Confessions of a Hypocrite: I Suck at Gentle Parenting


I’ve written before about my commitment to gentle parenting.

I recently realized that my writing about gentle parenting might give the false impression that I’m generally succeeding at gentle parenting.  That I resist yelling at my kid, choosing to use a respectful tone at all times. That I never lash out with hurtful words or handle her roughly.

Sadly, this is very far from the truth. And I don’t want anyone believing things about me that aren’t true — especially if they make you feel worse about yourself.

The truth is, I yell at my kid. Quite a lot.

She’s a wonderful kid. Truly. She’s sweet and fairly cooperative. She’s funny and gentle, and not prone to tantrums or aggression (though she’s not immune to them, either. She is almost two, after all). I’ve said before that there are no bad babies, and I’d extend this to all children; but I find my Lydia to be a particularly delightful human being. She just exudes goodness.

sweet Lydia

The problem is me.

Lately, Lydia’s been going through a lot. It’s hard being a toddler. As one fantastic article (entitled, Why Toddlers Freak Out About Everything) explains,

Two-year-olds are going through a [difficult] personal crisis: They have just learned how to walk and use tools, so they really want to explore the world; at the same time, they are terrified of what that world contains and constantly fearful that their parents, whom they love and trust to a terrifying degree, will suddenly abandon them. Oh, and those same parents? They’re suddenly barking “no” all the time, seemingly just for fun. What the hell?

It’s a rough life when you’re two.

Moreover, this month my daughter’s last (read: biggest) molars have been coming in, and this has made her generally wretched. She doesn’t want to eat, preferring to breast feed all day (and night). She’s been waking up every few hours at night, wearing me out. And she wants to be held. All. DAY. She follows me around, grabbing onto my leg so I can’t walk. She stands there, immobilizing me, and weeps: “Hold me!” “Up!” and “I want Mommy!

whining Lydia

Then she wants me to read her a million books and play the same six songs on the iPod and nurse some more and then walk to the park. When I finally get her to fall asleep and I FINALLY think I have a blessed hour to myself while she naps, she wakes up crying ten minutes later.

Some days, after 48 hours of having a little whiny person attached to either my boob or leg, I lose it.

(As an introvert, I go a little loopy when I don’t have any time to myself to just sit and reflect. I need quiet and solitude to process everything. And when she just. Won’t. Leave. Me. Alone, I tend to lose my cool.)

I yell.

In fact, I first yelled at my daughter when she was only five weeks old. WEEKS! I was trying to can tomatoes, and at this point I had her in the Moby Wrap (because she just wouldn’t stop needing me!) while I inventoried my storage room. She kept whining and wiggling and I finally burst out,

“Come one! Can’t I just do something alone for five seconds?!?”

To my innocent little newborn. Because she was being inconvenient.

Since then, I’m ashamed to confess I’ve spoken these words aloud:

“Get away from me!”

“You’re driving me crazy!”

“Leave my alone!”

I have found myself running in circles away from her around the kitchen island, while she toddles behind me with outstretched arms and tears streaming down her face. And instead of feeling compassion, all I want is for her to leave me alone.

What kind of message am I sending her when I do these things? I shudder just to think of it.

I snap. I snarl. I run away from her and lock myself in a different room. Sometimes, I just can’t handle her constant presence. And that makes me mean.

* * *

One way I console myself is by reminding myself that I’m not being mean on principle.

Some parenting “experts” actually advocate making your children feel bad when you don’t like their behaviour by hitting them, isolating them, taking away privileges, et cetera, with the idea that this will teach them to behave better.

I’m not mean to my daughter because I think she deserves it or will benefit from it. Quite the opposite. I don’t think making people feel bad about themselves — at any age — does them any good. I KNOW that I’m at fault when I utter unkind words or raise my voice or shove her arms into sleeves. I just haven’t cultivated the resources or virtues to deal with my problem.

And then I regret it.

While on the one hand, the consequences are the same, regardless of my intentions (i.e. my child feels unloved); on the other hand, at least I can acknowledge my error and apologize later. I can say, “Hey — I was very wrong to yell at you. I’m so sorry. I will try to do better.” The damage has been done, but at least (hopefully) my daughter knows — or will eventually understand — that it’s not her who’s unlovable. I’m the one being unloving.

Meanwhile, I’m continually learning what I need to do to prevent the cycle from repeating itself and dealing with my own bad feelings appropriately.

I’m also trying to remind myself that I’m not being mean because I’m evil or pathetic. I’m just tired. I’m new at this. I haven’t had much practice with this kind of thing in my cushy life so far. Also, I have the kind of brain that easily overheats from too much human interaction. I’ll get better at this.

