Why My Son Is Not A Jerk

In the midst of the overwhelming trials we’ve faced in raising a child with special needs, we believe that there is a bright future ahead for him. It’s very hard to see, at times, but when we look closer and seize the good moments, we can see it.


Five-thirty is the worst time to go to the grocery store! Every parent knows that, but I had to go. The kitchen cabinet held approximately two heals of bread and a can of beans. I had a meeting until the very minute my older kids got out of school. I raced to get my older son to and from Karate. I scrambled to pick up my younger three from their afterschool club. I arrived just in time and my sons loaded into the car laughing about their day.

Then the conversation got serious, “Mom, what’s for dinner?” I replied cheerfully, “Grilled cheese and tomato soup, but we have to go to the store first.” The little boys were ok with that but I heard my older son sigh. Even as I pulled into the overcrowded parking lot, I knew that going to the store was a bad idea. It wasn’t too late to turn the car around and go to McDonalds and for a second I considered it. It only took a minute to weigh my options. My boys have a lot of food sensitivities and fast food tends to set us up for a pretty bad night. I decided to brave the store.

I found a parking spot and turned to face my sons. “What kind of behavior are we going to have in the store?” They shouted, “good behavior.” My seven year old, always needing to be reassured said, “I’m always helpful and good. Right mom?” “Yes, you are baby, you always do a nice job in the store.” We were off to a good start and I got a little bit over zealous. I added cereal and milk to the grocery list, thinking it would be a good idea to knock out tomorrow’s breakfast at the same time. I handed the list to my oldest, hoping that a job would pull him out of his funk.

Immediately, we had problem. My youngest wanted to push the cart and began tugging wildly on two carts that were tangled together. Before I could reach him, my older son stepped in, pushed past the younger one and pulled the carts apart. He began to maneuver around his now whimpering brother, “Mom, you said I could do it this time!” I patted the little one’s head, “It is your turn, and I’ll remind your brother.” I did remind him and he stomped his foot and grumbled, “You never let me do anything.” I did my best to take a deep breath before I replied, “I know you’re frustrated, you can have a turn next time.” He stomped off and I let him go.

I began to quickly find the items on the list. My little ones trailed behind. We didn’t see the older son until the cereal isle. Just then, my older son came around the corner with a box of Lucky Charms. I actually laughed out loud, “Absolutely not!” My laughter was a mistake. My son was not joking and I had just really triggered the panic switch in his brain. He returned the box of cereal to the shelf and followed me reluctantly to the check out. “Thanks for returning the box, son. I appreciate that, I’m sorry I was laughing. I didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.” “It’s ok mom,” he muttered.

My son wasn’t ok though, I could tell. We had tried to do too much. I could see the frustration all over his face. He was bouncing from foot to foot. His eyes were darting around and his voice had taken on a low and warning tone. All I could do was get out of there as fast as possible. My eight year old and I were practically throwing things onto the belt when I heard my 12 year old criticize one of the little ones, “you don’t do it like that, are you an idiot?” I turned around and faced him. As softly and calmly as I could manage, I responded, “We do not treat others like that. You can take a breath, you can wait outside, or you can help us unload the cart. What would you like to do?” “I want a pack of gum!” the pitch in his voice was rising. I glanced at the cashier and the customer in front of me. They were both uncomfortably shooting looks my way. My little ones had started to get silly in the midst of the tension. “Boys, please put your hands on the cart and do not remove them until we leave the store.” I ignored the customer who was now staring unashamedly at the spectacle of us. I turned to my older son and said firmly, “We are not buying gum today.” He rolled his eyes and I turned away from him. I pretended not to hear what he said next. “You’re a jerk mom, I’m going to tell my teacher who you really are!”

He paused for effect and that’s when I heard the comment that really stung. The woman in front of me was leaning in close to the cashier. “That kid is the jerk. I can’t understand why parents these days allow their children to talk like that. She shouldn’t have so many kids if she can’t handle them.” I tried to tune her out and leaned into my little ones thanking them for turning their silly behavior around. I can’t blame the woman really. My son was being really mean, and I was ignoring it. I did look like a bad parent. What that woman didn’t know was that my pre-teen has FASD which is caused by pre-natal exposure to alcohol. She didn’t know that when he was little, a tantrum would sometimes last longer than 8 hours. She had no idea that even in this embarrassing moment, I was celebrating the success in his newfound ability to use words rather than force (as hurtful as those words might be.)

