The Myth of the “Easy” or “Difficult” Baby

My youngest kid isn’t much of a baby any longer. He’s 15 months old and letting us all know that he has opinions. For real opinions about sharing things with his sisters or not being held all of the time. He screams. He throws his body onto the floor. He tries to take a bite out of whoever is wronging him (lucky for us he still doesn’t have any teeth to speak of).

I’m starting to label him in my head. And you can imagine what the label says.

Up to now we’ve never really called him “easy” or “difficult,” but I will admit that that’s true because I actively pushed back against categorizing any of my kids in such terms. Calling young kids “laid back” or “opinionated” can make for opposite problems.

For those parents who think that their babies are “easy,” what will they think when their little one throws their first temper tantrum or refuses to adhere to parent-based sleeping scenarios? Are they swinging towards difficult since they are clearly no longer easy all the time? How else should we explain this change?

And for parents who think they have stubborn, intransigent kids, do their 2 year olds have to show wisdom and self-possession well beyond their years simply to escape from this classification? To be thought of as “normal?”

If I had such epithets following me around from childhood, I can’t imagine what I’d think of myself or what others would think of me. I know that’s not why we categorize our kids when they’re little, but truthfully, I don’t know why we do. Because kids are boring otherwise? They are magical creatures and I (usually) love spending my time with them, but we’ve all told and heard some boring kid stories. My husband gets the daily report every day at dinner time whether he wants it or not. So maybe we try to glean a little more meaning from these often slow, sometimes seemingly meaningless days. Maybe we try to look into the future and see what our “opinionated” toddler will be doing once they’re 12. I don’t know.

But I do think that putting anybody, kid or grown up, all in one personality column is nothing short of unfair to them and our ideas about them.

Focusing on the “bad” eating and the “good” sleeping and other black and white demarcations of the gray areas of life doesn’t do us any favors.

Let’s let them and us off the hook by just being ourselves. We can try to allow opposing and contrary definitions of ourselves and our kids to exist at the same time. After all, sometimes I’m patient. Sometimes I’m cruel. Sometimes I’m funny. Sometimes I’m flexible. Sometimes I’m stern. And our kids are sometimes so many things too. Let’s let them explore so that they can tell us who they think they are when they’re ready.

All the Things I’ve Been Forgetting

Besides updating this here blog, I’ve been forgetting a ton lately. A ton. It’s not the usual stuff like where’d I leave my keys? or what’s that person’s name again? It’s relational, day-to-day parenting stuff. I feel that right now I’m in a behavioral rut that I’m having a hard time finding my way out of.

Maybe somewhere along the way I’ll remember these important things again.

#1 Just because my kids are acting like assholes doesn’t mean they’ll forever be assholes!

Phew. Feels good just to yell that at myself. I’ve been seeing some (very age-appropriate) and yet very aggravating behavior from my oldest kiddo lately. Plenty of demands and direct contrariness seemingly for the sake of being contrary. Maddening! And I’ve thought about how this is what life will be like forever. I’ll ask you to do something tomorrow and the next day and the next and anytime that you don’t snarl back at me will be an exception not the rule because YOU’RE GOING TO BE LIKE THIS FOREVER! AND “THIS” IS SO ANNOYING!

Good to remind myself that my kids have been buttheads in different ways before and they’ll find different ways of aggravating me in the future for sure, but that doesn’t mean that they are permanent butts from here until I stop knowing them. Right?! RIGHT!!

#2 (As an accompaniment to #1) Just because their behavior is a little lacking right now doesn’t mean that I’M AN ASSHOLE EITHER!

Turns out that my ego is pretty wrapped up in this gig. I work to keep the stakes low for myself and them, but whether I like it or not (and sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t), my kids are a reflection of me (and my husband of course). I hear them repeating things that I say, both good and bad & it’s hard to divorce feelings of pride when my kind words are parroted back to me. Likewise it is difficult not to cringe when I hear a harsh “Stop it!” from my kids’ mouths directed at one another that sounds remarkably like my own cease and desist command.

Since I now view their collective behavior as subpar, I have to really try to show them how I want them to behave. Oh modeling! How often are you the answer to many varied questions? All the time! But how easy it is to forget, when I’m feeling frustrated and a little rattled. Everyone knows that patience and good will are not endless commodities, but finding just a little bit more for myself when my kids are in short supply would probably help everybody out. Hold on, I’m just going to check and see if Amazon has any Prime patience.

#3 What do you mean lectures don’t work?? Oh yeah. LECTURES DON’T WORK!

