Let Him be a Jerk {or “allowing children to take responsibility for their actions”}

October 31, 2014 | encouragement, grace, MOB Society, mothering |

I just had my 2nd son.

Determined to get a pic with my boys surrounded by pumpkins, I headed to our local arboretum. It only took about 20 minutes before the 2-year-old started melting down and the newborn needed to eat.

While doing the “two-kid-shuffle”, attempting to make them both happy & failing, a sweet older mom offered me help.

In classic “supermom” fashion I responded with: “No, I’m fine. Thank you.”

Fortunately, she persisted. My two-year-old was whining. The newborn was screaming and wouldn’t take the bottle I had pumped and prepared for this outing.

She leaned down to the two-year-old and offered him a snack. He immediately snapped at her, “NO!!” then turned his head away to magnify the refusal.

Horrified by his rude & disrespectful behavior to this well-meaning stranger, I looked at her and apologized: “I am so sorry. He didn’t sleep well last night.”

She stopped, turned towards me, looked intently into my eyes and said strong words (in a British accent, no less):

“Why do we as mothers feel the need to apologize for our children?

If he wants to be a jerk, let him be a jerk!”

This concept was completely foreign to me. I thought I was supposed to correct each and every infraction? I thought my children were supposed to be perfect, well-mannered, and polite. How could I ignore his blatant disrespect, & "let him be a jerk"?

Now I’ve had my fourth son and I understand more fully what she was saying. I cannot control my children. I try. It doesn’t work. I definitely can’t control the high-energy, out-going, big personality boys God has given us.

I CAN establish expectations of behavior.

Our three family rules are: 1) Obey 2) Honor (aka “treat others special & do more than expected) 3) Be Responsible.

However, they will choose to not follow these rules. They will choose to say “stupid poo-poo head” even though they have been instructed a million times to use kind, life-giving words.  They may spit in their grandfather’s face even though they have been instructed to honor & respect their elders.

My natural response is to apologize for them. I feel the need to apologize because I feel their bad behavior is a poor reflection of me. My apology is given because I feel like I was the one who failed.

I’m learning (slowly) this isn’t the case. I have instructed. I have trained. Now it is on their shoulders to make the choices leading to a good life.

If they choose to break our rules, then they chose to suffer the consequences and to make the apologies. Not me.

“Let them be a jerk” doesn’t mean, “let them be wild & unruly”.

“Let them be a jerk,” means, “let them take responsibility for their actions.”

Train & then let go.

For moms of boys this is particularly important. We can’t follow them to college & apologize to their professors when they forget to turn in an essay. We can’t be involved in their marriages & apologize to their wives when they are late home from work & didn’t call.

Training a boy to become a man is our role. A small step towards this goal is “letting him be a jerk.”

Question: I know you can relate. How do you feel about allowing your sons to take responsibility for their own choices?

*from MOB Society archives, April 2012, no longer published online

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