Good mothering is about emotional choices, not physical choices


The not so hidden subtext of natural parenting is that physical choices make a mother, not emotional choices.

Specifically, natural parenting fetishizes physical proximity of mother and child. The child must spend hours trying to pass through the mother’s body (short cuts by C-section not allowed); skin to skin contact in the first hour is imagined to be critical (although there is precious little evidence to support that claim); the mother must feed her baby using her body, she must wear her baby on her body and she must sleep with her baby physically next to her in the same bed.

[pullquote align=”right” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Good mothering is not about physical closeness, but about emotional closeness.[/pullquote]

In other words, human mothers are assumed to be no different than animal mothers. If it’s good for puppy, or a kitten, or a kit or a joey, it’s good for an infant.

But the truth is very different. Human beings have a much richer existence than physical needs and their fulfillment. Human connections are not based on instinct, but on emotional connection. Good mothering, therefore, is not about physical closeness, but about emotional closeness. That’s why physical choices like natural childbirth, breastfeeding, baby wearing and the family bed are completely irrelevant.

Good mothering is actively embracing the role of caretaker, confidante, educator and moral guide that mothering entails. It means worrying, planning, consulting, advising and ultimately letting go. Should he be the youngest in kindergarten or wait a year and be the oldest? How should she handle the playground teasing? Am I expecting too much from him or does he have a learning disability? Should I let her go to the dance with the older boy or is she still too vulnerable?

It is kissing the boo-boos, helping them face the fears, stepping aside and allowing them to talk to the doctor in private when they are old enough. It is piano lessons, orthodontia, religious services, holiday celebrations. It is not responding when she says “I hate you” and never failing to respond when you see him teasing another child. It is hard, damn hard, with weeks or months that leave you exhausted or emotionally drained. Yet it is also rewarding at the deepest level, forging a bond to last a lifetime, launching a happy young adult into the world.

Natural parenting advocates, therefore, are not the best parents since children don’t particularly care how their physical needs are met. Breast or bottle? The baby doesn’t care as long as she is fed. Natural childbirth? Meaningless. Baby wearing? It depends on the baby and on the mother. Extended breastfeeding? Irrelevant in the long run (and often in the short run, too).

How do we know a woman is a good mother? We know because she cares; she cares about her children and cares about the impact that she is having on those children. To love a child is to tend an emotional connection. Specific physical choices have nothing to do with love, because there are a myriad of ways to foster and emotional connection and express a mother’s love.

My fundamental objection to the philosophies that travel under the designation “natural parenting” is that they privilege physical proximity over emotional closeness. They elevate animal instincts over human connection. It might be great for ducklings, baby badgers or lion cubs, but it hardly fulfills the needs of a human infant.

That’s not surprising when you consider that natural parenting has nothing to do with what children need and everything to do with how mothers want to see themselves. Natural parenting is a boring recipe; add the right inputs, get the right outputs. Real parenting is the work of a master chef, using the ingredients available, bringing out their inherent strengths, fashioning something new, intriguing and sublime every time.

Sadly, instead of viewing mothering as a service they willingly give their children, natural parenting advocates view mothering as a social identity that they construct for themselves, boosting their own egos in the process. That’s why discussions about natural childbirth, breastfeeding and attachment parenting are such a source of discord between women. None of those discussions are about the best way to mother a baby; they’re all about who is the best mother. It may seem like a trivial difference, but it is an immense difference and most women recognize it as such.

The most critical ingredient of good mothering is love. A child who is loved has the advantage over any other child, regardless of the specific parenting choices his mother made. It’s time to acknowledge and value the power of emotional connection and stop judging other women based on physical choices, which in the final analysis have little if any impact on children.

69 Responses to “Good mothering is about emotional choices, not physical choices”

  1. Cynthia
    December 8, 2016 at 1:34 pm #

    I hate that Dr. Sears and his fans have bastardized the whole concept of attachment.

    The real psychological concept has to do with a young child feeling secure and trusting a primary caregiver.