But that hasn’t stopped me from giving them. I’ve seemingly sent my kids off to college already based on the amount of adult reasoning and moralizing I’ve been doing at them lately. Since I have a terrible time remembering things lately (ha!) except infractions made by my kids, I see every misstep as another piece of a huge problematic puzzle. So failing to phrase something correctly when asking for a snack turns into a 7 minute diatribe on showing respect and kindness and having not just the right words but also the right INTENTION and blah blah blah blah blah. It must be maddening to listen to; for my kids and any grown ups who happen to be around when I’m bloviating.

All right. I’ll try to stop making power point presentations centered around the grammatical problems that I find in their requests to me. I’ll try to keep my “lesson teaching” under 1 minute. Maybe I’ll have a new mantra for a few days. <no lectures no lectures no lectures> We’ll give it a try anyhow.

I’m probably not going to jump right out of my little funk straight away, but at least by shouting into the void of the internet, I’ve given myself a little nudge toward remembering that we’re all ok, even if I do find myself rolling my eyes (and having eyes rolled at me) more than I’d like right now. Ugh.

3 Kids: One Perfect Excuse

One would think that I spend my days lazing about, as much as I write about it. But the truth is that I do often spend some of my time trying to figure out how to do a little less; around the house, for my kids, etc. And while having more kids seems only to increase the demands put on you by them and their need for food and clean clothes, it also gives me a really good excuse to step back from the little moments in their lives and let them experience things themselves.

How so?

Because my hands usually seem “pretty full,” as passers-by like to yell at me when they see our gaggle.

When we’re out, I often have a baby sleeping on me in the carrier. Or I’m helping my 19 month old up some stairs. Whatever the circumstance, folks want to do one of two things: a) help me out by holding a door or some other neighborly gesture or b) give me a wiiiiiiiide berth.

As my brood has grown, I have to prioritize need between the 3 of them nearly all of the time. So often, when I say no to one of them or need them to help me in some way, there is a kind adult (read: stranger) who is willing to lend them a hand. They have lifted my kids into highchairs for me, helped them reach the trash can to dispose of something, offered to carry something when I didn’t have enough hands. One very kind man even “rescued” my middle kiddo as she balked at the top of an escalator, watching the rest of us sail away from her. He picked her right up and scrambled her down to stand beside me. Phew! Thank you sir!

Now I’m not saying that I just want to rely on the kindness of other folks when I’m out with my kids somewhere. I have to be ready to do everything that is required, but since these friendly adults do often help out, my kids are learning what community really means. If I were able, I would help someone if they needed it, so why should we not accept help when it is offered? Besides learning (slowly) to wait until I’m free to tend to them, they are also learning that their immediate family members are not the only people who they can trust. In that same vein, I have never said that they shouldn’t talk to strangers, or to be wary of them. That conversation will come in some form when they venture out on their own, but for now I talk to strangers, so why shouldn’t they when we’re together?

My occasional “unavailability” also gives my kids opportunities to be more self-reliant and to actually start to grow their own relationships with other adults. When I’m around, I try hard to keep my mouth shut, but since we adults are quick to make sure that our kids are understood, I inevitably intervene and then it becomes “my relationship” with the other person rather than my kids’.

If I were just sitting idly by (without apparent reason) while my kids struggled with things, then I would have to imagine that other folks would wonder why I wasn’t more helpful. But once they see me with a baby and another kid, they tend to excuse this very real, hands-off parenting choice. I like the freedom that these kids give me to parent the way I want to. “Nope, I cannot go down the slide with you, I’m holding your brother.” It gives me the excuse to bow out of things that I don’t want to do and to encourage my kids to do things on their own when they’ll feeling unsure.

So while having a little crew of kiddos doesn’t make life easier per se, it can be the perfect excuse for doing just as I please.

Making a Big Deal (When is the time?)


One of my favorite things to do when I take my kids to the playground is to find a bench and sit on it. They often clamor to be pushed on the swings, but I try to disengage myself as much as I can from their play and allow them the room to climb, fall, figure out pumping their legs (!) and be brave on their own.

Yesterday, while I looked on from my perch, I watched my 17 month old climb the steps on the jungle gym so that she could go down the biggest (and coincidentally slowest) slide. On the way up to the top, she passed two cut outs in the railing that allow kids access to a ladder and a firefighter’s pole. The top one is pretty high up and instinctively, I wanted to warn her away from it. Like most parents, I want my kids to break as few bones as possible in their lives, so why not keep my kiddo from getting up so high?