I paid for the groceries and didn’t even bother to remind the bagger to use the bags I brought from home. I was ready to get out of the store. I thanked the cashier and made my exit as if nothing had happened. My oldest son trailed behind the whole way not saying a word.

I turned the key in the ignition and let the car warm up. That’s when my son finally spoke up, “I’m really sorry I did that in the store, mom. I heard what that lady said. I am a jerk. You’re not a bad mom though. I’m sorry.” “Oh son,” I squeezed his hand. “It was too much for us to do that shopping trip after such a long day. It is important for you to not talk to others the way you did, what can you do differently next time you are starting to feel anxious?” He came up with some great ideas. My son is not a jerk. He is an overcomer. He will always have brain damage, but I have absolutely no doubt that he will continue to grow and mature until even minor tantrums will be a thing of his past.

Question: Are you walking down a similar path with one of your kids? Share your story with us in the comment section. You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • Dollface Borrowat

    Hug! Even though you saw the progress that was made, the situation still is super uncomfortable. Sigh. I get it. Unless you are raising a child with issues, you just don’t get it. Our therapist calls it “bizzaro world”. I am SO thankful for your website because I am not the only one going through it. =)

    • We are so glad to be connected to you!

  • Stormywen

    Thank you for sharing! So great to know that other families have the same struggles….but sad to know that other families have the same struggles.

    • Its our pleasure. Yes, we are in this together.

  • Erin Long

    What an inspiring way to look at a painful situation!

  • Kristin Berry

    Thank you everyone for commenting. I am so thankful to have such a great group of people that relate. I’m sorry we have to relate to each other about so many frustrating things 🙂

  • Pam Waite

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. We also have an eight-year-old who has FASD. Since he is not as old is your son, he he still can lose it pretty badly. He has made progress, however, and like you, we try to cherish and remember the progress that he has made. I loved hearing your story… It gives me encouragement.

    • Oh Pam that is so great to hear. That’s why this blog exists- to give encouragement. We totally understand the trench you’re in.

    • Kristin Berry

      It’s so great that you are able to see your child’s successes, even when they are small. We were not always able to do that. We missed a lot of years of cheering on our son. We didn’t know he had brain damage. We spent a lot of time thinking we were failing at parenting. I wish you the best with your son!

  • Tiffany Smith

    The range of emotions I feel reading this post is just so large! I want to defend you, in the store, to the random stranger who thinks it’s okay to comment on another’s life: without context, without compassion and without kindness. And yet I know vindication is for God. I think the hardest thing to breathe through in moments like this is the lack of adult compassion. As that random stranger, witnessing this behavior in the check out queue, why is it so hard for me to be kind? What makes us, as fellow travelers, so weary from our own journey, that we cannot muster enough to just smile, in an understanding way? Why on earth do we think we get to stand in judgment over each other, in a situation that we know nothing about? It baffles me. As I read this post I want to cheer, not judge. What an amazing response your son had to his frustration! How long, did he walk around the supermarket, pausing between stimuli and response? How mature was his response, in using his words, even in anger? Teenagers feel emotions powerfully, even without FASD. To have the words to even express his frustration, even imperfectly, is just so celebration worthy. And then to know, verbalize and apologize for the error! I know adults without the skills to see and do this! Amazing. Perfection is a myth, in parenting; in life. I want to be part of the crowd in the stands, cheering each other on, rather than shaking our heads in judgement. Well done; both of you!

    • Tiffany, I LOVE this comment. This is why the adoptive and foster community is so powerful. We get one another but we will also fight for one another. Awesome awesome awesome. Thanks for your amazing words!

    • Kristin Berry

      Thank you so much for your kind, sweet comment. Wouldn’t life be so different if we all stood up and cheered for the successes, especially the successes of our hurting children? I’m thankful for people like you in this world!

