The Knee Jerk

Fall leaves on a tree
“I’m not reading you an extra story tonight.” The extra story happens so regularly it isn’t really *extra* anymore, but I’m not telling him that…

“Why not, mom?” He sounded hurt. 

“Because you’ve been behaving like a jerk.” It slid out of my mouth without even thinking about it.

“Mommy?” There was a tiny catch in his voice. “Why would you say that? I haven’t been a jerk!” A little sob.

“Yes, you have. You’ve been terribly mean.” Now that it was said, I felt the need to justify it so I went on to list his numerous infractions. It took a while… “You were being mean just to be mean. That’s being a jerk.”

Then the tears began to pour and the sobs wracked his body. “Why would you say that? I’m not a jerk. You should apologize! I wasn’t trying to be mean! You don’t know what I was trying to do.”

“OK, then. Why were you doing it?”

“I don’t know.”

He went on to lash out, beg, demand and cajole me into apologizing. It took me aback, his very emotional response to my very matter-of-fact statement. The truth was, though, I didn’t want to apologize. He had behaved awfully and he needed to know it. 

Didn’t he?

Well, didn’t he?

Or was I being the mean one? 

You are behaving like a jerk…

The truth of the matter is that there are times he has made me terribly angry, when I really wanted to be the bully my father was to me growing up. Not that I acted on that feeling, but it would flare up, the anger, and simmer under the surface until it burned itself out. But not this time. I was not trying to hurt him with those words. I didn’t want to belittle him. I just wanted him to know and I wanted him to understand that there are consequences.

But do I want him to do this to someone else, call them a jerk? No. No, I don’t. 

Little words carry so much weight. It is easy to forget how they can wound. I have never said anything like that to him before, never used the term “jerk” in all of his seven years of existence and in his world, at least right now, my opinion matters most. The apology from me was of paramount importance to him. 

So I did.

I apologized. 


85 thoughts on “The Knee Jerk

  1. good for you. I have apologized more than once…just last month, my 27 yr old son brought up something that happened when he was growing up….I asked him for forgiveness. I think all of us enter adulthood with wounds our parents inflicted on us..whether intentionally or just out of neglect. the long term goal (for me has always been to have a peer to peer relationship with my kids once they leave the nest..and that they will want to come home…You are doing a good job Victo. I actually think these kind of things (where you screw up then own it) has the potential to deepen your relationship with your kids….

    Liked by 5 people

  2. Um. I tell the 7 year-old when he’s behaving like a jerk. Yes, I’d tell another person they were as well; particularly if I loved them and wanted them to be successful in their interpersonal relations. I also use terms like disrespectful, mean and rude. Because – that’s what the actions ARE.

    We are, imo, creating a large generation of children wholly unprepared for the real world – you know, the one where not everyone gets a trophy/ribbon for just showing up, where discipline is conflated as bullying, where people need a ‘safe space’ to go to deal with real life occurrences. WTH?

    Life is hard and it is unfair. They need to know that, and form resiliency in spite of those facts, so that they can function without drugs, alcoholism, excessive therapy and falling into rabbit holes because gee, life is not unicorns and rainbows after all. It’s competitive, stressful, and difficult along with being amazing, life-affirming and joyous.

    They also need to be loved in spite of their behaviors. The other day I was told that I did not love him because I disciplined him. I had to explain that love means many things, and one of them is teaching him right from wrong. It is a choice to behave rightly or wrongly, and wrong choices (for both kids and adults) can cause consequences (okay, so the adults get away with far too much, but…). Choose wisely. Think before you react.

    Because I have two adult children that work with children, I see terrible, terrible behavior problems – children with no manners, no respect; children assaulting teachers and other students; theft; bullying. Why are we raising such thoughtless, disrespectful, ill-mannered children all of a sudden? What has changed?

    The elevation of children to mini-god status has caused a lot of this I think. We as parents (and 2nd line parents) are leaders – in behavior, in knowledge, in love. I fear we no longer act as though we are in charge and responsible.