She’ll grow out of this clinginess. In the meantime, I should be more willing to let my friends and family help out with her before I reach my breaking point. And I need to remain committed to cultivating kindness, gentleness, patience, and the other Fruit of the Spirit which are so relevant to gentle parenting.

 So there you have it. I’m not always t he gentle parent I wish I was. How about you?

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  1. Thank you so much for the honesty in this. I feel you so much on the difficulty of being with your children 24/7 as an introvert. Some days it feels like GAME OVER if I don’t get the nap time quiet time I feel I deserve each day. Or man even just 5 minutes to eat my lunch in peace please! I just fed you! The loss of my alone time is one thing I did not prepare myself for when I was pregnant. Glad to hear other people are working through it too.
    AlissaBC recently posted..Simple Pleasures of SummertimeMy Profile

  2. I think you’re doing the best you can and that is Enough! Lydia is Loved and knows it; you being human won’t detract from that. :^)

    Just after I read your post, I came across this article and wondered if you’d read it? Maybe the same thing, but the ‘flip side’ perspective…
    PepperReed recently posted..Back in the Land of the Living!My Profile

  3. Amen Sister – I fail a lot too, particularly in trying not to spank. It just happens sometimes and I don’t mean to and I don’t like it! And I yell and bang my hands on tables and have even gotten to the point where I’ve slammed a door. I think the key is that we’re trying – we know how we want to parent and are working on it constantly.
    Molly recently posted..Money Tight Montessori: Montessori Inspired ToysMy Profile

  4. this is so good! i relate in so many ways. and i think the biggest thing that has helped me move forward is realizing, like you said, that i’m not evil or pathetic (what shame wants me to believe) but that I’m learning, I have my own experiences to deal with, I’ve got a lot on my plate and am running at max capacity most days …. that frees me to apologize rather than hide or chastise myself. Two is a hard age. My (intense) son is three soon and so much of our relationship is hitting this amazing stride – not always, but the understanding and trust between us is so much better than when he was turning 2.
    becca recently posted..The Beauty Myth (and Why I’m not Buying it Anymore)My Profile

  5. I thought I was doing so well at it – and then I got another one :-P I’m usually fairly patient, but when they’re both crying at the same time, I tend to snap. And always at poor Miriam, because she’s older and shouldn’t she know better? Oh wait – she’s only two. But like you, I do apologize, and I do think she understands.

    Oh, and I have totally also lost it with both my infants now – always over sleep. I’ll be holding them and bouncing them and finally just erupt “Why won’t you just go to sleep?!?!” (Because this one and the nursing? She’s fine with it, but it is totally not the cure-all it was with her sister. As in, she’s upset and I offer her the breast and she wants absolutely nothing to do with it. That’s not supposed to happen!)

    Also, I totally laughed at the image of her chasing you around the kitchen island :)
    That Married Couple recently posted..An idealized intentional communityMy Profile

  6. I love your courage and honesty for sharing this part of your struggle with us. It makes me respect you so much more, and I know it will be freeing to so many parents who are in this same place. I’m not there yet, but no one ever said parenting was easy, even when you’ve spent lots of time thinking through what kind of parent you want to be. Lydia will for sure know she is loved.
    Fiona Lynne recently posted..right now – JulyMy Profile

  7. As a fellow introvert, boy can I relate! It was hardest when my two kids were two and four. I still regret some of my behavior at that time. Yelling, stomping my feet, getting so upset when they’d be loud and/or fighting with each other and just.being.children! It helps to know it wasn’t just me and that others aren’t perfect. I could have definitely used more support at that time in our lives, but it was usually just me while my husband worked. I like your perspective on this, and while it doesn’t mean we don’t all have work to do on ourselves, it does help to know we’re not doing it for vindictive reasons like some parents do/would.

    It DOES get a lot easier for us introverts. With my teens now, it’s often ME looking for interaction with them. My how the tables have turned.
    Lisa Z recently posted..Why Hire Me (a.k.a. Why Hire a Life Coach?)?My Profile

  8. Thanks for sharing this. It must have been crazy difficult to hit the post button this time. I’m certainly not perfect either. It can be so overwhelming. I’ve snapped and yelled before too. I don’t have any family nearby so it’s just us all day while daddy is at work. Though most of my snapping was when she was younger and up for hours in the middle of the night with no rhyme or reason and nothing helped. Even without yelling, there are times I’m much more abrupt than I’d like to admit. I need my alone time too, and I’m typically rated an extrovert!