  • Jodie Tipton

    I love this post so much- and can relate. We have a 15 year old who has only lived with us for a year, but has had so much loss in his short life-time. He had 2 failed adoptions and everyone thinks he should be grateful that we adopted him with “all of his issues”. He has RAD, a severe sexual/pornography addiction, SPD, and anorexia to name the biggies. These are the ones they don’t know about. We don’t tell his stuff, but it is even more isolating that they judge based on what they see. I could never share his real issues with them, so I cannot share his successes in these areas either. Thank you for sharing your stories with transparency and grace. We struggle. I especially struggle with the words that are meant to kill me emotionally. I sometimes want him to be appreciative of the sacrifices we make. Then, I feel guilty because I know I shouldn’t expect it. I know he isn’t capable. He cannot love me or appreciate me or empathize with me. And it isn’t his fault. Still…some days I wish it and I wish even more that others understood it and would join me in it, even just as an ear or a shoulder.

    • Tiffany Smith

      Wow Jodie; that’s a whole lot of incredibly hard! What a brave and extraordinary woman you are to be able to hold all that for your son. You speak of him so gently and kindly, and yet the struggle is so real and raw. To have lived in this life, with just one person, just one person, who can see all of us, and still love us. What an awesome gift!

      • Jodie Tipton

        Thank you, Tiffany. You’re so right! It’s an incredible gift.

    • Kristin Berry

      Thank you for your willingness to share a part of your story. It’s tough to find a safe group of people to share with, especially when we are trying to keep our children’s information private. I’m so thankful we have a group here that we can celebrate the small wins with. I wish you the best with your son. K

  • Murray Coulter

    This situation has some familiarity to us. We have had our adopted sons since they were very young (9. weeks and 1 day). We just found out in the last year that our older son (now 9) has FASD. It was a bit of a shock, but also answered a lot of questions. It’s not an easy journey, but the small steps can be very rewarding.

    I appreciate the frankness and vulnerability that many in our everyday lives don’t get.

    • Kristin Berry

      Murray, FASD is such a tough road to travel. I’m so glad we have a community here to support us.
      Keep celebrating the small steps 🙂

  • KateBowler

    The kid sounds like a jerk who happens to have FASD. The two aren’t mutually exclusive.

    I’ve three drug- and alcohol-exposed in utero sisters adopted from foster care at ages 7, 8 and nearly 16. All of whom are law abiding, college-educated, happily married adults — and were honor students, just like me (biological child of college educated, married parents). Indistinguishable from me, in fact.

    Kids have a habit of living up (or down) to expectations.

    • Anna Lopez

      Kate, calling someone else’s kid a jerk in this situation really isn’t appropriate.

      That said, it’s important to remember that FASD combined with already-difficult temperament is more likely to cause behavioral problems. Your girls may be FASD who also happen to have more naturally mellow temperaments. Don’t be so quick to pat yourself on the back for being mother of the year – you probably got the luck of the draw to some degree.

      But, I agree that the Berrys could stand to be sterner in rebuking their smart-mouthed son. “Oh you poor baby, I shouldn’t have taken you on a fifteen-minute shopping trip after a long day” has no place in this, in my opinion. Parents work awfully hard and deserve some respect! Kids need to be made as fully aware as possible that other people have rights and feelings too.

      • Kristin Berry

        A blog post is merely a small glimpse of a much bigger story. I feel you both may have misunderstood, I never use the words “Oh you poor baby,” with my son. He is called to a much higher standard than that. I also will not intentionally create a scene in the grocery store. In this particular story our son served a consequence at home not in the grocery store line. In the interest of keeping blog posts readable we try to stick to about 750 words. This story is just a small part of our life with one of our two FASD sons. Our other son has a much more even temperament and struggles in different areas. You may be interested to read our post on disciplining a child who has FASD as well. Because I am actually a person with feelings, I’m hopeful that judgments of my parenting will be replaced with a kinder spirit. Thank you both for taking the time to share your opinion.

        • Anna Lopez

          When you put yourself out there as a blogger with a large following, you have to expect that people are going to try and understand the situation within your 750 words. If you think they misunderstood, you can become offended or just re-explain, or both.

