We all know it’s an understatement to say that it’s challenging having a little one. Whether it’s your first couple weeks at home with a screaming, squishy blob, or your tenth battle of the day with a temperamental toddler, kids have a way of pushing all the right buttons. Yes, it’s true that even ten minutes of cuteness can level the playing field after a challenging day with a little monster, but who among us can honestly say that they haven’t, at some point, stared at their kid in disbelief, thinking “Why are you doing this to me? You’re driving me insane!”
Or worse yet, we’ve all hit our limit and exploded with a booming “NOOOO!” (or worse) – causing tears, hurt feelings, and guilt (if your lives are anything like mine). Sometimes I’m amazed that between navigating all the whining, screaming, fussiness, and troublemaking, you don’t hear about more parents having total nervous breakdowns.
When my second child was maybe six or seven months old, he began a brutal and protracted screeching phase. Every time he wanted or needed something, he squealed like a stuck pig. Hungry? Screeeeeech. Can’t reach your blankie? Yahhhhhhhhh. Miss your mom? Aieeeeeeee!!! Logically, I understood that he just didn’t have the vocabulary to communicate effectively. Physically, there were times that I felt like one more scream could make my ear drums collapse onto themselves. And emotionally, on especially crazy days, I’d stare despondently into my child’s gaping maw and curse internally thinking, “Why are you doing this to me???”
Then I’d remind myself – he wasn’t doing anything “to” me. I’d remember a simple quote that I ran across a few years back, when I was in the thick of it shortly after my first baby was born:
He’s not giving you a hard time; he’s having a hard time.
For years, that mantra has guided me back from the brink of insanity. When my frustration begins to grow, and I think I’m about ready to lose it, I just remind myself to look at the situation from my kid’s perspective. Nine (okay, seven) times out of ten, it changes my whole attitude and gets me to a place where I can deal with things calmly, if I’m even bothered at all.
When I read that quote, it truly changed things for me. It helped me to invoke the compassion and empathy that had previously been dulled by irritation. These little monsters are people, too, and they have way less control over their world and their emotions than we do. Life is frustrating for them, and most of the time, they don’t know why they feel the way they do, and they certainly don’t always know how to tell us what’s going on. Of course, it seems like an obvious concept, but I forget it’s truth on a regular basis.
I still remind myself all the time: my child is having a hard time. When I hurriedly change my daughter out of her cozy pajamas and into a cold shirt, she’s not resisting because she wants to annoy me* or make us late for our day. She doesn’t understand that we have plans, or, frankly, the concept of time, for that matter. When my son cries inconsolably when I snatch a sharp toy from his hands as he climbs furniture, it’s not because he’s a thankless jerk. He was having fun and doesn’t get that he could hurt himself if he fell. By seeing things from their perspective, I remember to move slowly and with deliberation when I can, explaining myself to them along the way. I remember to “make a deposit” with them in the form of hugs or attention, before expecting them to give too much to me.
This is not a magic trick, and it doesn’t solve annoying behavior right away. It is just a way to change our perspective a little, and help us parent with compassion and patience (and with fewer curse words). Everyone stays much calmer, and I think that builds on itself over time. We’re all happier – and feel much closer – as we navigate our days together.
* Disclaimer: I am sure that someday, my kids will be trying to “give” me a hard time, but until that day is clearly here, I will give them the benefit of the doubt!