My 3-Year-Old Called Me a Jerk & She Was Right

"You're a jerk!" my (usually) sweet little girl exclaimed.

It took me by surprise. I struggled not to let my anger and hurt show as I explained it wasn't nice to call someone that because it hurts their feelings. I'm not even sure she knew what a jerk was by definition. Yet she was totally calling me out -- unintentionally.

See, this interesting thing happens when my daughter exerts more independence. She tries out different words, gestures, and ways to treat people. Testing, experimenting, pushing limits.


And sometimes she's a miniature version of me. Unfortunately, she doesn't always reflect the best parts of me. In fact, she's a little too good at copying my less desirable behavior

However, I've noticed that sometimes I take her normal 3-year-old behaviors personally. Like her overuse of the word "stupid." Or when she incessantly annoys her brother. When I'm stressed out, tired, or frustrated, it's even easier to take her crazy kid antics as a personal attack on my very being.

That's when anger rises up faster than I can say, "Knock it off!"

That's when I give short, terse responses in my not-so-happy voice.

That's when I'm a jerk.

When my daughter called me a jerk as we walked home from the park, it stung. Moments before we were joking around, though she wasn't happy about leaving the park.

"Honey, do you know what a jerk is?"

She shrugs with a look that tells me she knows it's a new secret naughty word that mom doesn't want her to say.

"A jerk is someone who isn't very nice to other people, but it's not nice to call people names. It hurts my feelings when you call me a jerk."

It hurt because while it wasn't true in that instant, it was true on other occasions. Sometimes I am a jerk to my kids, yet I expect them not to be jerks to myself, each other, or anyone else. Some parenting challenges are less about my kids' behaviors and more about my own.

"I'm sorry, Mama."

I'm sorry too, sweet pea. Not only for being a jerk sometimes, but for realizing where you learned that word. 


Image via Darcy Zalewski

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