    Attachment Parenting, though, is a term invented by Dr. Sears, which places the emphasis on PHYSICAL closeness. There’s precious little evidence that it has much to do with developing a healthy secure attachment, in the psychological sense.

  2. New Mom
    November 28, 2016 at 4:12 pm #

    My husband and I put off having our daughter for over a decade because I was terrified of being like my mother. I’ve had many years of therapy to try to make sure that I’m nothing like her. It’s still something I struggle with and have to be constantly aware of.

    She grew up with all sorts of abuse and grew up in foster homes until she was adopted by my grandparents. Her adoptive father was a horrible, evil person. I’m glad he’s dead. My mother refused to get help for her own issues, so they became our issues too. She would often tell us “don’t ever tell anyone I ___, because they will take you away and we’ll never see you again.”, I was afraid of being separated from my siblings and father, so I never told anyone. We would get smacked around and we mostly tried to stay out of her way. Whatever I did wrong, turned into her keeping me up until all hours asking me why I hate her and try to stay awake in school the next day.
    She also had a severe shopping problem. One Christmas, I remember having tons of gifts, but we only had PB&J for about 2 months after because she couldn’t afford more food. My younger sister only sees that “Mom made sure we had a good Christmas”. I’ve given up on trying to explain that a 6 year old shouldn’t have to worry about if there will be food the next day or week. The rest of my family doesn’t understand why I hate Christmas.
    My father never once hit us, anything we did wrong turned into a conversation on why it was wrong. But he was sort of a doormat for my mother and would never tell her that something she did was wrong.

    Now as an adult with my own kid to worry about, I’ve given up on trying to make her see how screwed up things were when we were kids. My focus with her now is to establish boundaries.

  3. Dr Kitty
    November 24, 2016 at 6:00 am #

    I am expanding my skills with an Introductory course in Psychosexual medicine, which is based on psychoanalytic principles (fascinating stuff, totally not my wheelhouse) but our group agreed that “the mother” was really about a role that educated you on emotional norms and was emotionally nurturing. Usually a maternal role, but theoretically open to any caregiver in the child’s early life.

    There are a lot of our patients who don’t have good emotional intelligence and who suffer from a lack of an emotionally responsive “mother”, but who find that hard to accept because there was always food on the table, clothes on their back, a plaster for a boo-boo and a tissue for tears.

    Some of the most damaged people come from homes where their physical needs were met very well, but their emotional needs were badly neglected or met in very dysfunctional ways. If you’re neglected in every way it is sometimes easier to acknowledge that there was a problem. If your childhood was superficially “happy” it can be very difficult to see the wood for the trees.

    Trying to have that discussion as an adult with your parents is never going to be easy, but I imagine it will be even harder with someone who rationalises emotional neglect by saying that she was martyring herself to AP because it was “best” and didn’t have time or see the value in emotional responsiveness.

    I think Dr Amy has made excellent points.

    • November 24, 2016 at 7:26 pm #

      Can a mother who sees herself as martyred for her child be as emotionally available to her child? Here in is the rub – we demand women martyr themselves, then crucify them for failing to rise above the circumstances in which they find themselves. Mothering, has to be an act of freewill – the consequence of choices a woman makes freely and without resentment. It’s the resentment that undermines motherhood.

    • Cartman36
      November 25, 2016 at 5:01 pm #

      I think my mother is a shining example of this. She stayed home with my brother and I and I wish she hadn’t. I think she was overwhelmed and probably lonely and isolated. I think it would have been better for us all if she had worked. She rarely was physically abusive but I believe she was emotionally abusive. I rarely remember feeling happy and I would often wish that she and my Dad would get divorced so we could go live with him. I feel like my Dad has ownership as well because he knew what was going on and didn’t stop it. When she would get outrageously angry about something trivial (like the time I blew my nose with a paper napkin instead of a tissue because don’t you know that paper napkins cost more) he would just say that she just had to find something to be mad about today and if it wasn’t this it would have been something else. She held us accountable to things that were far beyond our control or age appropriate development. My brother is still very angry at her while I try to accept (or maybe its just my coping mechanism) that she likely lacks the self awareness to ever see or admit that she was emotionally abusive.

