pretty religious. I just felt like I was having dinner with my grandmother though she was quite a bit younger than I was. I’m sure her kids will turn out just as happy and healthy as mine. As mothers, we all do the best with what we’ve got.

  11. Galit Breen
    February 5, 2013 | 11:52 am

    Do you know what’s SHOCKING? If we were in the same room, you and I would make people blush with our swearing. #TrueStory

    • Robin | Farewell, Stranger
      February 5, 2013 | 12:02 pm

      Galit!! Really? I’m shocked!

      Okay, not shocked. A little surprised though. ;)

      • Galit Breen
        February 5, 2013 | 12:12 pm

        Oh I know, sister. #FullOfSurprises

      • Galit Breen
        February 6, 2013 | 8:11 pm

        Hee! Happy to shock *or* surprise you, girlfriend!

    • Julia
      February 5, 2013 | 12:16 pm

      What?? I am totally shocked!!! (And I adore you even more!) :)

    • Poppy
      February 5, 2013 | 1:45 pm

      Hope we get that chance again!

  12. Robin | Farewell, Stranger
    February 5, 2013 | 12:03 pm

    I don’t swear a ton. I use it as an outlet for frustration or, you know, when I drop something on my toe. But I can’t imagine getting offended by adults who swear.

    • Poppy
      February 6, 2013 | 8:04 am

      My swearing is usually in the circumstances you describe. I very rarely use the f word as an adjective though I have been known to say “damn kids” in jest.

  13. Julia
    February 5, 2013 | 12:19 pm

    I don’t swear a lot, and really try not to do it in front of my son, but I am not at all offended by adults doing it. And I agree with you, I have often found that the children with the most rigid parents seem to also be the most wild/uncensored. Children need room to grow and experiment, and if they don’t do it at home, they are going to do it somewhere.
    And this sentence: “Hearing curse words is not the same as permission to use them.” I 100% agree.

    • Poppy
      February 6, 2013 | 8:05 am

      I’m pretty laid back. An adult has to be pretty much a complete asshole to offend me.

  14. Leigh Ann
    February 5, 2013 | 1:01 pm

    I swear in front of my kids, but unfortunately it’[s usually out of anger. At them. I do not, however, condone use of the word “shizz.”

    • Poppy
      February 5, 2013 | 1:46 pm

      I love the word shizz.

  15. Natalie
    February 5, 2013 | 1:55 pm

    You know where I stand on this one, dammit!

    • Poppy
      February 6, 2013 | 9:55 am

      Haha, I remember your first (and probably only) negative comment was about Ethan’s trucker mouth.

  16. Terri O
    February 5, 2013 | 2:06 pm

    I try not to swear a lot in front of my kids but sometimes you just can’t help it! That’s when a little voice says ‘Mom, you said a bad word’ and of course he gets a donation to his piggy bank. I generally don’t have a potty mouth unless I’m upset or out with a bunch of old friends. The best thing to do is teaching your kids that some words are not nice and probably shouldn’t be used

    • Poppy
      February 6, 2013 | 9:56 am

      My kids probably think “stupid” is on par with the f word, but truly both are words they aren’t allowed to say.

  17. Stefanie
    February 5, 2013 | 5:25 pm

    “Hearing curse words is not the same as permission to use them.” So very true. I drink wine in front of them too. But they are clear they aren’t allowed to pour a glass. I have quite a mouth on me. Always have. Always will. My kids were exposed early to foul language. Never once did they say, “Hey Mimi, passing the f&^king potatoes.” Because, we also talked about curse words. When and when not to use them. They are now teens and I have no doubt their mouths can be foul, they came by it honestly. But I also know that my kids aren’t the jackasses cursing within earshot of all the parents like many of the kids I hear, or the ones I hear in my basement sliding an effbomb in every other word. No sireebob. My boys know the proper time and place to use their foul mouths. Great post. So glad to have found your blog!

    • Poppy
      February 6, 2013 | 10:03 am

      Exactly. My mouth didn’t come from my parents and from what I can tell so far, my teenager didn’t get my mouth. There is still hope for the younger two.

      The other kids surprise me, though. I have dubbed one of my daughter’s friends, *Effin Emily because she swears so much. If her mother knew she would have a fit.

      *Her name isn’t really Emily and I don’t really say Effin.

  18. Jennifer
    February 5, 2013 | 6:30 pm

    I curse in front of my kids, and they have been known to let a shit or damn slide. I tell them that “some words are just for grownups”, and then I make an effort to not use them quite so often in front of them.

    I do cuss though, quite a lot. Like Jessica, I try to keep it out of my writing though, and I’ve been known to tell people that the only difference between blog me and IRL me is that IRL me is a lot more profane.

    • Poppy
      February 6, 2013 | 10:08 am

      If I know you well I can get pretty crass. In my every day life, I’m pretty mild. I used to swear up a storm on the blog, but have totally tamed it down since I figured out people I know actually read this crap.

  19. Kristin
    February 5, 2013 | 7:00 pm

    In the early days I was all “I shall never utter a curse when my children’s innocent ears are near” That lasted until the first time we were late for something and stuck in traffic. Or I stubbed a toe. One or the other.

    Now when one of us says “shit” the girls answer “what shit?”