    /end rant

    Liked by 8 people

    • I hear what you are saying. In the end, I felt like I was name calling. I can name the unacceptable behaviors but I don’t have to call names. I feel like there is plenty unfair about life, I don’t have to add to that. That being said, I might feel very differently if my son had a different personality. πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • You were clear in your writing that you said “You were acting like a jerk” – you didn’t call him a jerk πŸ™‚ The differentiation part though, is the sticky wicket. What they HEAR and what we SAY are often two entirely different things! I cannot count how many times I have had those discussions in the last seven months, lol! I now have him repeat something back to me if it is a crucial thing, so we know we’re both on the same page. And we are learning to laugh at mistakes, because everyone makes them.

        The entire issue seems to revolve around respect. I hear all of the time about self-esteem, but what about esteem and respect for others? Of course, in the current post-election climate, and the infantile behavior exhibited by our PEOTUS and others in the limelight, I think parenting is going to get more difficult as the social order unravels a bit – hopefully to correct itself once clearer heads prevail. Civility is quite different from political correctness. Sympathy is different from pandering. Empathy, including for those with whom we disagree, is crucial. But we have become a reactive society, going with feelings rather than thinking. I think that bleeds into our kids. Feelings are important and should be validated, but not at the expense of others. Children today do not know that they are children, but feel as if they are small adults, with the same voice and impact in the familial environment. Somebody has to be in charge, and I see us defaulting simply because it is hard work to be responsible. Tiring, unending, often unrewarding and unappreciated, work. Payoffs wayyyy out in the distance. It’s worse than a stock market investment (but behaves very similarly, lol)

        The best place for all of that respect to start is with us and our actions and speech. They see more than they listen to. The delicate balance is being respectful of their little growing psyches while maintaining their respect for us as the adults. If you figure that one out, there’s a best seller for ya πŸ™‚

        Now that I’ve yammered on and written a novella, it’s time for me to go read the bedtime story before returning to work. And apologies are always a good thing to set an example in, as opposed to say, flipping off the driver who cut you off and calling him a jerk πŸ˜›

        Liked by 1 person

  3. The “I don’t know” is very familiar. My youngest daughter, at 25, has recently been able to reflect on some of her past childhood/teen behavior and the “I don’t know” has evolved into connect-the-dot understanding of her reacting to breach of trust issues, familial dysfunction and bullying trauma. Understanding leads to healing and wisdom. The days are sunny now and full of hope. Yes, I agree. The apology “was of paramount importance to him.”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Ha, My kids heard far worse from the time they were tiny. It galvanizes them. It got so bad that my wife yelling and screaming just bounced right off their foreheads. The dad part… get used to “I don’t know,” you will hear it a lot.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. That was a hard lesson for you in the end. That’s the thing about being a parent is that on many occasions we show we are human first. Teaching your son that anyone can apologise, even adults is a great lesson too.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I fall in-between here. I myself am very sensitive to being called names, so I try not to use those labels out loud, even if I’m thinking them. But I do think you need to describe bad and rude and thoughtless behavior as what it is, and there’s no need to ever apologize for that. I agree with the rant above about the rampant undisciplined behavior tolerated by parents, and the resultant young adults who use other people (especially their parents) and have no sense of personal responsibility. That is no gift to your children. And no, you are not your child’s “friend”. (K)

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Whenever I have done or said things to my daughter that I wish I hadn’t, I have found that, not only an apology, but an authentic conversation about why I overreacted, about how mommy is a human learning to be better too….that has helped my daughter very much. She has learned empathy and that I can also forgive HER for her very human mistakes. We talk about learning together and from each other. We have bonded over our imperfections. P.S. That does not stop me from teaching consequences and being tough when I have to. Both compliment each other.

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I consider that part of being a mother – the feed back about his behaviour. He needs to hear that from you. Otherwise he’ll be a jerk some other time and it might not be to a forgiving person such as yourself.

    Liked by 3 people

  9. Parenting, let me count the ways! For my tuppenceworth, I have apologised to my children when it was clear that the punishment outweighed the crime so to speak, and they clearly didn’t understand why, what they had done, was so harshly judged. I have had the pleasure of seeing them grow into fine young men now, and feel I can forgive myself for any parenting errors I made along the way. It’s a tough gig, that’s for sure.