      • Erin
        November 25, 2016 at 7:39 pm #

        My Mother is very similar. For various reasons the dynamic of our relationship has me as the adult attempting to appease her angry child (and has ever since I can remember). There is no arguing with her and she just rewrites history to edit out any bits she’s not happy with her performance in. I’m always to blame so it’s probably no great surprise to anyone that I struggle to deal with failure, real or perceived.

        Added to that, my parents have a very dysfunctional relationship which consists of periods of relative calm followed by massive arguments over the slightest thing. Then they refuse to speak to each for a while, doing the whole “tell your Father to do x” or “Tell your Mother I’m going out” whilst they’re 2 feet apart. Finally they make up in some loved up teenage fashion before the whole circle begins again.

        One of my first clear memories is the night the massive blowout fight ended with my Father almost bleeding to death in our front hall. The paramedics found five year old me trying to clean the blood up because my Grandmother was arriving the following day.

        I know they’re toxic but I also know that pointing out their toxicity gets me nowhere because they can’t or won’t see it.

        • Heidi_storage
          November 26, 2016 at 8:58 pm #

          Wow, that’s horrifying. I’m sorry.

          • Erin
            November 27, 2016 at 11:06 am #

            I think I would have less understanding and less sympathy if I hadn’t see both my Grandmothers in action (they are both still alive). My parents grew up in pretty dysfunctional households themselves. The only thing I do can is attempt to learn from their mistakes with my own children.

            Luckily my husband is very emotionally solid even when I’m not.

      • StephanieA
        November 27, 2016 at 8:39 pm #

        I’m sorry you had to go through that. I’m a firm believer that I’m a much better working mother than a stay at home one. I really think I would lose it if I didn’t work outside the home, I find I’m much more patient when I’ve had time away from my kids.

        • Cartman36
          November 29, 2016 at 1:04 pm #

          Me as well. When I head home after work, I am ready to play and be total engaged. when I stayed home during a move, i was just trying to get to the end of the day without day drinking. LOL

    • guest
      November 28, 2016 at 2:22 pm #

      Goodness, that would explain a lot about me. I am terrible with emotions and building relationships, but afaik I’m not on the autism spectrum. What I do know is that my mother is even worse at it than I am.

    • Petticoat Philosopher
      December 4, 2016 at 3:19 pm #

      And, of course, many of these mothers practice physical neglect too. Sure, the kids may have breastmilk until kindergarten and 3 organic meals cooked from scratch a day and natural everything but we know, of course, that many of them don’t have their vaccinations and hardcore “natural health” types also eschew antibiotics and check-ups from real doctors. Even if a kid is lucky enough to avoid life-threatening illnesses, still no OTC medications for reducing fever or relieving pain in standard childhood illnesses because a fever is supposedly good for “building the immune system”. Treat everything with homeopathy or enemas! (Alternative health types seem obsessed with enemas.) Or squirt breastmilk or or unpasteurized cow’d milk on random body parts! I’ve even seen the advice to try to raise a low fever higher by putting a child into a bathtub of water that is as hot as it can be without being literally scalding, which, to me, is starting to sound less like neglect and more like abuse.

      If I’d had such a childhood, I think I’d feel some kind of way about my mother, even if she had taken special care to make sure I never had formula or processed snack food pass my lips and had never let me cry it out as a baby or sit in a playpen. (I’m pretty sure my parents let me cry it out when I was a baby sometimes. I doubt I was too happy about it at the time but I don’t remember so I don’t feel particularly scarred.) If I’d had worse luck and and had suffered needlessly from whooping cough or measles, I think we’d definitely have some issues.

      “Natural” parenting only prioritizes certain types of physical attention. It’s terrible to let a baby sleep in a crib but it’s fine to let a child suffer from symptoms of an illness that can be treated or reduced. I can’t even imagine having a sick child and doing nothing to relieve their pain.

  4. November 23, 2016 at 3:12 pm #

    What kills me is the assumption that humans act like animal mothers – but the people know so little about the broader scope of animal mothering that even that statement is strangely flawed.

