Constructive Ridicule

By Cindy Koch


Every good mom wants to teach her child manners. We try hard to model and teach our kids the honorable path. We strive to have patience and gentle words. We try to teach our boys to be strong and steadfast, and our girls to be compassionate and dependable. We are passionate about our parenting philosophies. We are diligent in our discipline. Yet, I have been shocked at the methods used by a man with his boy.

I have observed the art of mockery, compliments of my husband and young son. They can communicate and persuade in the language of derision, sarcasm, and potty-mouth slurs (at a five year old level). There is laughter, as well as ill-chosen words. From the outside it looks primitive and just silly. Most often, we get to hear a few of their back and forth jests just before dinner, as we are sitting down to a family meal.

“Hey bucket-head, get out of my seat!”

“No, that’s MY seat!”

“Oh yeah? Well if you don’t eat your chicken, you won’t have any muscles to fight for it.”

(Charlie horse and pink belly)

“Well… you’re a UNDERWEAR- head!”

Mind you, these two boys are having this “private” conversation in front of 5 other women: me and my four daughters. And let me tell you, most women do not recognize the complexity and power of these disgusting discourses. I can see the twisted eyebrows and shaking heads on my female side of the table. Often I catch myself looking disapprovingly sideways at my son, signaling him to restrain from response.


But it has been an interesting development in our family dynamic to watch my husband encourage our son with the tool of ridicule. I’m reminded of a boy in my past who had a younger brother. This little guy had a pacifier way past the age where it was cute. He stashed a few at his bedside just in case he lost one. Mom was very sympathetic, of course. Don’t tease you brother, she would say. But mom also knew about the power of ridicule. One day, when the “baby” had to grow up she unleashed the mockery of his older brother. Needless to say, the pacifier disappeared within the week.

I am fascinated that my son can learn such important lessons from such a seemingly demeaning conversation. He actually eats the chicken, while laughing at the clever name he imposed on his dad. When mistaken (on purpose) for one of the girls, he distinguishes himself and argues why he is proud to be a boy. When taunted as a weak one, he works harder to be strong. He is being trained, before my very eyes, to endure the hard things in life.

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The most reassuring part of this relationship, is my husband. He loves his son very much, and wants to give him only good things. He wrestles with a gentle arm. He ridicules with a loving smile. But he still gives the boy hard things to fight through.

Constructive ridicule seems to be reserved for men that you trust: men that can strike a derisive blow as well as they can take one. They are there to break you down and build you back up stronger. You are free to box them around to find your own bearings. They make you think harder, run faster, stand longer. They even surround you here at The Jagged Word.

I am only just learning and I’m only an observer, but I’m beginning to love the conversation. As much as my mothering instincts want to stop the fighting, I know it’s good for my men.