“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.
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.