    Cows, for example, do spend the first few hours tending their calf. They need to get the fur of the calf dried, encourage the calf to stand, have the calf nurse successfully and move the calf to a hidden location where they can leave the calf for hours at a time while they feed with the herd until the calf is strong enough to be introduced to the herd. Somehow, the whole “hide the calf for two weeks” bulletin didn’t make it to the AP parenting crowd.

    Or cats. Sure, cats do spend a lot of time with the litter at first because kittens are nearly helpless at birth – but the queen’s gotta eat. So, she piles the kittens up in the hidden nest and goes out hunting. Likewise, after a few weeks, the queen does get sick of the demands of the kittens. I’ve seen several of our barn cats – who do a good job raising a healthy litter a year – laying somewhere where their kittens can’t get to them and taking a rest. One especially bright queen found an amazingly laid back tom cat who liked to mother kittens and would leave her litter with him while he went hunting. She’d come back to clean, sleepy kittens who were ready to feed and sleep.

    Assorted waterfowl? Sure, their babies follow them around – but you can make a pretty solid guess of how long the group has been hatched based on the number of babies. That mallard who has 12 babies? Probably less than 48 hours old because ducklings make great snacks for raccoons.

    Natural mothering isn’t pretty. We would be better off to count our blessings than try to recreate the “real” methods of mothering.

    • Valerie
      November 23, 2016 at 4:06 pm #

      Let’s not forget the animals that eat their young. Infanticide is natural.

      • Azuran
        November 23, 2016 at 5:11 pm #

        A male killing the babies of a female to mate with her is also natural.
        And let’s not forget seahorses: Where the male is practically gestating and giving birth.
        Or cuckoo birds, who just dumps their babies in other birds nest and let others take care of them without any second thought.

        • Sarah
          November 24, 2016 at 2:25 am #

          I’d be up for switching to the seahorse or cuckoo model. Or both.

    • StephanieJR
      November 24, 2016 at 10:17 am #

      Hell, rabbits only see their kits a few minutes a day to nurse (which is a very quick squirt of milk in the mouth) in a hidden nest, and the doe will sometimes kill and eat her babies (usually newborns). They’re pretty absent mothers. The kits join the warren when they are a few weeks old, and a lot of them will die. I’d rather have a cat mother than a bunny mother.

      • Azuran
        November 24, 2016 at 12:03 pm #

        *sign* The amount of people, every single year, who bring me rabbit kits because they think they have been abandoned by the mother….

        • StephanieJR
          November 24, 2016 at 2:57 pm #

          Send them to me! On second thought, don’t; I’ve already had one bun that was born wild and hand reared (though not by me) after his mother was killed. He was pretty great, but I’m currently being smothered by just one fat rabbit and I don’t want to deal with her jealousy.

          • Azuran
            November 24, 2016 at 4:34 pm #

            It survived? I’m impressed. Hand rearing baby bunnies is close to impossible. They almost always die.

          • The Bofa on the Sofa
            November 24, 2016 at 5:57 pm #

            My wife has tried a bunch of litters, but I think only one made it to release stage

          • StephanieJR
            November 24, 2016 at 6:01 pm #

            Six years. Might have been longer, but I was still pretty ignorant about rabbit care back then. Better now, I hope; Amy just spent half the night snuggling with me, so she’s pretty happy.

          • Roadstergal
            December 8, 2016 at 3:24 pm #

            A neighbor’s cat killed a rabbit when I was a little girl, and brought the kits back to the neighbor as prizes. One of them was still alive, and it had a gash across its neck. It was a proper neonate, hairless and helpless, and I could only keep it alive two days. I still think of it, waking up to find it cold and dead. 🙁

      • Petticoat Philosopher
        December 4, 2016 at 3:45 pm #

        Interesting about the mother sometimes eating her newborns. That seems…maladaptive, especially given how many natural enemies rabbits have. Nature sure is weird.

