My kid is an asshole. And your kid is an asshole, too.

kid an asshole

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.

Radio silence.


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).

About Emma Johnson

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.A popular speaker, Emma presented at the United Nations Summit for Gender Equality. Read more about Emma here.

285 Comments

  1. Abida on March 4, 2016 at 5:23 pm

    I would like to start off with a simple comment: the article…. was well written but definitely to be taken with a grain of salt and heavy rationalizing.
    I guess everyone needs to vent now and then. But, it crossed my mind…Kinda wonder what your reaction would be if you ever found a tab on your husbands computer that reads “Asshole Wife” or vice versa, though. Or on your children’s computer reading “asshole parents’. What would your reaction be?Accepting that they needed to vent and are human….angry as hell, more like. Be real, guys.
    Talk to your families instead of airing out your laundry on the internet for random trolls of this place (i,e, Elijah) to prey on and get a kick out of.
    Best of luck for everyone on here, though….I hope you find what you are looking for.

  2. Holli on March 9, 2016 at 3:51 pm

    You have no idea how much better I feel after reading these comments! My 22 year old daughter is a TOTAL asshole and has been for most of her life! Thank you! I am smiling now!

  3. Evelyn O'Brien on March 9, 2016 at 5:18 pm

    I have a 16 year old that wants to go and get his permit so he can take the 5 hour on the 20th of March – meanwhile, he had a party at our house on Saturday night while I was out of town, was failing the 10th grade 2nd quarter, and just called me a fucking bitch, and that he hates me. Plus we do go to counseling each week, just came back from Drug recovery because he won’t stop smoking pot – was put on PINS by the school because he is out spoken and yells at teachers who are obliviously less intelligent than he. This crap has been going on since the 7th grade. I have tried everything – but I do need to work for a living. I am a single Mom – the Dad is deceased and the step Dad was always yelling and getting no where. I thought if I separated the two it would get better, now he just takes it out on me. He lies, steals and is just a punk. He can be a fantastic kid, but only when he wants something. I sit here and cry – and just don’t know anymore – I am so tired of getting verbally abused by my son who is 16 years of age. Someone please help me….

    • DP on December 19, 2016 at 2:44 am

      Your story is identical to mine. My son uses me, my son is a narsisist. I’m in the process of trying to accept it and find happiness. He has ruined my life for two years and could care less. We have to start taking care of ourselves and nature and karma deal with these boys. I’m done.

  4. Amanda on March 30, 2016 at 5:58 pm

    Calling your children assholes or other names to their face is not acceptable. Teenagers are going through a rough period of change and they need support, not criticism, from their parents to get through it. I am a 14 year old girl, and I may not be perfect, but I do always try to be a good daughter. Many times, my parents have called me stupid, rude, ungrateful, selfish, an asshole, and a bitch.

    This name calling, which I have received for arguing with my sister (after she insulted me), staying up too late doing homework (I get straight As and study very often), and more, has caused a lot of damage to the relationship between my parents and I.

    It has made me feel unloved.

    In turn, I act out more to them when I am angry.

    So if your kid is an asshole, it may be because they are going through psychological changes- which is not their fault.

    Calling them names only makes the situation worse.

    Really, imagine if you were being called this by people you thought loved you and respected you.

    The solution to these “assholes”- show your kid respect. If you don’t give them respect, then why should you expect it back? You may feel that they need to respect you first, but remember- they are under a lot of pressure to succeed in school and may be going through a drastic change. So be the bigger person. Guide them through this time of their life.

    Most kids feel as if parents never listen to their side of the story.

    When I do something my mother deems as wrong, she never listens to my explanation.

    She doesn’t know what happened, yet she punishes me and calls me bad names.

    She even said that karma made her have me because she acted rudely to her parents.

    That made me feel devalued and worthless. It made me feel like a burden, and that is not right.

    She once even told me I was selfish when I was upset that a restaurant I wanted to go to was full on MY BIRTHDAY. She was the one being selfish and ruining the day for me. She didn’t understand at all that teenagers are more emotional than adults. She didn’t even try to make me feel better.

    If your child is doing drugs or seriously misbehaving, then that is a problem. But if he or she just has a bad attitude, then work it out rather than swear at them.

    Think about being in their shoes. Show them the right way to behave by behaving in the right way- which means not belittling others by calling them names.

