Everybody has that one friend for whom they're constantly making excuses.
"He's not normally like this," or "I swear he's cool once you get to know him," or "He's just got a weird sense of humor."
After a while, though, it starts to become apparent that despite your friendship, that's an awful lot of caveats. Maybe it's time for the guy to start taking some of the blame for his own behavior?
Lately, that's how I feel about my son.
My son is 3-and-a-half, and I'm not going to lie: he can be pretty miserable to be around sometimes. It definitely comes and goes; he's often his usual, happy-go-lucky self. But the past few months have been tougher than usual. He used to be a hit at parties, but lately we've been having to make excuses for him. I should say, we had been making excuses for him.
When the bad behavior started -- and contrary to conventional wisdom, my son's terrible 2s didn't start until a year later -- say we went out to see some friends and my kid started acting like a monster, I'd get embarrassed and quickly qualify his behavior:
"He didn't get his nap today."
"He's just hungry."
"He doesn't like the bright lights."
"Sorry, we fed him after midnight. Big mistake."
But nowadays, as he acts up more and more, I find myself just outright blaming him.
Obviously, you can't really blame a 3-year-old for being a 2-year-old. But you can stop making excuses for him. And several months into the carnival of horrors that is my son's threenage wasteland, I'm done taking the blame for his crappy behavior.
So, yesterday, I was at a bar with some friends. My wife arrived a little later, Detective Munch by her side, and they joined us for a drink or two (well, my son stopped at two). My son hadn't met everyone at the table but he usually warms up to people pretty quickly. Unfortunately, he's milking this "terrible" stuff, so after spending the first few minutes ignoring everyone and tucking his face into Mom and Buried's neck, he started screaming every time someone so much as glanced in his direction. As a hardened veteran of these outbursts, and one who is quite sick of this phase of my son's life, I've stopped sugarcoating it.
Instead of offering some half-assed explanation for my kid's bad attitude, in an attempt to excuse both his bad attitude and our own bad parenting (nature and nurture!), I just told everyone that my son is an asshole:
"Don't mind him; he's just being a dick."
I'm done protecting him from himself. Now that he's almost 4, it's time for him to start taking some responsibility for his behavior. Not everything he does is a result of something his mommy or his daddy has done. He's an individual, he makes his own choices; this is America!
Unfortunately, he's choosing to be a massive pain in the ass, and I'm going to let him dig his own grave.
"Yeah, waitress, I'm his dad, but he's his own man. He's the one who threw the menu at you, so spit in his food, not mine."
It's actually quite liberating, this new outlook. Which isn't to say that I'm abandoning my role as his parent. There's a huge difference between no longer making excuses for my son's bad behavior and letting that behavior go unchecked, and I'm certainly not advocating the latter (for real: I literally check the kid into the wall nearly every time I walk past him.) I'm not one of those parents who ignore their kids as they run rampant around a restaurant or on a plane. If he makes a scene, we exit the scene, posthaste. And it's time-out time.
We still discipline the kid, and we'll still take a fair amount of responsibility for the person he eventually becomes, but the so-called terrible 2s or terrible 3s or terrible 4s are a tough road to hoe. They're a natural part of childhood development and something every parent goes through, regardless of how lenient or strict they are, and while it's not easy to blame toddlers for being toddlers, that doesn't mean it's OK to blame moms and dads!
We parents are sick of taking the heat for our obnoxious kids. It's time for toddlers everywhere to face the music!
I'm going to start by letting myself off the hook. Sorry, son, but it's not me:
Read more from Mike Julianelle on Dad and Buried.