    • Petticoat Philosopher
      December 4, 2016 at 3:38 pm #

      Awwww, your cat found a babysitter! That is adorable! 🙂 (And very much not hardcore natural mothering-approved.)

      I was thinking something similar about the idealization of animal mothering. If “natural” mothers really wanted to do that, they wouldn’t be into extended breastfeeding. I’m not an expert on farm animals but the ones with which I am familiar definitely wean their young and the mother does it when she wants to not when the babies are “ready.” When she’s fed up with nursing she will rebuff her offspring’s attempts to nurse. Hardcore lactivists would certainly never permit a human mother to assert her wants in such a way! A freaking sheep can do it but a human mother? Definitely selfish!

  5. The Bofa on the Sofa
    November 23, 2016 at 12:45 pm #

    In other words, human mothers are assumed to be no different than animal mothers. If it’s good for puppy, or a kitten, or a kit or a joey, it’s good for an infant.

    Bah. As I say in response to the (incorrect) assertion that “we are the only species that drinks the milk of another,” do you think for a minute if a cat was smart enough to milk a cow, they wouldn’t be doing that?

    Similarly for mothering. We are smart enough to have come up with different ways to do it, so we don’t HAVE TO do it like mothers do for puppies, kittens, kits or joeys.

    • namaste863
      November 23, 2016 at 1:47 pm #

      Oh God, there’s an ad for milk in the UK. Cats grow thumbs and go on the warpath for whatever brand of milk it is. It’s hysterical.

    • November 23, 2016 at 3:01 pm #

      Anyone who has ever hand-milked an animal for any period of time has stories about when the non-feral (and sometimes feral cats) decided that they deserve at least a squirt of milk per milking in return for their hunting duties. 🙂

      • Amy M
        November 23, 2016 at 3:08 pm #

        Yep..I worked on a dairy farm for a bit in college. Feral cats were all over the place, and definitely hung out where milk was likely to be spilled. One in particular (we called her Squash because she had a flat face) knew the milking schedule and was always found hanging around the collection tank when someone was in there changing the filter or whatever.

      • The Bofa on the Sofa
        November 23, 2016 at 3:55 pm #

        As I’ve mentioned before, cats drinking cream is so common so to be cliche.

        It just shows how little these morons actually think about what they claim.

        • Box of Salt
          November 24, 2016 at 1:19 pm #

          But if you acknowledge that cats drinking cream is a staple of literature, children’s or otherwise, you’ll also have to notice all the motherless children, widowers, and stepmothers.

          They can’t do that.

      • Inmara
        November 24, 2016 at 3:51 am #

        Cats and dogs gathering during the milking and waiting for their share was common sight in any rural farmhouse when I was growing up – that was almost only “human food” cats got as they were hunting mice and other small animals for living. Granted, many cats have lactose intolerance but back in those days probably they didn’t live long enough so it seemed that all cats can tolerate dairy well. One of my cats gets diarrhea if drinking milk, so I don’t give any to them, whereas my parent’s cat is drinking milk every day.

      • critter8875
        November 24, 2016 at 9:23 am #

        Mother told me the mother cat would line up her kittens for a squirt.

      • Daleth
        December 8, 2016 at 4:07 pm #

        This picture is pretty famous. It and MANY other similar ones come up if you do a google image search on “cat squirt milk cow.” I’d be willing to bet this, and in the Middle East its goat-milk equivalent, is one of the reasons cats decided to let us domesticate them. 🙂

    • Amy
      November 23, 2016 at 11:21 pm #

      Forget smart. If any other species got to experience the amazingness that is cheese or ice cream, of course they would do it!

      • guest
        November 23, 2016 at 11:55 pm #

        Haven’t our pets made this adequately clear? Whether it’s good for them or not, there are so many pets who actively seek “people food” once they get a taste of it. I have a cockatiel who goes wild for Pop Tarts. I made some for myself once and he was mad to get at them (note: I am not in the habit of feeding my pets Pop Tarts). I’ve had birds and mammals as pets who loved cheese when I let them have it. We had a cat we had to vigilantly hide the butter from, lest he lick it all up. When the opportunity arises, all kinds of animals are willing to consume dairy products made from cow’s milk.

