What would you say about someone who exhibited the following behaviors:
- Demanding things over and over, without even giving you time to respond?
- Letting every minor inconvenience or frustration spur a complete screaming, crying meltdown?
- Ordering you around without ever saying “please” or “thank you” unless specifically requested to do so every single time?
- Dismissing your well-intentioned efforts with a loud “No!” and a contemptuous swipe of their hand?
- Being completely unmoved by rational arguments?
- Responding to disappointment merely by increasing the volume and intensity of their demand?
- Cutting you off with an insincere “Sorry!” when you’re upset in hopes of avoiding a lecture?
Sounds like a real a-hole, right? But what if they had a face like this:
And yet… that’s exactly how I would describe that kind of behavior in anyone else. When I encounter an adult who acts the way my kids do, I distance myself from them as quickly and thoroughly as possible. I’ve ended friendships over that kind of behavior. I’ve quit jobs. I’ve asked to speak to the store manager.
I know this is supposedly a phase that all kids go through, but it’s hard not to worry that what I’m seeing now is something darker, the first true glimpse of my children’s souls.
What if my kids are… just jerks?
What if I’m not dealing with the terrible twos… but with terrible people?
Every short-fused, condescending egotist in the world was 2 years old once. How do you tell the difference between them and the ones who are just going through a healthy stage of human psychological development?
Bennett’s such a happy kid, always laughing. But sometimes I wonder if he’s laughing at me. Tell him not to drop his bowl of yogurt on the floor, and he won’t… until your back is turned. Then you’ll hear a thud, accompanied by a precious little cackle. He’s a prankster, but what if it’s not just some innocent boundary-testing that he’s doing? What if he’s a budding Bernie Madoff?
Sutton’s verbal abilities are superior to those of most grown-ups I know. Drew and I are stunned how quickly she learns and how well she remembers. It’s gotten to the point where we don’t even have to quiz her on new concepts anymore. She’ll ask and answer her own questions. “What does ‘busy’ mean? It means you have a lot to do! Who’s that? Dora’s friend Tico! What does an elephant say? [insert trumpeting sound accompanied by upward arm motion]” It’s impressive and adorable, until we start wondering… are we nourishing a young Cliff Clavin?
Face it. What’s cute at 2 isn’t going to stay cute much longer. By 5, it’ll be unbearable. By 10, it’ll seem downright pathological. And yet, some kids are undoubtedly headed down that very path. The world has a long history of a-holes.
I’m sure it was positively adorable when toddler Dick Cheney spat a mouthful of strained peas in his dad’s face. But spraying his friend’s face with buckshot during a duck hunt? Not so cute.
What about Donald Trump? I’ll bet the first full sentence he ever uttered was something along the lines of “I am without question the most admired baby who’s ever lived.” When he said it, everyone probably went, “Awww!” Then look what happened.
I try to steer my kids in the right direction. I give time outs when they’re being particularly prickish. I reward those increasingly rare occasions when they’re actually nice to their fellow man. Then they turn around and misbehave again, and I feel like a chump. Am I painstakingly shaping their malleable little psyches… or fighting a losing battle against their inner nature?
I mean, if one of my kids is the next Newt Gingrich or Shannen Doherty, they’re still my kid, right? I’m not saying I’d vote for them or cast them in a serialized drama, but I’d set a place for them at Thanksgiving.
So I’ll keep trying… for now. But at some point, I’m just going to give in and embrace who they are. It’s not so bad, I guess. After all, you can get pretty far in life behaving like a 2-year-old.