    Liked by 2 people

  10. You told him that he was being a jerk (as in, acting like a jerk). He said he wasn’t a jerk. Kids don’t distinguish between behavior and inherent worth unless you make that distinction to them. One way of wording it teaches appropriate behavior, while the other way trashes them as a person. Big difference. Too bad he didn’t realize why he was acting like a jerk, because he was obviously hurting about something.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Right now he is in the phase where the things he thinks are cool, what he sees from other kids at school and tries to emulate, he does not entirely understand. So while he thinks he is being so big and grown up, he is actually hurting the people around him. Sometimes he acts out because he is tired or hungry or hurt or angry but that night it seemed it was more the other. Sometimes I forget that he is not able to distinguish between behavior and self worth. πŸ™‚


  11. You hit home by using language at his level. There are many who believe that we should name the behavior and not label the person. I agree to some extent, but I also think we are raising kids to be wimps and some to be predators of those wimps. We need to build confidence in children to not get affected by words, but at the same time, they need to hear when they are acting in an unacceptable manner. And he understood JERK, because he probably has used it himself on someone. I do not think that is a terrible nomenclature for an unacceptable behavior. My sister called me an A$$hole when I was eight and it cut deep…mostly because my mother got furious with ME for saying it. I really did not know what it meant. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    • I called my mom an asshole when I had no idea what it meant. πŸ˜‰ Words are funny things. I don’t think I need to toughen him up by calling him names. He gets picked on enough at school as it is. He is brilliant and different, the perfect combination for misery.


  12. Disclaimer: I don’t have children, so really don’t do parenting comments (well, rarely outloud, anyway, to myself? a whole nuther thing).

    However, I have a dear, close-to-my-heart, adult person that I’ve had the exact same situation. He’s been a… jerk. Except I use a much more colorful word. There’s been a few times when I have exclaimed, like you, before I knew what was coming out of my mouth, “You’re being such an a******!” Dear-person gets upset with that. (Which often makes me more annoyed, because he’s being an a****** and now he’s getting mad at ME for pointing out his behavior?!?!)

    With this adult, I can, and have been able to, parse the difference, after he has whined that he is owed an apology. With this adult I can say, “You’re right. There’s no excuse for name calling. I’m sorry I called you an a******. I am not, however, apologizing for calling you on your shabby behavior.” Or something like that. Probably less civilized and without the asterisks.

    I don’t know how you parse that for children, but I do think it is important. Otherwise, the child learns that being a jerk is ok, just don’t call him one.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. You are right to apologize but only for calling him a jerk. I hope you made clear that his behavior still warranted a response from you – otherwise he’ll use this tack again. Kids are crafty. I did have to smile at this, though – and he learned a valuable lesson about name calling.

    Liked by 2 people

  14. There are different ways to apologize. You can just apologize for saying it. Or you can say something like “I’m sorry you were acting the way you were that made me say that.” Or “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings but you need to know that it is not okay to behave that way.” Or something along these lines that let him know he had a part in it and that is not okay.

    We apologize. Moms always do. Because we love them but it is that same love that makes us reprimand them.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. Sometimes words skip out with everyone but it’s those who are closest to us that hurt both of us the most.
    In truth, you never called him a jerk, you just said he was acting like one. Big difference, though at his age he only heard one word.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. Did you say, “I’m sorry you’re a jerk”? πŸ˜‰

    I agree that calling your kid a name will only lead him to calling others names. But in my view it’s very insightful of you to realize that. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent, but I think you’re probably a great mother.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. It’s difficult to “eat your own words” but for the sake of our kids mental health and good character, as an adult, we must admit that we were tacky (for want of a better word). I don’t think I apologized to my children as I should have and I regret that. At least you had the common sense to use good judgement.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. I’m always so so careful to say “you’re behaving like a jerkface” vs “you’re being a jerkface.” It seems like such a minor variance, but it feels/seems profound. This parenting gig is hard!

    Liked by 1 person

  19. I would of done the same thing, however I would of let him know that the next time he was acting like jerk in my eyes I would be happy to point that out to him so he can understand why I said it…..I learned raising my kids, they sometimes really don’t have a clue…..and still to this day, I have had it pointed out to me that sometimes my behavior is not desirable…LOL ..kat

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Repetition is THE single most common human behaviour.
    We repeat the things we have learned to work.
    We repeat stuff we have learned from our parents. (The good and the bad)
    The only way out is to realize that. And move out of the pattern. If we can.
    That is what you did by apologizing.
    (Now don’t make a habit of it. Kids are very quick to grasp an advantage)

    Liked by 1 person

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