This essay was originally published a year ago, and it is one of my favorites. Read through the comments — so many moms found it by googling “my kid is an asshole,” which tickles me to no end. I think of this post when I find myself tripped up with doubt over whether I should share something really personal — either in my work or in my relationships. The takeaway from the experience of this entire blog — in which I have so, so stretched out of my comfort zone — is that the truth is always right. That when you share a secret, you not only wash yourself of the shame attached to that secret, but the shame of others who hear you. And in that experience, you connect and love.
Is that too deep for this quirky post? Now I feel a little ashamed …
“Because true belonging only happens when we present our authentic, imperfect selves to the world, our sense of belonging can never be greater than our level of self-acceptance.”
― Brené Brown
A few weeks ago a guy I’d dated texted me. “You sound like such a good mom on your blog. I’m a disaster at being a single parent!” My response: “Start a blog and create your own reality!”
I shared this exchange with my brother, who reminded me that the previous week I reported about my 2-year-old: “That asshole shit his pants at the library.”
Because I wanted an excuse to keep the conversation going (say nothing of trying to downplay the sanctimonious tone I often take in this blog), I texted him about my potty-mouth parental antics.
Not many people will admit to calling their kids bad names. Except, it seems, my friends. Everywhere I turn people I know are laying out how they really feel about their offspring. One of my oldest girlfriends has two great kids, yet she often refers to her daughter – an opinionated, defiant and bossy 7-year-old – as a bitch. A mommy friend in my neighborhood was so relieved by her daughter’s 5th birthday. “The worst age is 4,” she recently said over a dinner out. “Every single day my husband and I would say what an asshole she was.” At a family Halloween party, the hostess greeted me by rolling her eyes and saying of her preschooler, “Daniel has been a raging dick today.”
Some might shake a judgmental finger at parents like us. But I’ve noticed that moms and dads who use swear names to express their parental frustrations also have a unique respect for their children. We also have more fun with them — one of my top tips for thriving as a single mom (find the other 14 secrets in this free ebook) My friend with the bitchy daughter, for example, refers to her children as “people” – not kids. “Sam is a really thoughtful person,” she’ll say of her 12-year-old before launching into her myriad annoyances with him.
My friend whose daughter has graduated from her shitty preschool stage is described by her mother as “a person who gets really angry if she feels she’s not being heard,” and “the kind of girl who doesn’t have a lot of drive but will always be fine in the world.” Parents who view their kids as whole individuals, I find, are parents who have license to detest parts of their kids – just as they would any person. After all, as much as we may love our boss or neighbor, we likely describe them in with the occasional four-letter word. We don't use those monikers to their faces. As we spend lots of time with our children and their many escalated moods, it’s normal these words are thrown around from time to time.
Describing our children with cusswords also signifies that we accept ourselves as whole people with complex feelings and thoughts. We are not robo-parents who only think, feel and say delightful and fair things about our kids. If that were true, there would be no way to explain the runaway success of Go the F**k to Sleep, which sold 150,000 copies, hit Amazon’s No. 1 bestseller and was optioned by Fox. The illustrated book looks like a classic kid’s tale, but is clearly intended for parents – parents who sometimes hate their kids.
The cats nestle close to their kittens now.
The lambs have laid down with the sheep.
You’re cozy and warm in your bed, my dear
Please go the fuck to sleep.Did you read that book? Did you laugh? Congratulations. You’re a real person, a whole parent. And sometimes your kid’s an asshole.
Need a break from your little asshole? Check out the qualified sitters and nannies through my friends at Care.com. They may save your life (or that of your asshole).
Emma Johnson is a veteran money journalist, noted blogger, bestselling author and an host of the award-winning podcast, Like a Mother with Emma Johnson. A former Associated Press Financial Wire reporter and MSN Money columnist, Emma has written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Glamour, Oprah.com, U.S. News, Parenting, USA Today and others. Her #1 bestseller, The Kickass Single Mom (Penguin), was named to the New York Post's ‘Must Read” list.
Emma regularly comments on issues of modern families, gender equality, divorce, sex and motherhood for outlets like CNN, Headline News, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Fox & Friends, CNBC, NPR, TIME, MONEY, O, The Oprah Magazine and The Doctors. She was named Parents magazine’s “Best of the Web,” “Top 15 Personal Finance Podcasts” by U.S. News, and a “Most Eligible New Yorker” by New York Observer.