My Kids Talk Back To Me

When your kids are little, you’re dying for them to learn how to talk. You point to things and try to get them to repeat it. “Say truck. Truuuuckk.” (That one’s a little dicey, because it almost never comes out as “truck” and almost always slaps your li’l playdate with an “R” rating. One of my friend’s kids loved to point out all the “fire f*cks.” It seemed like the city was filled with them. “Fire f*ck! Fire f*ck!”)

Top shelf swears aside, we love it when our kids learn to talk, and if it’s at all delayed, we get nervous. My son needed speech therapy for a year and we hung on every syllable like it was a magic incantation. I wasn’t around when either of my girls learned how to speak their first or second languages, but I was there for English, and we laughed and celebrated each new word. Yay for learning and talking.

But now that everybody has all the words, they’re really starting to piss me off on the regular. My kids talk back to me.

I'm not sure where this phrase comes from, “talk back.” It's weird and sounds like it could refer to an echo or a simple reply, but there's a level of implied anarchy to it. It isn't something one aspires to. No one ever says, “Please talk back,” or, “She's so gifted at talking back.”

What is this insolent junk and how do I make it stop? If you’re currently teaching your kids to talk, maybe just reconsider because when they get older you might not want to stand there while they wave their hand in your face, cut you off, and explain why they should be allowed to go to a twelve-year-old’s coed sleepover party at her dad’s beach house one state over. What fresh hell is this new stage of parenting?

These days I can’t seem to finish a sentence around here without one of my fully formed talking spawn explaining why I’m wrong about something. I’ve taken to stroking my own eyebrows to stay calm.

“Mom, you don’t know—“


“HER mom is letting her—“


“You’re ruining my whole life!”

I’m now on the receiving end of something I did to the adults in my life so many years ago. (I still do it to this day, but now I like to think of it as intelligent discourse between two mature adults, rather than me being super bitchy and cantankerous … right guys? ... right?)

[time warp music with wavy lines]

Let us return to the late 80s, back when Roxette was telling us to listen to our hearts and Milli Vanilli blamed it on the rain. I myself was a sixth grader sporting the latest in JC Penney floral vests and stone washed jeans. I remember the charge as plain as if it were yesterday: "don't you talk back to me." Because talking back was just about the worst thing you could do. You never talked back to adults. There was even an old song about it, “Yakkity yak, don’t talk back.”

I was not always very good at this rule. From an early age, I snagged the title "Little Miss Lawyer," (Lawyer friends, that just meant I was smart and witty, right? So, COMPLIMENT) and by the sixth grade, my impertinence reached a head when I had to sit on The Bench at school.

Maybe some of you monsters sat the bench every day. This was not my normal. But by 12 years old, I couldn't hold back my mouth any longer and I Talked Back. I talked back so hard that my P.E. teacher sat me on the bench of shame out in the hallway, the bench reserved for, I assumed, eight-year-old drug dealers, violent pyromaniacs, and apparently mouthy preteens.

All these years later, my kids talk back to me. It makes me marvel at my parents' self-control because when my kids talk back, it's all I can do not to make them clean the garage with a toothbrush. Maybe my parents secretly wanted to kill me in my sleep and the fact that they didn't should earn them a medal or a Carnival cruise or something.

I like to think that my barrage of zippy comebacks brought my parents closer together. My husband is never hotter than when we're joining forces to work out consequences for our wayward talking-backers. We don’t sit them on a bench like my school did for me, but we have plenty of chores that need doing. Ahh, the melodious sound of a child cleaning the inside of my van with a shop vac. This morning one of my children wrote essays about respecting one’s parents. If your words get you in trouble, maybe writing better words will get you out.

A very small part of me loves that my kids talk back, because I know that it's an important developmental stage for them to begin thinking for themselves and pushing back on us and figuring out who they are and the choices they want to make. A little part of me loves this and respects it. We'll call this part the scientist, the part of me who sees parenting as a lovely sociological study. Unfortunately for them, that nice little sociologist part of me is encased in a super ragey dictator who wants to press the red button and rain down terror upon anyone who would stand up to my very important parental instructions.

So today as I was driving my minivan, I reveled in its clean interior, the way all the debris was sucked away from one rogue child's shop vac penance. And maybe that's the win for both of us. They talk back and exert their independence, and I get a clean van as they learn about consequences.

Parenting is hard, and with each stage, we face new challenges. I’ll pray for us all not to lose our fire-trucking minds.