    As for the whiny clingy teething days, we survive those by baby wearing. Lately it’s been mostly the ring sling on my side so she can see and help cook/clean/whatever. It’s the only way I can feed us on those days. Do you have a ring sling?
    Michele recently posted..Motherhood With A Toddler – Sleeping ArraignmentsMy Profile

    • Those days must get so long without anyone else around to take a turn! I did use a ring sling a lot when she was younger, but she’s pretty heavy now. Sometimes I’ll put her in the Ergo, when she’s just getting unbearable.

  9. I agree with Becca that I snap less now that my daughter is 3 instead of. But I find that my daughter is MORE challenging at three so perhaps it is simply that I have more experience and more coping strategies. I read somewhere (wish I could remember where) that it’s a good thing when we lose our temper with our children. We are their first relationship and through us they learn that the world isn’t all sunshine and rainbows, that people fight and disagree and just get plain worn down. But they also learn forgiveness, how to admit that they are wrong, and how to give themselves a break. When I yell at my daughter I attempt to take a deep breath, make an observation out loud about why I just lost my temper, and then tell her what I could do about it.

    “Wow, I’m really grumpy. I could use a coffee break. Why don’t you help me get ready for bed so I can sit outside your door and drink coffee and read a book while your fall asleep.”

    I also let her see me have disagreements with other people (my husband, my mom, my sister) and see us work through them. And we help her to do these same things when she is grumpy. It’s working because a few days ago my husband and I had an argument and she came to me and said “Mom, can you tell me what the problem is?” so I told her and she said “can you take a deep breath mommy?”

    Long story short, don’t feel guilty when you snap at Lydia. It can be a huge teaching moment!

  10. Eerily, this sounds like my potential future, being an introvert as well.

  11. Hello, thank you for this article (and your blog, i love it!) Katleen, I´m mum from Czech republic, with almost 2 years old toddler too and I fully understand what you´ve written (Iˇm an introvert too, and moved to new place not long ago, so I don´t have many friends yet, so it´s sometimes difficult). And do not worry about your daughter, she will understand you love her and most importantly, she will understand that no one is perfect all the time and that it is ok to feel bad sometimes, even mum does. I always say sorry to my kid and explain her my behavior, than i hope she will understand. Sorry for my not very good english :-) Have a nice day!

  12. I’m really introverted and this is what I fear with happen with me. Especially since, as of right now, I will have to go back to work after the baby is born (not immediately, thankfully). My work involves a lot of interaction, so I am frequently maxed out on people by the time I head home. Part of my version of introversion is noise level (specifically mechanical/machine/human-made noise) and my workplace involves a lot of computers and such which all make copious amounts of noise. So not only am I maxed out on people, but I’m also maxed out auditorily. (Clearly, I need to reevaluate my profession.)
    This is going to be a mess… I’m going to need a lot of grace.
    Lily recently posted..Minimalism, Simplicity, and St*ffMy Profile

  13. Hi, just found your blog- I am trying to go more natural with my family- and I had to comment on this post. I have 6 kids ages 13 down to 2 and before I was a mom, I committed to being the best mom and never yell at my kids or get mad at them and we would do all these great things together….then reality sets in and I realized that in order to be the kind of mom I want to be, I have to really be intentional about it- it doesn’t just happen because that’s the way I thought it would be! It is a choice every day on how I will react to what my kids are doing- and there have been numerous times when I have reacted badly- but you sound like you are doing the right thing- you realize when you need to apologize and that teaches our children that they need to apologize also.
    It took me awhile, but I have figured out also that sometimes my children act out because they need more of me and sometimes they act out because they need less of me- that I am the one being clingy and they need some time to themselves! :)
    The easy part with 6 is there is always someone for my kids to play with- when there was just one, it was hard for me to just let him play by himself and not feel guilty about it. But some times, that is what is needed.
    keep up the good work!

  14. Thank you so much for this article! It´s probably the most helpful one I´ve ever read. According to my experience:

    DON´T try to be perfect (the best mother in the world)
    You´re doing your best all the time (even if you´re not sure about that)
    Forgive yourself!

    Finally, I want to say hello from the Czech Republic :-)

  15. THANK YOU!!! I stumbled upon your blog looking for new Montessori activities for my 25 month old. I was thinking (after this afternoon which included a grouchy 1st “time out” experiment sparked by my own overtired, need to get work finished, “why won’t you just put that one f’ing activity away like I asked you five times!?” idiocy on my part, resulting in tears, loneliness, and regret on all fronts. Yuck.) that whenever I finally get it together to update her shelves and activities we have an almost blissful week or two where we are both (mostly) content.

    You had me first with tears in my eyes, followed by a loud outburst of laughter. Good grief it’s important to know these things happen to everyone. I have also had the exact same experience with not weaning and not being sure we’re ready to, but am incredibly encouraged by your journey once you began. Again, thank you. I will be visiting often, I think.


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