I recently went to a meeting with a friend, and because it was around noon and I was tired of dropping my daughter off at the YMCA and wanted to spend time together, I brought her with me. I told her that we could go for a walk after the meeting and in classic 2-year-old fashion, her brain focused in on that fact and that fact alone.
Only about five minutes into the meeting, my toddler started to wiggle in my arms. This squirming quickly transformed into an almost demonic-like twisting of her little body, as though at any moment her head might pop off her tiny little neck.
I hugged her, told her I understood — that I, too, was ready for the walk. This did not comfort her and her convulsions did not cease, despite my calm and kind voice.
“That’s exactly why we don’t have kids,” my increasingly anxious friend muttered as she looked into my eyes, smiling.
At this, I quickly thanked her for her time, grabbed my baby and we went for our goddamn walk.
Seething, thoughts spiraled through my mind. I was not upset with my baby’s behavior; it was completely within a proper developmental realm. What I could not look past, despite my yogic breathing and mantra repetition, was my friend’s nervous need to tell me that my child’s behavior was why she’d chosen not to have children, as though my child’s behavior solidified her choices, as if I’d inquired over the yelling and gnashing of teeth, “Hey, girl, when ya gonna get ya one’a these?”
I’ve noticed a growing rhetoric within the realm of internet parenting — and in the real world of non-parents– that kids are assholes. I’ve got to admit — it’s funny, edgy and in the past I’ve played into it. It can even be seen as progressive, bringing us forward from the mid-twentieth century when so many mothers were given “mommy’s little helper” tranquilizers to aid in anxiety that certainly existed but was seen as taboo. We are now in a space of acknowledgement that parenting is, actually, pretty damn challenging.
Here’s the thing: my kids aren’t perfect. I’ve got three of them and sometimes I handle issues in a saintly manner and sometimes I scream and sometimes I walk to my room and close my door but, most often, I re-center and know that my kids aren’t assholes, they’re people.
Our job as parents is not to present to the world these shining little human beings who sit quietly at dinners and allow you to sit through meetings on self-imposed bring-your-child-to-work days.
Quite frankly, our expectations are too high and our thresholds are too low.
Our kids are not sent here to test our patience. Our 3-year-olds are not “threenagers” and when a child nears adolescence, there’s truly no reason to look alarmed or say something along the lines of, “Oh no. What’s that like at home?”
IMHO, these statements and responses and looks and glares and comments and Facebook posts and blogs say far more about us as parents than they do about our children as people.
If you think someone is an asshole — your own kid or otherwise — remember you can’t control them, you can only control the amount of agency you give that person over your life. It’s similar to choosing not to be angry if you get cut off in traffic. How long is that really going to affect you? Acknowledge the action and move on.
The same is true with children. They may pitch a fit if they don’t like dinner. Guess what? You get a voice so they should, too. They may not sleep well at night and need to be close to someone. As grown-ups, how many of us are choosing to sleep alone? They may cry and scream when it’s time to leave the park. You know what you can do? Hear them. Listen. Acknowledge that yes, it is so hard to leave somewhere fun but it’s an unavoidable part of life.
Kids aren’t acting against you. Are they testing boundaries? Sure. We just need to know where those boundaries lie.
This is not personal, not in a bad way, anyway. If you can shift your perspective just a tiny bit, you’ll see that kids are likely behaving this way for one of three reasons:
One, they are incredibly comfortable around you so they are able to be their true self, as unbecoming as that may be sometimes (isn’t this true for all of us?). Two, they want to know you care. Children gauge comfort, safety and closeness from discipline. It shows them they are cared for and protected, so when they are yelling or hitting, it’s quite likely all they want is for you to look them in the eye, tell them no, and hug them to let them know you love them. Or three, they simply do not yet know any better, in which case it is your job to direct them.
The old-school parents of the world (or those who don’t have kids yet) might pull out that old, “You better believe if that was my kid I’d tear that tail up” or whatever other Southern trope one might pull from the recesses of childhood memory. I’m telling you — give them space, give yourself space. Calmly address them and understand their communicative plight. You’ll see changes in yourself, in your child and in your relationship. It’s not easy, but it’s a hell of a lot easier than the constant struggle many parents find themselves in.
Your role as a parent is to help your children learn things — to try new foods, to self-sooth and learn to say, “This is not what I want to be doing right now but I know I have to.”
The sooner we get to a place of acceptance and understanding ourselves, the sooner we will see an improvement in our relationships and ideas around our children. It’s not their responsibility to cater to our emotional and mental well-being but the opposite.
As for the whole “That’s why I don’t have kids” thing, good. You’re right. If that’s how you feel, you probably shouldn’t have children and that’s a totally valid choice. But these ideas and sentiments are, among other things, contributing to an ageist society, one where the only bodies present should be twenty- or thirty-somethings (i.e. bodies like the ones making these statements) and one where we are expecting far too much of our youngest members.
What you say becomes your reality. If you focus on positive traits, self-fulfilled prophecy tells you this is what you’ll get. Likewise, if you focus — even jokingly — on the idea that children are assholes, you are creating a narrowing lenses through which to see their decisions and interactions. Kids are not inherently assholes — they’re learning and our job is to teach.