  5. Lee Ann O'Leary on April 12, 2016 at 5:26 pm

    Our adult children are the most evil entitled monsters you could imagine. They violated our trust, stole our network, planted microphones and cameras throughout our home and used the devices to invade, record and stream our privacy. They did this will accepting holiday/birthday gifts and money for college etc. They felt entitled to more of our money than we were willing to hand over so they used the recording of our privacy to destroy our careers and relationships. They are narcissistic, cruel and entitled. They hated us, treated us with disdain but wanted as much as they could get out of us. Future parents beware!

  6. Kathy on June 15, 2016 at 4:29 pm

    I found you after googling “my four-year-old is an asshole.” Reading that I’m not the only parent to do this had me feeling so much better and less alone on what has to be one of the more trying days I’ve had as a mom. Such a spring of love (and relief) sprang from my heart that I immediately kissed my son on the head and told the little shit how much I love him.

  7. Sarah on June 22, 2016 at 2:04 am

    Horrible horrible article. So saddening to read. Really saddening.

  8. Mrguy on June 28, 2016 at 2:02 am

    I think it all stems from the realization that children are simply not the beautiful, wonderful little people that the world (and all those stupid parenting books) keeps wishing they were. They simply are not. They are ill-mannered, greedy, impatient animals. They are simply a pain in the a**. Nearly every kid I’ve ever known, including my own (who grew up to be wonderful adults who I love and admire), was a pain in a**. Ask yourself, honestly, if you were going on an outing, or shopping, or to a restaurant, or spending the day doing something fun for yourself, would it really truly be more fun to have those kids around or not? If you say it’s more fun with the kids, you are either that 1 in 1000 lucky people or you are a damned liar. Most of the time, being with them is a chore, interspersed with sparling wonderful moments when we laugh and smile and remember why we are parents. But overall, it is a tiring chore.

    And our job as parents is to put up with all that as patiently as we can – to discipline, teach, love, and correct, so that they stop being animals and grow into kind, well-adjusted, self-sufficient adults.

    But along the way to getting there, yep, they are assholes. So get used to it.

  9. generic person on July 8, 2016 at 9:54 pm

    In the adult world, these words are called insults. Your child probably does not find these words as funny as you do.

  10. Fred on July 29, 2016 at 3:41 pm

    Everyone knows famous line credited to Will Roger’s, but it is far less know that it is actually an edited version of a longer quote “I’ve never met a man i didn’t like. However, I’ve never met a kid that wasn’t an asshole!”

    • Emma on August 1, 2016 at 3:37 pm

      I can get on board with that (but maybe not your email handle?)

  11. Tracy on November 27, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    My 15 year old daughter just flipped out at her dad and I. She has had this whole weekend to do her math homework and she has chosen to wait until this Sunday afternoon to do it. Earlier, we all agreed to meet up for a family movie night at 6pm, but since her homework was not finished we had said it can not start until homework is done. So we were yelled at and accused of being bad parents, for not keeping our word. Then it was our fault that there was an argument.

    I calmly even said to my daughter that I am not yelling and you always say it takes two to fight. I will not fight with you, but I will let you know that movie night can not start at 6pm unless all your homework is done. She continued to say she would do it after the movie, but I stayed firm and smiled as she has pulled that lie waaaaay too many times. I even said I love you sweetheart and there is no movie until homework is done. You have until 8pm, if homework is not finished by then, then no movie, but if done then we can all enjoy this movie. She stormed off and said that we are acting stupid. That was when my husband started to yell at her and ground her all week for being rude.

    Wow … it amazes me still, how thoughtless and arrogant and self centered our offspring are. As others mentioned, the apple does not fall far from the tree, but man oh man, I think my mom would have let me rot if I was that rotten. Heck maybe I was. Either way, I have the wonderful joy of having a rotten apple just like me. I keep hoping that will love and lots and lots of sugar she will be okay.

    And yes, I to feel better when I walk away and say in my head … what a bitch!!! I have never and would never say it to my daughter’s face, but I think it often and somehow it makes me feel better. It is like chocolate. Dark chocolate improves our mood because it causes the release of serotonin into the brain. Well when I release a ‘bitch’ thought and send it to the universe then it improves my mood, cause I feel like it is gone and I am moving on.

    Good luck to all you parents who really do love your children, even though they are thoughtless little shits…… sometimes. The other times, there are beautiful lovely moments and I would not trade them for anything. Is it too late to cancel Christmas…???