As I sat there and watched her climb and walk past the cut out safely a handful of times, I wrestled with whether or not to say anything. I finally came to the conclusion that calling her attention to it now was not the right move. She was acting safely and me calling on her to be even “more safe” or more attentive would likely backfire. By making a big deal of this, I was afraid that she would start to climb up and then stand, gleefully close to the edge when she got to the top; forgetting about the slide altogether, just wanting to see the panicked look on my face as she played with fire gravity.

There are plenty of times for us parents to make a big deal out of something. Some safety issues are non-negotiable.

  • Holding hands when crossing the street. Big deal!
  • Running away from a parent in public. Big deal!
  • Teaching our kids not to play with poop. Big deal!

But other situations fall into a gray area.

  • Your kids hearing curse words?
  • Climbing up the slide while somebody else slides down?
  • Trying to use a knife to cut their food?
  • Farting in front of folks?

Sometimes when we make too much of a big deal over something, we don’t allow our kids the freedom to make their own mistakes. Or we call attention to something being right or wrong (or safe or dangerous) when they didn’t know (or need to know) that distinction yet. How do kids learn that curse words are taboo anyhow? Because of how we react to them! Making a big deal out of something can cause unneeded embarrassment, censorship and sometimes a basis for judging others.

I can remember times in elementary school when a kid would say or do something that other kids thought was weird or gross and the “Ews!!!!!” and “Oooohs!!!” that ensued were stifling.  Those big deals shape our behaviors as we grow and learn.

And while I don’t necessarily want my kids to yell “Butt!” in front of company, I don’t want to make a big deal of too many things. That way when something really is a BIG DEAL, they’ll know it for sure.


My Bad Behavior

I’ll start with the requisite acknowledgement that it has been a long time since I last posted anything here. Since I have ‘no one’ to apologize to, I have no apologies. I know it’s been a while. As it turns out, taking time away from a task sometimes makes it harder to return to it. Yes?

Since I last wrote, my family and I have moved (again) and I’ve had another kid. So the grand total is one 3 & 1/2 year old, one 17 month old and one 2 month old. Who would have thought that having more kids also might mean having less to say about parenting?

Luckily for me, I *still* am really only teaching life lessons to one kid. We’re working on some rudimentary “try not to be an asshole” lessons with my middle kid, but I don’t have to worry too much yet about what’s sticking and what’s not. With that said, now that the two older kids are interacting more and more as contemporaries and less as baby and child, I’m getting to watch first hand how they both deal with the trials and excitements of having a sibling (and “getting along” with that sibling). And while much of what I witness is sweet and thoughtful, much of it also seems to simply be my shortcomings played out in a bout of “who wants to share less.” Awesome, right?

As the adult with whom they spend most of their time, I am the primary person helping them to build vocabulary and strategies around being kind to others, helping themselves calm down and dealing with disappointments. Those lessons are explicitly taught many times on any given day. The problem that arises is when I’m having trouble being kind, disappointed or calm myself. As many parents know, the things that kids see and experience tend to be much more salient to them than the explanations (I often call mine “lectures”) that we try impart. So as a result of this, I see my poor behavior reflected back to me more often than I’d like.

“No pushing your sister please!” But of course, I have been known to “help” someone along with a little nudge or a pull if they’re having trouble listening to me.

“It’s not ok to try and control someone else’s body!” As though I don’t do it on a semi-regular basis.

“Sharing is a way to show you care about someone!” I say this regularly even as I guard my time, personal space and fooooooood very jealously.

“Please don’t interrupt someone when they’re talking!” Unless it’s me, interrupting anything you’re doing or saying to remind you that you haven’t returned your shoes to their proper resting place.

“Can you please help me carry this bag inside?” But I’ll cooly decline your request for help in a little while because I want you to be able to do things for yourself.

Being kind is a difficult endeavor. Sometimes it can be difficult to be kind to kids and still find room to tell them no or disappoint them by not always doing things for them. In the long run, these can be considered kindnesses, as you help them build their independence and confidence in themselves. But in the present moment, it can feel like the opposite as you look into your child’s teary eyes as they ask for help with something that you expect them to do on their own.

In our modern day privileged parenting environment, kindness is one of the themes that I hear about most. Just think how many times you have said or heard a parent say, “That’s so nice of you!” or “It’s not nice to…” We want to believe that our little (developmentally appropriate) selfish tyrants will grow up to be people who help their neighbors and remember their parents in their dotage. I want to see a glimmer of that hope for the future. But when I hear them saying the same negative things that I say, I start to think that I’m probably dooming them to remain tyrants.