          Whether one uses the words “you poor baby” or not, it did *appear* as though you don’t discipline him sternly enough. FASD or not, kids who are always “understood” (and/or given excuse… tired, had a long day, whatever) will grow up expecting that from everyone. My child for instance, if I didn’t curb her on the spot with a stern “this is inappropriate,” would likely grow up calling her boss a jerk and threaten to tell the CEO, then wonder why she got fired instead of accepting her explanation of, “I was just tired and it was too much for me to come to work today.”

          If you don’t do that, and I just totally misunderstood, okay. I’d have to have been there with you all evening to get the full picture.

        • Kate Pippinger

          Thank you so very much for your efforts to encourage and support those of us with hard to parent children! Your kindness, godliness and gentleness are evident and point me toward God and his grace to us all and that is awesome! Thanks again and be encouraged!!!

      • KateBowler

        The three drug- and alcohol-exposed former foster kids are my adopted sisters — not my adopted daughters. I happen to think our parents did a terrific job raising us… and the results speak for themselves.

        Sure, every kid is different — but I can’t help but think that the “therapeutic parenting” approach used by so many mommy bloggers with horrendously behaved kids doesn’t seem to be helping matters much.

  • Jennifer Hall

    I held my breath as I read towards the end of this article. I think you have nerves of steel being able to do what you did – go to the store and hold your cool while the lady was ruder than rude about a situation she prejudged instead of offering kindness.

    As a foster mom myself I have not yet run into this but think about this situation being a strong possiblility as I continue on this journey and pray that I will be able to show patience and self control instead of lashing out at people who prejudge.

    • Kristin Berry

      Keep staying strong!

  • Antonia Blayze

    While I’m glad your son understood that it was wrong to say that to you, it was the stranger’s words that reminded him that he shouldn’t talk like that to his mom, who truly cares about him. Yes, the outside world is full of judgment, but it also reflects back to us what we need to see in order to heal. Nice that the lady’s words reflected your son’s jerky-ness to him so that he could acknowledge and fix it. And way to go mom for keeping your cool!

    • Kristin Berry

      Antonia, sometimes our kids really do need to see their behavior reflected in others. It can be a learning experience sometimes to be left out or criticized by others. I’m thankful that my son took the opportunity to apologize but it still does make my heart hurt deeply to hear someone call him a name. Thank you for your encouragement.

  • Teresa Bryant

    Just heading into the 2nd full week after a diagnosis of FAS for both my 6 and 4yr old non biological children, we also have these girls younger brother of 1 yr old now and we hope that he has a larger window of opportunity to have a stable preschool period of life.. We knew the older 2 had been exposed to alcohol prenatally to a high degree. The eldest is operating at about 3 and a half yrs old and the younger at about 3 to 3 and a half. The meltdowns can be extreme right now and it is like having 2 youngsters of about the same age with one being so much larger than the other. After a parenting journey of 7 biological children an FAS child threw my parenting strategies out of the window. I am on a steep learning curve. My birth children at home are 7, 11 and 15. We are all learning together.

    • Hey Teresa, thanks for your comment. It’s an uphill battle with both mountain tops and valley lows. Hang in there.

  • Wow thank you for such a heart felt post today, being a previous foster parent myself and adopted Mom of 3 from the system we often still get the looks when one of them are having a “bad day”, some times I can blow it off and say to myself “it really doesn’t matter what they think anyways” but sometimes when Mom is having a “bad day” it can sure get to you. Thanks again, have a blessed day.

    • Kristin Berry

      Thank you for sharing!

  • Anna Lopez

    I simply do not take my daughter to the store anytime I can help it. It’s hard enough with neurotypical kids. That said, I think we can be too tolerant of their jerky behavior because they’re “damaged.” Your son knew better, though he has trouble controlling himself in the situation (like my daughter). Is it always good to be such a super-soft place to fall? When my daughter insults me like that, I always firmly remind her on the spot that her behavior is out of line and I will not tolerate it! I am her mother, I work extremely hard being her mother and I deserve some respect! If she doesn’t take her rebuke well, she also loses a privilege.

    • Kristin Berry

      We agree Anna. A blog post is only around 750 words, so I can typically only tell a small part of the story. We absolutely believe in consequences in our family. Our son is not exempt from paying a consequence just like a typically developing child.

  • Monica Hall

    Yes! Been there. This made me want to cry because you get it. Thank you.