Please Stop Calling Toddlers Jerks

A few weeks ago, my husband and I took our kids to a local breakfast place for pancakes. My husband colored with my son while my daughter and I sang “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Little Bunny Foo Foo” to pass the time.  An older couple seated next to us leaned over to tell us how cute our kids are.  What a sweet sentiment, right?  They shared that their grandson was about the age of our daughter, and how much they miss when their own kids were little, and how much they love this new stage of grandparenting.  

It was all super sweet and kind and wonderful.

Until the gentleman made a really strange comment.

When describing my baby’s behavior, he used the word “manipulative.”  

This isn’t the first time someone has used that word to describe my baby, or any baby.  I commonly see social media posts and hear conversations directed at how toddlers are terrorists, jerks, or other four-letter words that I’m prevented from using on this platform.

Truthfully, I used to refer to my children as “sleep terrorists,” who are terrorizing my ability to sleep.  

But, then I got to thinking about it. And, I’ve changed my tune. Here’s why.

I see my children for what they are: brand new humans. Do you remember being new at something? How awkward and uncomfortable it was? How unsure you felt? Maybe, even, how scared you felt? Ever traveled abroad and had no idea how to speak the language? Or, started at a new school where you didn’t know anyone? Taken a first dance class? Tried a new instrument?

That’s our children. They don’t know our language. They don’t know our customs. They are confused and unsure. They test boundaries because they don’t know they exist! They cry and scream because it is their only means of communicating.

So, rather than taking it personally, and thinking of my child as my only personal, in-home “sleep terrorist,” I think of my child as being new to sleep. My little humans spend their waking hours hugging me whenever they want. Climbing into my arms again and again. They like hugs and kisses and soft songs and constant reassurances. Why should the night hours, which are dark and silent and cold, be any different?They don’t understand my need for cold and dark and silent! And, I have to guide them through these learnings processes. As patiently as I can muster (thank goodness for coffee in these situations).

I don’t think of babies as manipulative. I think of them as human beings with needs who can only communicate them by swatting the spoon full of food to the floor in order to tell me that they’re full.

Your baby isn’t a jerk. His tantrum isn’t being thrown for the lone purpose of making you feel miserable and embarrassed at the grocery store (yes, I know you feel that way – but that’s not what is motivating him). Nine times out of 10, that kiddo is probably hungry and/or tired and/or confused by the boundaries you’re setting.  Sure, pick that kid up, leave your cart there in the aisle, carry him like a surf board under your arm to the car, strap him in his seat, drive him home, and put him directly to bed for a nap (I mean, I’m only speaking from personal experiences here).  

After all, we don’t parent for our own convenience. If we did, none of us would have kids and our species would cease to exist. We parent in order to guide our tiny humans through this brand new world in hopes that they emerge from childhood as fully functional adults.

And, hopefully we make it through this journey with our mental and emotional functions still in tact. Resenting our kids for being jerks won’t do that. For me, I feel more calm in the chaos, more proactive in my responses, and more confident in my actions as a parent when I see myself as a guide to my new humans instead of the victim of a couple of jerks.

Britt is a former nomad, who happily put down roots in the Kansas City suburbs to start her own family close to her parents and siblings. After three professional degrees and a brief stint as an elementary teacher with Teach for America, Britt now spends 40 hours a week working in the legal world. In what little free time she has left over, she pretends to do yoga, installs toilets, cans vegetables, quilts, entertains family and friends, and seeks adventure around KC and beyond with her two favorite boys. Though she and her husband, David, are new to parenting their 8 month old son, Benja, they already agree that they love him more than coffee. They just not-so-secretly hope that no one ever makes them choose between the two.