Passionate About Boston
and the Moms Who Live Here

It’s Hard for Them, Too


It had been a long night and I was so close to being on the other side of it. Then halfway through the last verse of the last bedtime song, you lifted your head up. “Wawa?” you asked. I took a cursory glance around the room, knowing I wasn’t going to see a sippy cup. “There’s no water up here. You’re fine.” “Wawa?” “Honey, no.” “Wawa!” More insistent this time. And my anger flashed to the surface, fast and red and hot and fiery. A quick intake of breath. My body stiffened, my teeth clenched. And of course you felt it. Despite my quickly stifling it, you felt it as clearly as I did and you melted into me. Your tiny body shook with sobs because the person you love most in the world, the person who you depend on for everything you need, turned momentarily monstrous because you wanted water. Because you were thirsty before going to bed and you have no autonomy with which to resolve your problems.

Imagine living life with that kind of lack of control. We talk a lot about how hard it is to be a mom, and with good reason — this gig is anything but easy. But the second week of April is “The Week of the Young Child,” and in its honor I’d like to acknowledge how hard it is to be a small child.

As a therapist, I often try to imagine what life is like for young children. If I want to find a solution to difficult behavior, I first have to try to understand it. And each time I put myself in the shoes of a young child I come to the same conclusion: Not a single one of us adults could cope with the things they have to cope with.

For starters, think about being told what to do, when to do it, and how to do it — endlessly. Eat this thing that you’ve never seen before. Don’t make a rude face (what does rude mean?). It’s time to go somewhere you don’t want to go, and hurry, hurry, hurry to meet an arbitrary timeline that means nothing to you.

Imagine failing as much as a young child does. Not being able to make your hands move the right way to cut the paper, stumbling as you run across the lawn, spilling the milk you so desperately wanted to pour (and here I am, exasperated with him again).

Another bedtime example:

“Dad, tell me how the guy got up there.” “He climbed.” “NO, tell me how he got up there?” Over and over again, our son becomes more and more frustrated until I realize he meant to say, “ASK me how he got up there?”

One wrong word changing the whole sentence and causing all that frustration. Imagine constantly failing to effectively communicate with the people in your life. Day after day, struggling to find the right word, saying one thing when you mean another, mispronouncing words so much that nobody knows what you’re saying. And then having people get frustrated with YOU, lose patience with YOU.

One of my favorite books to read with the kids is “Everywhere Babies.” The last page reads, “Everyday everywhere babies are loved. For trying so hard, for traveling so far, for being so wonderful, just as they are.” I tear up almost every time I read it because it’s so true. In spite of it all, they try and they try and they try again. They greet their days with smiles, enthusiasm, and excitement. They forgive our mistakes, our flashes of fiery, unfair anger. They meet our impatience with patience (at least sometimes), they laugh and live and love with reckless abandon.

So when they push us to the edge of our limits, let’s try to remember that we’re doing the same thing to them.

Happy “Week of the Young Child”!


43 Responses to It’s Hard for Them, Too

  1. Mama Hedgehog April 21, 2016 at 3:13 pm #

    I love this article. I try hard not to get frustrated with my little one because I know most things are new to him. He doesn’t understand what is going on and he cannot control anything in his environment yet. “Your tiny body shook with sobs because the person you love most in the world, the person who you depend on for everything you need, turned momentarily monstrous because you wanted water. ” This one line sums up so much for me personally. Even when we try to hide our anger or frustration, the little person in our life can recognize the shifts and it affects them so drastically. Thank you for sharing this post!

  2. Bob Saget April 22, 2016 at 9:36 am #

    Quote… “the person who you depend on for everything you need, turned momentarily monstrous because you wanted water.”

    First, it’s more than likely that they are not actually thirsty, this is a psychological thing. Second, why would this make you angry? I never just say “No”, I usually give an explanation or make it into a story. Like “When I was little, I used to drink a glass of water right when I got in bed, but then I wet the bed and it was cold sleeping on wet sheets”. They need to understand why, not just be told “No”. I feel like this article is completely missing the point. People need to actually hone their parenting skills, not just talk about them.