  12. Georgina on December 20, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    My son is going on 15. I’ve never coddled him, but we still cuddle in front of the tv. I tell him I love him all the time, but he’s acting like a butt, moron, inconsiderate ass, etc. We’ve talked about it many times and he’s says that it doesn’t bother him. He says he knows the difference between when I’m infuriated, frustrated, annoyed, or just screwing with him. I have a lot of respect from him and I provide opportunity for a lot of Independence. It comes at a cost. I have rules and expectations. If he does something stupid or fails due to the lack of motivation or laziness, then he’s going to hear about it. I can really nag. Nag nag nag. I believe in building resilient kids with thick skin. He’s pretty thick skinned. We also play fight a lot but we need to stop now because secretly, he’s kicking my ass. He’s bigger than me now, yikes. Anyways, he was bullied a lot in junior high because he was a minority white in a mostly Hispanic school. I don’t regret how I’ve raised him to this point. I’ve heard he’s very laid back and didn’t take the bullying too personally. He once told me karma gets them. They either get their butt beat by someone else who also gets into trouble, or their parents find out and embarrass them in front of the school. He says after a few times they leave him alone because they don’t get a rise out of him. He doesn’t feed the beast. How’s that for maturity? I would have fought. Do I think I’m an asshole? Absolutely. Could I be a better parent? Well, nobody is an expert, not even the experts. There’s no 100% proven parenting method. Our personalities shape how we raise, see and interact with our kids. As a single parent, I think I’m doing a kick-ass job. Neighbors, son’s friends parents, and many people have told me my son is polite and has manners. He introduces himself and says thank you. His friends even like me. They say I’m cool. It’s so weird. I’m so mouth and vulgar. My kid doesn’t even use profanity yet. Figure that one out.

  13. WishiwasabettermomItryeveryday on December 20, 2016 at 10:58 pm

    I literally called my son an asshole tonight and felt so guilty I Google what happens when you when call your son an asshole and found this blog…..lol thank you for helping me realize I am a person and an imperfect pparent is ok

    • Emma on December 23, 2016 at 6:47 am

      read the comments. … most people find this blog by googling the same. SO FUNNY

  14. Cantankerous Old Bugga on January 24, 2017 at 11:53 pm

    I got here the same way as a number of people .. calling my ‘kids’ (they’re 29 & 36 yoa) in google.
    I often wish they had never been born .. as does my wife. They have both been horrid most of the time since their teens and now are truly awful. Of course I blame myself .. was I too liberal/open/friendly? I don’t know .. I just wonder how I managed to produce two such awful people.
    They both have occasional outbreaks of sunny goodwill .. unfortunately rarely. They are both so subsumed by their totally selfish indulgences that they have little time for anyone else.
    My conclusion is that it is an unfortunate coincidence of genetic material .. all of my brothers and sisters and all of my wife’s brothers and sisters are fine folk, as are all of their children. Ours seem to be alone in their horridness. Tough Luck, I guess.

    • Cantankerous Old Bugga on January 25, 2017 at 12:00 am

      Further to my previous post, both of them were wonderful kids! Up ’til their early teens, they were terrific, I loved them completely and I considered myself blessed!

  15. Eve on May 15, 2017 at 2:50 pm

    Ha! Never saw this post till now. I got here by googling “how to forgive my asshole 4yr old every 10 minutes”. Already feel 100% better! Kids are just dicks sometimes and parents need to find comfort elsewhere then come back and parent. thanks for that comfort!

    • Emma on May 17, 2017 at 9:39 am

      haha!! Love this!

  16. CrabbyMama on August 21, 2018 at 12:20 pm

    I’m incredibly late to the party, but I got here by googling, well, you know. My five year old is the youngest, and by far, the most challenging. He will literally wake up, come out smiling, and if someone says “good morning” to him the wrong way, he screams at everyone. We’ve tried time outs, taking away privileges, the occasional smack on the rear over clothes…nothing has any impact. He was such a sweet, happy baby, and then he hit the terrible twos with gusto. I will say, his assholish behavior is starting to get a teeny tiny bit further apart, but man, when it hits, everyone in a football field radius knows. I feel bad for his siblings, but their dad and I explain that he’s obviously going through a rough time, and we need to try to love him through it and set boundaries. I’ve told all my kids at some point that my job is to send functioning adults out in to the world — not self-centered, entitled, sociopathic jerks. But to my husband and a very few close friends – hell yes! – it’s delicious release to call this kid a Big Old Asshole.

    And p.s., to the self-righteous nimrods sprinkled amongst the comments: my dad did call me a little shit to my face occasionally when I was growing up. It did hurt at the time. But when I reflect on it *as an adult*, I can assure you that those times are crystal clear in my head, and I feel terrible for causing my parents so many headaches, because I WAS acting like a little shit. So rest easy, no harm done.

