Children are surprisingly intelligent and perceptive. Except when they’re not.
My son knows to lie to get what he wants, he knows how to push our buttons to piss us off, he knows how to work my iPhone and he knows I didn’t really steal his nose. I bet yours is the same way; kids are always smarter than you expect. And yet despite their mad skills, when it comes to emotional intelligence they are total morons.
Mine still can’t figure out when an emotional breakdown is warranted (never) and when one isn’t (when your banana breaks).
Even worse, on top of not being able to correctly calibrate his own feelings, my son completely disregards everyone else’s. And he has no gauge for mood. If he did, he’d know that 9PM at the end of a long day, when Mommy is packing for an early morning flight to a conference she’ll have the pleasure of attending on her birthday, is not the time to put on your asshole hat.
But he doesn’t know. Because kids have no empathy.
They don’t know what it’s like to work all day and come home to a messy house and still have to cook dinner. They don’t know how it feels to get outbid on a prize free agent and then lose your fantasy game because you started the wrong flex player. They’ve never woken up hung over from a night of car-bombs and had to deal with a screaming toddler who just wants to eat some Play-doh. They’ve never walked in those shoes. And so they don’t understand why you’re being so yelly and slow about getting them their milk, no some water, no some juice, no the water, I mean some MILK!!!!
Of course, it’s not their fault. Despite how often I advocate blaming kids for their bad behavior, I can’t in good conscience blame a three-year-old for not being emotionally perceptive. Or for not being able to gauge a woman’s mood (I can’t even blame a 35-year-old for not being able to gauge a woman’s mood). It’s not my son’s fault.
I know this. I know he’s still figuring everything out. I know his lack of empathy is merely a result of a lack of life experience. And in my best moments, I’m patient with these growing pains. But sometimes it’s hard, especially when you really want that hug and he blatantly rejects you, or after he’s a spent a day or two behaving beautifully for someone else but upon your return he treats you like dirt.
At the risk of stating the obvious, and despite the collection of posts that seem to indicate otherwise (I’d link to some examples but they’re on every page), I really don’t hate my kid. And I suspect you don’t either.
But sometimes? I totally hate my kid. And I suspect you do too. Because despite the fact that I was once his age, and I was once the same emotional moron he currently is, and that as an adult I intellectually understand how limited a three-year-old’s awareness of and ability to control his emotions is, it’s still really hard to look at someone who is – and there’s no other phrase for it – being an enormous asshole, however unintentionally, and not succumb hold it against them a little bit.
The thing to remember is that managing reactions and emotions isn’t the responsibility of the three- or four- or five-year-old. It’s the responsiblity of the adult.
And when my kid is at his worst, that’s what I try to do, with varying levels of success. If I’m at the end of my rope, and I find myself turning to the dark side, I try to count to ten or leave the room or do some yoga or have a drink or [insert what ever stress relief method you prefer]. And then I recover. Sometimes it takes two drinks.
The good news is it usually takes even less time for our kids to recover and redeem themselves, the adorable little jerks. (It doesn’t take long after that for them to un-redeem themselves either, but that’s neither here nor there.) And so long as I remember that I’m the adult and he’s the emotionally stunted terrorist that is driving me insane through no real fault of his own and that it’s my responsibility to escape the moment without reacting in such a way that I’m responsible for a lifetime of therapy, the storm passes and everything is grand again.
Sometimes it takes three drinks.