Saturday, November 1, 2014

Can Kids Be A-Holes Too?

     I follow a parenting blog that annoys the hell out of me. I completely agree with the philosophy, and find much of the information presented helpful, so I’ve always wondered what it is that rubs me the wrong way. I figured it out one day. An article was posted along the lines of “Your baby isn’t the asshole, you are,” and it targeted the evil parents who use words like asshole to describe their children for behaving like children. I read the humorless, angry article and my initial thought was “maybe you’re the asshole, lady.” Was I feeling defensive or ashamed because I have admittedly used the term when writing or talking about my children? I spent a few minutes contemplating how much of an asshole I am. I could fill a large bucket with ways I do indeed qualify as an asshole, but tweeting that “I can’t tell if my baby is teething or just an asshole” isn’t really one of them. What bothered me wasn't just the need to defend the use of profanity in reference to my children, it was that this lady was attacking my right to take parenting lightly.
You're not an asshole, but your behavior is reminiscent of the way an asshole might behave in this situation.

     Do I think my baby is an asshole? Do I think any baby or child is even capable of being an asshole?
The honest, serious answer is an unequivocal no. Being an asshole is when you choose to neglect the needs or feelings of others. So kids act like assholes, but they can’t really be assholes. The needs of your child do trump yours, and expecting a baby or a toddler to show empathy for how you might be feeling is borderline cray cray. Children are sweet little creatures dealing with a whirlwind of needs, wants and sensory experiences. They don’t have the time or cognitive ability to give a crap about what you want. So they behave like tiny extreme versions of adult assholes, but that is their natural state, and it’s sweet and beautiful and only occasionally annoying because they are pure beings completely immersed in being. 

If you were an adult I would not stand for this.
     So why would I occasionally use name calling banned from basic cable channels to describe my own tiny, sweet and beautiful id creations? At the risk of explaining away the humor, it’s hyperbolic. It’s so ridiculous to call a little angel with its warm sugar scented buttery smooth skin, wiggly little wrinkled toes and whispy tufts of downy hair an asshole that it’s funny. Also, every time I use a word reserved for difficult adults to describe a baby I envision an adult in whatever offensive situation my child has gotten into. 

     Close your eyes and envision an asshole prototype. You turn the dictionary to asshole and this guy’s picture is there. Here’s mine: Late 30’s, hasn’t shaved in days, neon trucker hat with sunglasses pushed over it, Affliction tee, occasionally spitting tobacco in an old beer can. Maybe you are picturing a Wall Street suit type. Maybe a punk kid. Maybe Regina George. Now picture whatever your choice asshole image is behaving like a toddler. He throws his sippy cup across the room, falls to the floor and screams “MY JOOSH IS TOO WET!!!” Then imagine him standing at your bookshelf, pulling out and dropping books to the floor one by one as he giggles maniacally. Suddenly he tugs his pants down and starts running around the house bottomless. He begs you for a bowl of oatmeal, you make it and then he throws it at you and cries because he doesn’t know where his joosh is. This is silly stuff here, people. If your co-worker did any of that unapologetically, if your waitress did it, if your roommate did it, that would be asshole behavior (as well as cause for intervention from a mental health specialist).

For Christ's sake, put on some pants piano man!
     I suppose I feel entitled to use edgy hyperbole because I possess enough fundamental knowledge of human development to know that babies aren't manipulative. They aren’t trying to take advantage of us; their full time job is figuring out how to get their legitimate needs met. To think otherwise is very much ridiculous. I guess it isn’t ridiculous to everyone…there is a lot of conventional “wisdom” out there that says you’ll spoil your baby if you hold her too much, or responding to his crying teaches him that’s how to get attention. If you believe (contrary to massive amounts of peer-reviewed scientific research on secure attachment) that your baby is a manipulative person capable of being spoiled, maybe you also actually believe your baby is an asshole. If you are calling your baby an asshole and meaning it I’m the first to say, woah dude, you are the asshole. However, in my personal experience I’ve never come across anyone referring to their baby as an asshole without a strong hint of sarcasm. In my experience, parents generally love the $&%! out of their kids. I would postulate that people harboring feelings of anger toward their babies to the point of considering them assholes probably wouldn’t be blogging, writing books or laughing at a coffee shop about it. 

     It’s not that I firmly believe all parents need to indulge in the catharsis of sardonically referring to their kids as assholes, but I do believe all parents (and caretakers in general) need to vent, and laughter has always been the most efficient ventilation system for me. Parenthood is a vigorous, rewarding journey of growth and magic, but many moments are so over-the-top stressful, draining and/or demeaning that your response options quickly narrow to laugh or cry. To me, an attempt to educate parents that is entirely devoid of humor is devoid of understanding. That’s why the blog I mentioned annoys me. The absence of humor feels cold and judgmental, and the article “your baby isn’t the asshole, you are” openly embraces that judgment.

Which one of you assholes did this to my living room?
     Maybe my need to find humor in everything is detrimental. I know people take me the wrong way sometimes (okay, a lot of times). A good friend once said “Oh Morgan, your glass half empty dry sense of humor cracks me up.” She meant it as a compliment, but it stung because man, that perception of me was so far off from how I actually experience the world. I mean, I cry tears of joy anytime there is an on-screen portrayal of birth, including every time Kourtney has a baby on Keeping up with the Kardashians. If that’s not optimistic, what is? When people really know me I hope they know I find the spectrum of human emotion and our shared experience in love and joy and sadness to be so deeply beautiful that any expression of pessimism is satirical. Maybe humor and self-deprecation detract from the weight of truly important things (like raising children with love), but maybe it amplifies the realness of our communal struggle. Either way, peace and love to all you assholes.

  PS - I'd love to hear your thoughts on parental venting, especially in the age of over-sharing.

1 comment:

  1. SHARING. This is spot on.

    I am annoyed when people call kids assholes in a non-hyperbolic way. Some people are truly ignorant and don't realize that kids are actually unable to empathize like adults. And other people do the "kids are assholes" thing in an effort to gain blog traffic from those ignorant people. THAT is annoying. But doing it the way you do it, or the way Honest Toddler does it, for example, is different. You can feel the endearment behind it. (The way you describe your kids is SO SWEET, by the way!) And I absolutely get the idea of picturing an adult in the situation your child is currently in and just laughing at the absurdity!

    This post is lovely. To answer your question, I am pretty conservative about parental venting in public. Mainly, probably, because I do look down on people who shit talk their kids all day long. I don't want anyone to make the mistake of thinking I love my kids any less than I do!