On the last day of kindergarten — at the class party no less — I found out that my 6-year-old son had been teasing a classmate periodically over the course of the year. It was nothing mean-spirited or awful, but unkind nonetheless. On the rude-mean-bullying spectrum, I suspect it fell somewhere in the chronic rudeness to kind-of-mean range. In other words, my son was being an asshole.
Upon hearing this information, a hurricane of emotions hit me. I felt sick to my stomach. I was pissed at the other mom for reprimanding my son. I was embarrassed as hell, and downright livid with my son. I wanted to scream and cry and crawl into a cave. I was pissed at freaking everybody, most of all my son. After making my son apologize to the little boy (and his mother), we hightailed it home from the party and I yelled at my kid the entire way.
That’s right, in the process of trying to teach my son not to be an asshole, I acted like a complete asshole myself. It was not my finest moment. Because while we want — and need — to know when our kids are acting inappropriately, when they aren’t being their kindest or best selves, learning this information sucks.
You feel angry.
You are angry at everyone and everything. You are angry at your child for acting like a little shit. You are angry at yourself for obviously failing as a parent. You’re angry at the parent who told you about your kid’s indiscretions because they brought down this gauntlet of nasty, or because they reprimanded your kid and how dare they. You’re even pissed at that whiny little shit Caillou because, clearly, they are the cause of this assholery.
You are embarrassed. Ashamed. Mortified.
You worry that other parents are judging you, your parenting, and worst of all, your child. And even though they acted like an asshole, you know they are actually a good kid. But parents can be ruthless, and you worry your kid will be the victim of someone’s mama bear retaliation.
You are sad.
You’re disappointed in your kid’s behavior. You’re disappointed in yourself. You’re sad that your just-fine day has been ruined by the bomb that was just dropped in our lap. Tears seem pretty inevitable at this point.
You are overwhelmed.
Because parenting is hard and overwhelming — especially at times like these. And shit likes to rain down at the same time, so these things tend to blow up when you’re in the middle of a weeklong work conference or trying to coral a rambunctious threenager who wants to run into the parking lot at Target.
You feel sick.
Because when you have about 59 emotions — some of which you can’t even identify, and most of which are negative — swirling around inside, you just might feel the need to hurl into the nearest garbage can.
But as icky as it feels to learn that your kid’s behavior falls somewhere on the asshole spectrum, it’s important to remember that all kids act like assholes sometimes. That doesn’t mean they are assholes. It means they are kids — childhood and assholery go hand in hand because these kids are learning and growing and developing.
As parents, and as adults who are part of the proverbial “village,” we have an obligation to teach our kids how not to be assholes — and that is really hard job. Teaching our kids not to be assholes means modeling the behavior we want to see in our children, even when we are pissed off. It means pointing out where our kid went wrong and figuring out a way to make it right.
It means having perspective and picking our battles. We do not need to tell another parent about every little thing their child does wrong. Save being the bearer of bad news for the things that truly matter.
It means showing other kids some empathy and resisting the urge to go all mama bear on everyone because — hello! — your kid will act like an asshole sometimes too. So it’s best to rein it in and not hold children to an adult standard.
It means forgiving your kid and yourself and others, over and over again, because this will happen more than once.
And it means understanding that dealing with the icky, awful, uncomfortable aftermath of your kid’s assholery is the investment you pay now, so that your kid doesn’t grow up to be an adult asshole. We already have plenty of those.