    • Katie April 28, 2016 at 10:37 am #

      Your way requires no introspection into yourself as the parent. This is about honing the parent, not the skills. It’s about developing empathy for your child.

      Maybe your kid isn’t thirsty, but I bet he needs water.

    • Cory April 29, 2016 at 3:27 am #

      I tend to agree Bob. Also, wanting water is a classic sign of testing the boundaries… first it will be water, then water and toilet, then water, toilet and PBJ sandwich… you get the idea! When I say goodnight to my children, it means bed. No if’s, but’s or maybe’s. Our responsibilities as parents is to teach our children the way the world works – not to pander to their every demand.

      • Cassandra May 5, 2016 at 2:50 am #

        I always get a drink or two right before going to sleep. I cannot sleep without it. I will toss and turn for an hour for more and end up chewing the inside of my cheek or tongue overnight if I don’t drink right before trying to sleep. This was true for me as a kid too. And there are times when I am hungry at bedtime even if I ate a good dinner. I can’t sleep well when I’m hungry either. I do generally wake to pee during the night or very early in the morning but that is okay. Provide a diaper for your child or wake them for a potty trip in the night. Don’t deny them a drink or a small snack (offer carrot sticks or another veggie, if they are not really hungry you’ll know that by them turning down a healthy option). I can understand trying to keep them in their bed and no toys or tv at bedtime but as a kid that spent countless hours going crazy from hunger and thirst because it was bedtime and I was denied food and drink I will never do that to my kids. A quick drink of water or a tiny quick snack brought to them in bed and a possible overnight potty trip are not big deals.

      • Charlotte May 5, 2016 at 6:23 am #

        Isn’t Katie’s point though about understanding how they’re feeling when they push the boundary? About being more empathetic about their thoughts and feelings in that moment when we’re frustrated and tired and jad enough? That maybe they are just pushing but maybe they’re lonely, sad, trying to work up to asking something big. Not just to be all i’m the parent and you’re the child so you’ll do whatever i want you to do AND expect you to be happy?

    • SRG123 May 4, 2016 at 9:35 pm #

      If I said all of that to my two year old, it would accomplish nothing because he doesn’t yet understand consequences that will happen hours from now. And the question probably didn’t make the mom so much angry as it made her frustrated that after working that hard to get the child to bed, she knows she’s about to be back at square one.

    • Diana. May 5, 2016 at 10:02 pm #

      How rude! Danny tanner would never have written a comment like this.

  3. BreeAna Chevalier April 22, 2016 at 9:47 am #

    I want to thank you for writing this. This absolutely made me think deeper. I often get frustrated with my son, but I believe it’s also a learning experience with parents. I currently just finished my college child psychology course and this (what you wrote) is so deep and so in tune to how a child feels, it’s what our course was based off of. I’ve always loved the quote “My child is not GIVING me a hard time, my child is GIVING a hard time” what you wrote goes so much deeper! Absolutely loved it and I shared it in all my mommy groups!

    • NicoleW April 22, 2016 at 5:54 pm #

      I think you meant “My child is not GIVING me a hard, my child is HAVING a hard time.” In case anyone is confused. 🙂 This is my mantra lately…

  4. Catherine @ Ten Thousand Hour Mama April 22, 2016 at 4:24 pm #

    This is SUCH a good reminder. I easily become frustrated with my preschooler, but she maintains so much poise through so much difficulty. I often look to her as an example of how I should try to act, and this is more proof. Thank you!

  5. Lee April 22, 2016 at 8:02 pm #

    Thank you! This really brings it into perspective. It’s easy to forget where they are coming from sometimes

  6. Lilia April 22, 2016 at 8:59 pm #

    Applies to pets as well! They too forgive us on a daily basis.

