Having children sometimes feels like being a peasant in the court of King Joffrey. No matter what you do, no matter how hard you try to be pleasing, inevitably your capricious overlord will get in a mood, and then, bam, things will get ugly.
So it's unsurprising that Rage Against the Minivan blogger Kristen Howerton's new enterprise, the bluntly named Asshole Parents, has hit such a resonant chord so quickly. On the Instagram and Tumblr of the same name, parents – led by Howerton's example – share photos of their children in varying states of obvious displeasure, along with self-mocking captions explaining the back story. It's an outgrowth of a long-standing jokey hashtag she's applied to numerous toddler-related situations, "For example, new shoes that were missing a light-up feature, or a meal on a pink plate and a pink cup but with an errant yellow straw," she told HuffPo Monday. The feed is full of numerous examples of the tears and sulking brought on by similar offenses. "I wouldn't let her play with the steak knives, therefore I'm an asshole" reads the caption under an image of a red-faced, weeping toddler, while another depicts the horror of "There was a tiny piece of cilantro in her burrito so I'm an asshole."
In the hypercompetitive world of modern parenting, a child's dismay is a public declaration of Mom and Dad's failure. Failure to amuse. Failure to entertain. Failure to meet every need, articulated and implied. It's an invitation to be judged. If you ever want to know what it feels like to wither under an Anna Wintouresque degree of epic side eye, just wait for your kid to have a Level 5 tantrum, preferably in a venue as confined as possible. (Airplanes are terrific for this.) So no wonder so many fans have embraced the liberating ownership of identifying as Asshole Parents. Like the popular Reasons My Kid Is Crying, Asshole is a defiant retort. It's a challenge to others to go ahead and label us, assume we're the worst because "I won't let her take a bath with the cat." Kids just want to do ridiculous things. All day long. Which means, as Howerton says, "Despite our best efforts, children are often disappointed, and I'm hoping it can be a humorous reminder that we're all in this together."
I have experienced enough histrionics over the years from my own beloved children to understand that the sight of a kid losing it is the sight of a kid just being a kid. Look, I have uttered the phrase, "I can't make it stop raining," so more sympathetic I could not be. Children are arbitrary and dramatic little improvised explosive devices, and I approve of laughing about that. But even taking the intended irony of the name into account, I still find myself cringing at those ostensibly playful images on Asshole Parents. I get that kids are whiny and unreasonable, but what I don't get is the apparently relentless need some parents have to document their children's most whiny and unreasonable behavior. While a kid crying over ice cream doesn't necessarily need to be talked down from an emotional ledge, that kid really doesn’t need Mom taking a hilarious photograph of the episode so the rest of the world can laugh at his meltdown either. And I really wonder what a crying or angry young child feels like when his parents greet his real-to-him feelings with whipping out the camera.
As parents, we can joke about ourselves. We can laugh at ourselves. But what happens when our children are, quite identifiably, the punch line? That snot-covered, fist-clenching ball of rage is still a human being whose privacy is still worthy of respect. And while not letting a child eat dirt doesn't make a parent an a-hole, making his reaction a social media event just might.