  17. Bob on February 20, 2019 at 4:54 pm

    I would submit that this woman knows nothing about parenting except raising kids can be frustrating and challenging sometimes. Grown adults can be total assholes, -why would it surprise you that mentally and emotionally half-developed versions would not somehow be better?
    Here’s my thoughts, for whatever my thoughts are worth, -and they might not be worth squat because we’re all parents trying our best and making it up as we go, -but for what it’s worth: To start with, when my kids have gone over the top and made my lid blow because, for instance they are at each others throats for some reason, I let it blow. I dress them down and let them know in no uncertain terms that whatever they were doing that drove me over the edge was NOT acceptable.
    That serves to clear the air and buy me some better behavior for a while. Oldest parenting trick in the book. If they can’t get along with each other, make YOURSELF the biggest jerk in the room, and suddenly they think each other is just fine.
    After that, I have bought myself some precious harmony for a time which has given ME a chance to calm down, eventually I talk to them. We go over what happened, why I found it unacceptable, and what I expect going forward. I then try to build in some sort of peace offering, such as cookies or watching a movie together, or just everybody talking and laughing and lightening up.
    Guess what? It works! First, we had nervous, enforced, and much needed harmony, then we cleared the air, then we did what most likely was needed in the first place but what was not happening because I “was too busy” or “was doing my own thing”: We spent time together doing something AS A FAMILY. If your kids are being monsters, it’s probably because they crave and need ADULT SUPERVISION, and so to some degree it is MY fault that my kids are acting like turds! That’s why this article sucked. It just assumes that all kids are jerks and absolves the parents of any responsibility.
    Guess what? It works, -but the fix is temporary, The next day or the next week or a couple hours later they might be at it again, and will almost assuredly need a repeat application sooner than later, -But, -Over time the repeated, consistent response slowly makes things better! Why? Because humans are creatures of habit, and kids need consistency. Consistency in a kids life is key to EVERYTHING. The people on here complaining about older kids having no respect for them did not CONSISTENTLY demand and earn that respect, in my opinion, and have ended up with kids who CONSISTENTLY under-perform and disappoint. The parents who say “Oh, poor little Johnny or little Suzy needs LOVE and SUPPORT because being a small human isn’t easy are just as clueless. Our job is to prepare our kids for REAL life, where the world is not going to reward shitty behavior with love and support.
    CONSISTENTLY reward shitty behavior with an unpleasant response to restore civility, CONSISTENTLY talk to your kids after you have re-gained your own mind to restore communication and trust and make the harmony real instead of just because they fear and hate you, and CONSISTENTLY do something with them to BUILD UPON that harmony and reinforce it, and over time, you will have kids who respect you, will talk to you about stuff, are becoming more adept at resolving conflict, and don’t expect the world to be some big artificial soft, warm fuzzy. And YOU will have moments of enjoying a family who exists in harmony.
    It won’t last. You’ll have to do it over and over. That’s part of parenting.
    Getting a sitter or a nanny to watch them so you can get away is the exact OPPOSITE of what your family needs. Maybe YOU think you need that, but they need YOU. To be REAL WITH THEM and be THERE FOR THEM.
    If you think the nanny or the XBOX is a substitute for YOU, you’re as stupid as the woman who wrote this crap, and your kids really WILL turn out to be assholes.
    About me: No college degree in psychology, no masters in anything, not an acclaimed writer. Single dad doing the best he can. Knows really bad advice when he sees it. Kids both getting straight A’s, involved in extracurriculars, go to bible study once a week, are generally well regarded around the community as “good kids”, and are currently playing in the next room in harmony after I laid down the law, which is in my opinion precisely WHY they are well regarded around the community… Reap what you sow. Good luck. Time to make some cookies here! :)

  18. Lisa on April 12, 2019 at 11:59 pm

    I should have spanked my 18 year old Son! I called Mom a Bitch once and she slapped me. I deserved it! My Son calls be a Bitch , a cunt and a slut. Wow ! I have never been called those names before … by his Father. I guess the disrespect rubbed off…. the next day he says he is sorry, usually because he needs some thing. Sorry just doesn’t cut it… I feel hurt and used! He will soon be a Dad himself. What comes around goes around. Just wait until your child calls you names. It will be your turn to hurt. My Son is an Asshole , hopefully he grows up to be a good example for his Daughter. I did my best, guess it wasn’t good enough for him.

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