  7. neha May 5, 2016 at 12:29 am #

    Nice article…. Very true

  8. Marie May 5, 2016 at 5:46 am #

    This just gave me one more thing to have mom guilt for, thanks.

    • Tovah May 6, 2016 at 1:10 am #

      Don’t feel guilty, decide to change! You are totally capable of changing the way you view your child’s behavior. So tomorrow, when your child is pushing your buttons, try to remember to look at it from their side, and maybe it will change the reaction you have. Don’t worry about what’s already happened. You can’t change it even if you wanted to. Instead try to do better in the future! Being a mama is hard! You’re doing a great job! ❤

  9. Sandra Zaffke May 6, 2016 at 1:16 am #

    I think the title tell’s all, it hard for them to, they can’t express what they need and we need to take a step back and try to think through their eyes, their just babies trying to learn.

  10. Jon May 6, 2016 at 1:51 am #

    Oh My God. Yes, it is so, so hard to be a young child. Everything is so new and so much of what they do, they’re doing for the first time. I mean, adults don’t cope too well with change, so imagine what it must be like for these kids (who have no training in change management, remember) to cope. No access to therapy, and they can’t even have an affair to take thwir mind off it. The whole thing must be so traumatic it causes them to bury their memories of that epic struggle. I know I have no recollection at all of all the hurrt, the heartache. All I remember is the joy of new experiences and my amazement with a world that was fresh and new.
    Next week, “Traumatized in the womb by mom’s choice of music.”

  11. Priyanka May 6, 2016 at 3:09 am #

    This is just so beautiful.. And with so many realisations..

  12. chaitra May 6, 2016 at 4:36 am #

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts.. After a long day at work, i too sometimes get impatient if my one year old doesnt sleep after rocking or trying for an hour, or my 4 year old, gets up after the bed time story asking for more water.. But after a moment, it dawns on me that i am the one they are dependent on.. They ask because they want to share a little more of my time.. And, my heart swells with gratitude for giving me these little angels.. Just want them to know that they can always depend on me..

  13. Jen May 6, 2016 at 10:19 pm #

    This is well meant but seriously silly… “Not one of us could cope with the things they have to cope with” huh? We all did … It was called childhood… What is true – is no child could cope with what we as adults have to cope with, nor should they… They are children and their lives should be filled with love and fun AND boundaries… When I was told no more water before bed I still loved my mother… But I also learned expectations, and how to follow the rules… Empathy is one thing but never telling your child no is incredibly dangerous… That’s how you raise entitled monsters. Parents need to raise confident happy littles and that comes with teaching boundaries and rules…

    • Jen May 6, 2016 at 10:23 pm #

      And the fact that you would get angry at your child for spilling milk or wanting water is probably something you need to work out with your own therapist

      • Carol Ane Woodard May 7, 2016 at 1:09 pm #

        Umm…Jen. Do you have children? It would be an extraordinary saint of a mom who never got angry at their child for spilling milk or wanting water…

        • Jen May 7, 2016 at 5:06 pm #

          Haha! Yes I have wonderful children… And I teach them to handle their emotions… It’s not hard to handle the little things when you’re focused on the big blessings of your life… Water or milk spills.. Def not something we would ever get angry about and I’m concerned that the crack therapist who wrote this article wouldn’t realize how silly that is.

          • Jen May 7, 2016 at 6:15 pm #

            Also, probably goes without saying but Anger is a choice… You can choose not to be angry, it’s a useless emotion in that it doesn’t help any situation… However gratitude which is also a choice is incredibly powerful – the choice is ultimately yours- you could be angry with your child for spilling milk or be grateful that you have said child and milk. And any therapist would recognize that and have some self control.

          • A horsy mother May 20, 2016 at 2:34 am #

            Wow, @Jen. Yes, you may well point out that anger is a choice. If you have never been sufficiently tired, stressed or worried (or all three at the same time) to make a bad choice, though, you really do have something to be grateful for.