    • Poppy
      February 6, 2013 | 10:08 am

      Hahaha! I tend to make up my own curse words in traffic.

  20. Brenna @ Almost All The Truth
    February 5, 2013 | 10:37 pm

    I don’t curse much in front of the kids. I am sure I’ve let ‘em slip on occasion, but I know the things they say – little colloquialisms and such – that drive me the most crazy are also things I say. So if I don’t want to hear it, I ought not to say it. They don’t drink like me though, so at least I know they don’t copy everything I do. ;)

    • Poppy
      February 6, 2013 | 9:39 am

      I hate when I find myself saying things my teenage daughter says. When I heard myself say, “I know, right?” I wanted to cut out my own tongue!

  21. Alison
    February 5, 2013 | 10:49 pm

    My theory with swearing (and watching TV, eating chocolate blah blah blah) – the more you deprive a child of that experience, of which they are aware, but unable to participate, the more they seek it out.

    So a non-swearing, zero screen time, chocolate-less household, more or less guarantees a potty mouthed, TV/ video game and chocolate obsessed child.

    Just sayin’. :)

    • Poppy
      February 6, 2013 | 9:40 am

      Hahaha, my kids definitely know what chocolate is!

  22. Katie E
    February 6, 2013 | 2:46 am

    I personally don’t swear, just because I’ve never liked to, not because I have a problem with it. But the stance in our house, and with my swearing husband, is the same as yours. My kids laugh at it, and we can easily talk to them about what is appropriate for them and what isn’t. I think it’s better to make it NOT a big deal.

    • Poppy
      February 6, 2013 | 9:42 am

      Exactly, they just need to know their limits!

  23. sparkling74
    February 6, 2013 | 4:13 am

    heard something out of the corner of my ear- wow, I thought I was the only one who said that!!

    And Eminem- the course offered by Rosetta stone. I’m dying. That’s an SNL skit waiting to happen. From back when SNL was good, of course.

    • Poppy
      February 6, 2013 | 9:45 am

      Maybe I should do a vlog?

  24. Kristin @ What She Said
    February 6, 2013 | 8:49 am

    I tend to agree with you for the most part. Although I won’t be dropping any f-bombs in front of my 3YO because she’s too young to know what’s appropriate and what’s not and I could totally see her going back to school and repeating what Mommy had said, which would no doubt be brought to my attention, and then I’d get all, “WHY ARE YOUR JUDGING ME?!”

    But yes, in the real world, people curse, and I don’t want to keep my kid in a bubble. I can remember my parents saying ‘damn’ and ‘shit’ growing up. Not in excess, but just enough to know that it was an adult thing and I shouldn’t try it. And now that I’m an adult, my mom and I occasionally drop the f-bomb in front of each other. It’s a bonding experience. :)

    • Poppy
      February 6, 2013 | 10:09 am

      I totally get that. If my kids would have repeated when they were little I probably would have thrown my non-swearing husband under the bus because I’m sweet like that. I generally don’t throw f bombs around in front of my kids because I have no reason to say them.

      I have to laugh because I have a similar relationship with my mom – though she didn’t swear much when I was a kid.

  25. Poppy
    February 6, 2013 | 9:54 am

    I totally get that. If my kids would have repeated when they were little I probably would have thrown my non-swearing husband under the bus because I’m sweet like that. I generally don’t throw f bombs around in front of my kids because I have no reason to say them.

    I have to laugh because I have a similar relationship with my mom – though she didn’t swear much when I was a kid.

  26. Crystal A.
    February 28, 2013 | 7:16 pm

    My parents never swore around us…all except once that sticks out like a sore thumb because it was so jaw dropping that my mom would call my father such things in front of us…she was extremely mad at him. I guess when I grew up and became the adult I am now I never wanted that to happen to my kids because it was so devastating to me at the time being as sheltered as I was. I swear now in front of my kids…I admit it. But it isn’t makin’ sailors blush….I should know…I married a Navy veteran.

  27. Elle - See Mom Work
    April 17, 2013 | 9:14 pm

    Love this topic! I sometimes have Tourettes at home with lots of swearing. It feels good to let em fly sometimes. My kids have not taken up the practice either, they’re more interested in the poo poo pee pee words. I think you should have dropped a few F bombs at dinner.

    “All work and no play makes mommy a disgruntled chick.”

  28. [...] bicker as I’m sure most married people do. I even swear a lot. I’ve even been known to swear in front of my kids. But we don’t swear at each other in anger. If the name calling that occurred in that movie [...]

  29. MVS
    August 14, 2013 | 9:55 am

    I loved this article because it is true. These are grown up words and children should be taught that at an early age. I swear in front of my kids, I don’t swear at them nor do I use gross degrading words towards others but the use of fuck, shit bitch or asshole is never censored – ok and the odd road rage induced DickWad… Just because i swear doesn’t mean they can. How is it that grownups can drink alcohol in front of their kids but not allow them to drink it? bc it is something grownups do, so if we can teach our kids that how come you cannot teach your kids not to swear? No kid has ever gone to therapy bc he has heard swear words. I respect not swearing in front of other people’s kids, I get that but I don’t think there is anything wrong with swearing in front of my own kids. It isn’t like my whole vocabulary consists of swear words, they are just sprinkled in for dramatic effects….

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