The Family: Where You‘re Free to Be a Jerk
The Family: Where You‘re Free to Be a Jerk

The Family: Where You‘re Free to Be a Jerk

Small tribes: cosmic consequences.

Appears in Winter 2020

The four-year-old runs around yelling, the eight-year-old darts upstairs to change, the six-year-old MUST use the bathroom right NOW before hanging up his bag, and the ten-year-old is annoyed I haven’t listened to her and only her on the walk home. In my defence, three other children were also talking at me—not with me, at me—and the smallest one was yelling “Mom! Mom! MOM!” They scatter their belongings, flinging them with abandon in every direction.

My children have come home from school and, like every day, they have exploded into what was a quiet orderly house only twenty minutes before. They are hurricanes, wreaking havoc wherever they go. They have a thousand complaints and a thousand demands. They are jerks.

I once asked a counsellor about children and rude behaviour. Smiling brightly, the counselor explained that, when at home, certain personalities emote more than others.

“How do I stop the emoting?”

“It just means your child feels safe being herself with you. It’s a compliment.”

That’s right—when your children resemble feral animals, it means they like you. Children spend the school day on their best behaviour. They strive to impress their teachers, make friends, and avoid the unpleasant kids. Childhood’s stressful for children—even when they’re in great schools.

You can’t be a jerk at school—there’s too much on the line. Robbie might not want to be your friend anymore if you punch him, even though he deserved it. You’re upset about a poor test grade, but you don’t want to cry at school because only babies cry at school, and you’re a worldly eight-year-old! Hannah and Payton didn’t want to play with you at recess, and you can’t understand why. So you hold in your anger and your sadness and your confusion until you’re in a safe place—a place where they can’t get rid of you for being a jerk. You bring home your bad feelings and release them all over the people who matter most—your family.

You spew your frustrations and emotions all over everyone—Mom, Dad, siblings. Home is a safe space, because no one’s going to kick you out of the family for being a jerk. A family is tribe; you don’t get to choose to be a part of it. And other members of the tribe can’t vote you out; they’re stuck with you! And that’s good—it means you have a place to let the ugly out. Happily most of the time, your frustration and emotions are met with a hug and a snack. Mom listens while you explain why Jonah isn’t your best friend anymore and why your team should have won the kickball game. Your older brother lets you have the last cookie. Your baby sister squeals with delight when you pick her up. The jerk inside doesn’t last—it just passes away.

The embrace of the family is a child’s education in how to handle life. If your anger is met with kindness, if your sadness is met with empathy, if your fears are met with reassurance, you will learn how to face the world with peace in your heart. Your inner jerk will not just be repressed until you get home—it will begin to melt away.

When you are loved in a family, you can learn how to handle the inner chaos, and the jerk inside you diminishes until by the time you leave the nest you don’t have to inflict it on others. You won’t become a public hazard. The chaos of your family might even turn you into a public good.

And if your family is Christian, you will find an extension of this family that teaches you even more about what it means to be a people. The church, too, is like a family, but one like no other. We’re brothers and sisters in Christ; just as you are not voted out of your family, God’s not going to get rid of us for being a jerk. We’re safe with him. The tribe where every tribe and nation, like the family, restrains and transforms the public menace that lurks in all of us.

So celebrate the jerks that you have brought into this world. Just as your heavenly Father celebrates you!

Topics: Family
Claire Vaidyanathan
Claire Vaidyanathan

Claire Vaidyanathan grew up in upstate New York and Rhode Island. Claire attended McGill University and earned a bachelor's in music. She met her husband in Montreal, and they now live in the DC area with their five children. Claire's stand-up comedy explores parenting, biracial families, and cross-cultural interactions.


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