  14. Dina May 7, 2016 at 12:14 am #

    Motherhood is demanding. I do not believe that one size fits all…every child has his/her own character and ways of expressing feelings. I think mom might just need to trust their gutt.

  15. Emily May 7, 2016 at 12:17 am #

    I appreciate this & think empathy is key to really meeting a young child where he/she is at. However, I want to add that if we apply our life experience as adults to a young child & assume because we see it a certain way, they must feel what we would, we are basically taking things out of context. Young children have never experienced the freedom that we as adults have, nor are they developmentally ready. the repetition, clear instructions, and boundaries placed by adults are essential & so while it may be a challenge to be a child and not have the ability to control circumstances, that’s all they’ve known it doesn’t have to be as tragic as what this article is suggesting.

  16. Cbkjessi May 7, 2016 at 7:26 am #

    Wow, thank you for sharing your views. Sometimes it helps to remind us, we aren’t always making the right choices or most patient ones either. But our common goal is to raise responsible, respectful & independent adults.

  17. yvonne May 7, 2016 at 3:06 pm #

    beautiful thank you!

  18. Mikkel May 8, 2016 at 3:42 am #

    I got sad when I read the last of Cory’s reply: “Our responsibilities as parents is to teach our children the way the world works – not to pander to their every demand”.

    For me this is completely wrong, and seems to be a very general point of view among people in the Western culture. It’s the easy way out trying to force a child to live and coexist with you in your grown-up world, and I bet it makes it easier for you to abandon your responsibilies as a parent and do important grown-up things. You can work non stop and do self-realization through sports and other hobbies and when you go to sleep every night you can tell your child and yourself that it is okay because, “THAT is how the world works”, at least for you as an adult. This point of view seems so cold and unforgiving to me, I believe that we should strive towards meeting our children eye to eye and see them as equals but that doesn’t mean we have to make them into tiny adults that needs to be compatible with all our adult needs, they are children after all, and children have needs not demands (you must be thinking of terrorist).

    Now I must look mighty pretentious to you and I’m not saying that I have perfected the way to parent because I haven’t, and I am definitely not a perfect parent, I make mistakes all the time and sometimes I hate myself for it. When I make mistakes and get angry with my child I try to remember to meet him eye to eye and most importantly I try not to force some notion that he has to know better upon him.

    It is okay to be a child and have needs and emotional outbursts, we just have to show our children that there is room for that in this grown-up world we live in.

  19. syeira May 8, 2016 at 11:40 pm #

    I appreciate this article, and wish I hadn’t read the comments. Wow! How can a few of you be so good at giving grace to your children (“oh I’d never be angry over spilled milk”), yet so sucky at giving grace to fellow parents?

    • Doug May 9, 2016 at 10:57 pm #

      You may have grace for upsetting your child over your own anger issues if that is what you would like to receive on the internet. Or you could decide for yourself not to be a ‘sucky’ parent.

  20. Doug May 9, 2016 at 10:51 pm #

    The person that wrote this article is a therapist. I think what the comments suggested was ‘why would a therapist get so angry over such trivial things?’ It doesn’t really make sense. Her child was afraid of her for getting angry. Of course the child would react that way to something so trivial. Anger should never have been apart of the equation. A therapist should recognize that as her fault and not write this terrible article as an excuse for her actions.

  21. Corneilius May 11, 2016 at 12:58 pm #

    John Holt wrote a book “Learning all the Time”.

    His observations on how infants and toddlers learn are superb, and 100% accurate.

    Other work by Joseph Chilton Pearce and David Chamblerlain have looked at pre-natal development of consiousness, and their insights are very useful.

    Quite often, we adults DO relate to children, toddlers, in ways that are less than sensitive to what it is like being a child, an infant, a toddler because we have forgotten our own experience.

    And bear this in mind, we all went through this as infants and toddlers, and it wrote a series of neural pathways and behaviours that remain until we see them and start to resolve them….. not because our parents intended it, it is just the nature of experience/environment and how the human organism ‘adjusts’ to what we are presented with.