I know that I can’t be perfect…ever. And I have no real desire to be. But I would love it if my kids paid a little more attention when I was on my good behavior than when I was being “bad.” Alas. As my last post said, I (generally) like that I have work on being a slightly kinder, more patient person because of my ‘day job.’ And while I’ve come a long way in the kindness department, it is made clear, sometimes by my kids’ own behaviors, that I have a long way to go.


Parenting as a Profession

If I had been alive (and my current age) 60 years ago, I would have been called a housewife. I suppose I could call myself that now, but the new turn of phrase is, of course, stay-at-home parent. When I tell people that this is how I spend my days, there tends to be a cry of “but that’s work!!” from whatever well meaning person I’m speaking with. I don’t think it’s not “work,” but I don’t think it’s the same as having an outside job that you report to everyday. For sure.

But would you believe that even after all of these years of thinking about parenting and actually doing it, I only just figured out why I like the “job” of parenting better than a job that requires a four year degree or a punchcard? There are the fairly obvious answers of a) I like spending time with my kids and being at home during the day or b) This model works best for my family or c) I can make my own schedule to a certain extent or d) I love not getting paid!

There is another reason that I like it though. Very few “professions” that I can think of (at least in our society) allow or focus on one being the best-ish kind of person that they can be. Many professions require a particular skill set, but if you’re looking for a job, rarely in the job description/requirements does it say that working to keep a level head in stressful situations is uber important. You might instead be asked to prepare quarterly reports, develop outreach strategies, write project materials or give presentations. While knowing how to do those things is important in a business or non-profit setting, they don’t necessarily help you out in real life.

Getting better at parenting however is almost always going to translate into benefits that you can apply throughout your life. If you’ve gotten really good at clear boundary setting with your kids, then chances might be better that you’ll be able to set appropriate boundaries with coworkers, family members and friends. When your kids are crying, clamoring or arguing with each other and you manage to stay relatively calm in those fraught situations, you may find yourself more easily accessing your reserves of calm when you get a flat tire on the highway or are late for an appointment.

It’s not that knowing how to make a spreadsheet isn’t important. It can be. But the “job goals” that I have for myself are teaching my kids how to be more kind than not, more calm than not and the best way that I can do that is to continue to work towards kindness and calmness myself. I’m doing the “job” that I like doing. No question. And I really appreciate that it’s teaching me some applicable skills for life along the way.

I Suck When My Kids Are Sick

Both of my kids are afflicted with seriously runny noses and pretty gross coughs right now. They’re not even in school and yet, it’s as if their bodies knew that school elsewhere was beginning. Time to start exchanging germs!

This is day 3 of their torment and mine. Much of the time life is ok and they are feeling pretty good, but as soon as the scale tips toward a little too tired, they turn into puddles of snot. My older daughter especially is bouncing back as well as a bowling ball currently. Any small twist, turn or setback is causing an uproarious amount of tears. She needs an entire reset at this point in the day. And let me tell you, I am not handling this well.

If the tone of this post isn’t already clear, I am currently pretty frustrated with my older kiddo. It’s becoming clear to me that maybe my expectations for her, at least while she’s sick, are a little too high. She forgets to say please and thank you. Much more of her talking comes out as a whine. I have to ask her to repeat herself ad infinitum because I can’t understand her through her tears. And I continue to think that she should be able to control herself more. What?!

Just get your feelings under control kiddo! It was hardly a bump at all, why so many tears? It seems that you’re yelling “No!” at me a little too often for my liking!

My patience drips out of me as fast as their noses run. I just want my older daughter to be her usual, pretty composed self. Why is it so hard to remember that she’s only 2 (though getting close to 3 really) and sick to boot? I suppose as with any episode in parenting, it’s easy to imagine that this is the new normal. It’s easy to think that all of the hard work reminding kids to be courteous and helping them build resilience has been completely brushed aside and manners and fortitude are GONE FOREVER! This is what life is like now- not enough lap for too many kids and tears for days. Sigh.

Hopefully a little processing, reflection and some apologies will help me to remember that sickness passes and my kid is still who she generally is.

The question is, who am I in this? And who will I be the next time they’re sick? Maybe they just need to get sick a little more often so that I can have some more practice at this kind of patience? What a thing to wish.

I will say that I do wish that didn’t suck quite so much just when they need me a little more.