    That experience so well described above is then repeated in schooling where for 12 years we are told what to do, what to wear, what to THINK without any adult meeting us in exploration of what we think and feel.

    The extrapolate that across a population and imagine the possible effects and emergent psychology of that population and you can begin to sense the depth of the rabbit hole of social conditioning and indoctrination – hints of which have emerged in some of the comments above.

  22. Micherisy May 13, 2016 at 6:27 am #

    wow some people are freaking mean to there kids. like no water and i mean it now bed with your dry mouth. Some of these parents need to grow up.

  23. Maria May 13, 2016 at 5:18 pm #

    Absolutely Beautiful, thank you for this article. It made me cry but it also made me think. I will from now on try as good as I can to see the life from my sons point of view❤️Tack

  24. Joan May 17, 2016 at 2:18 am #

    Good to remember this- I often think about how things are for a young child… I moved to another country, alone as a young adult, and lived (volunteered) in an orphanage in a small village where no one spoke much English for many years. They showered with a bucket, used squatty toilets, and ate food that was very strange to me and difficult for me to eat. I struggled a lot for a time, not being able to communicate well (hardly at all in the beginning), taking time to learn how to use their kind of shower and toilet, how to stomach their food- it made me feel more understanding of what little kids experience as they learn to cope with the world. It’s hard and I think it’s good to recognize that and understand their needs and struggles (no matter what your “bedtime discipline” philosophy is).

  25. Jessica May 18, 2016 at 8:46 am #

    I too cry every time I read Everywhere Babies . Kids do have a trying time of it. As do their parents. I wish I hadn’t read the comments.

    But since I did…

    Everyone needs to just give themselves and other parents a lot more grace and remember, “only love today.”

  26. Noel May 18, 2016 at 3:32 pm #

    This is a great article. Sometimes we as parents do forget how dependent they are on us and we are just to frustrated, tired, orstressed at the time to remember it. So yes while it is just a glass of water, sometimes all we can think of is relaxing “Just for a second”. It doesn’t make us bad parents or mean we Love our kids any less. We are fallible humans. And an article like this helps us to stop and realize that we are all in this learning experience together. I think it’s a sad that someone can sit there and cast judgement. If you have never experienced what the author of this article is talking about then Great On You for being the perfect parent, but don’t be that person who has to say negative things because you have never experienced or felt that way. This article offers great insight and may just be what someone needs to hear.

  27. Sally May 18, 2016 at 9:51 pm #

    I cried reading this article. It’s so true and just today I got so mad at my son who was nagging and whining non stop. I yelled out of frustration “what do you want?” He cried and of course I calmed down, picked him up and told him that I’m sorry and started asking him what is wrong. He is only 1 so he can’t talk yet and I can imagine how hard that must be for him after reading this article.

  28. Chris May 21, 2016 at 11:22 am #

    Personally, I would like to see less wishy washy parents, not more. Children need guidance and they do need to understand authority. Bedtime is one of those times when children test us because they don’t want to go to bed. You don’t have to be mean but there are too many parents in a constant state of empathy for their kids whether they need it or not. Those parents are going to get walked on by their kids and their kids will not grow up to be respectful citizens understanding the value of working for what you get. When I read articles like this, it just serves to further the problem we have in our nation right now which is a generation of people who are weak and feel entitled. If you think it doesn’t start with this kind of thing, then that explains a lot about why we are where we are right now. I agree with what someone said about the parent needing to examine herself to figure out why she would get so mad at her child instead of just dealing with the issue gently. If the child is frustrated because she doesn’t get the water, I think she will live and learning you don’t always get what you want is character building. Don’t feel sorry for the child. Ultimately, kids do want boundaries. Parents who don’t offer and enforce those boundaries are depriving their children basic needs.

  29. Vanessa June 1, 2016 at 10:23 am #

    This brought tears to my eyes! I strive to be a gentle parent, but on those challenging days, I’m going to remember this article to help me dig a bit deeper!

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