        • BeatriceC
          November 24, 2016 at 12:09 pm #

          The Evil Attack Parrot ™* would change my transmission for a bit of cheese. He’s made it abundantly clear how divine he thinks that stuff is.

          *Since it’s impossible to tell which guest is which, and just in case you’re not one of the ones who knows who the Evil Attack Parrot ™ is, he’s a cranky 32 year old yellow nape amazon.

          • guest
            November 24, 2016 at 1:58 pm #

            I really do need to sign up for a Disqus account.

          • Empress of the Iguana People
            November 24, 2016 at 9:01 pm #

            How about Tseug, Guestish, Visitor, Gast (guest in German), Gwadd (guest in Welsh), or something like that?

      • Petticoat Philosopher
        December 4, 2016 at 3:57 pm #

        Most dogs I’ve known very much appreciate experiencing the amazingness of cheese. When I was a kid, we had to keep a pretty close eye on any cheese that was out to make sure our dog didn’t do this more often (he did get it for treats sometimes because we were softies). It’s been years since I’ve been able to have a dog but it took me years to lose the habit of closely monitering people-food. I guess I finally did though because, a few months ago, I was taking care of my friend’s dog while my friend was away on a trip and I threw out the last bit of some cheese that had gone off and forgot to shove it way down into the (covered) trashcan. I went out for a bit and came back to a tipped over trashcan, a wrapper licked clean, and a very guilty-looking pup hiding under my bed.

        So yeah, consuming dairy products from other species is most certainly not just a human thing!

    • Lion
      November 24, 2016 at 2:57 am #

      My cat and dog both happilly drink cows milk and goats milk. I’ve heard of many a lactivist type giving breastmilk to their pets too, yet they still spout that little gem about us being the only species who drink the milk of another. Anyone who has ever had to raise a rejected lamb or goat kid or donkey or foal or an orphaned calf or rhinoceros or hippo knows that they will drink whatever milk is given to them as it’s better than starving.

  6. Tori
    November 23, 2016 at 12:40 pm #

    Using the phrase ‘mother’ because of eras, but one of my favourite phrases is “the ordinary devoted mother”, by the same person who had the phrase the “good enough mother”, Donald Winnicott. I used to think “good enough parenting” was just ‘getting it right’ enough of the time, but it’s not at all. It means ‘failing’ your child in all sorts of small ways which happen naturally and gradually because we’re not perfect, but according to him this allows them to gradually learn to tolerate frustration. Further to this I understand the “ordinary devoted parent” to be considering and parenting with love with their child in their mind. I love the phrase because it’s not “special” or requires “special things”, it just is.

  7. Empress of the Iguana People
    November 23, 2016 at 12:39 pm #

    *sigh* it’s the emotional aspect that worries Dem and I. My PPD and his anxiety and depression do make life more complicated.

    • Sean Jungian
      November 23, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

      Don’t let it worry you *too* much. I come from a long line of depression and bipolar disorders as well as alcoholism and substance abuse, and suffer from anxiety and depression myself; my son has shown signs of sharing some anxiety issues although he seems to have escaped depression (so far).

      I used to feel extremely guilty for having a child that could likely be saddled with these troubles, but let me assure you that times are very much changing when it comes to mental health and mood disorders. I think one important thing I’ve tried to teach my son is that you have to take care of yourself, and part of that is knowing when you need to ask for help. He is doing an outstanding job in learning coping skills that work for him, and in being open about how he is feeling.

      Yes, it does make things complicated, and it is awful to watch as your child struggles with things you’ve also struggled with. But no one has a perfect life and perfect health, you know? I didn’t always know how to help my son, but I found him doctors and therapists that do know how.

      Nothing is easy and raising kids is no exception, but don’t discount all the good things you bring to the table as parents.

      • KeeperOfTheBooks
        November 23, 2016 at 7:59 pm #

        ^ This.
        My parents are sick, unpleasant individuals, but my having had PPD has put some of my mother’s issues into perspective for me. Having PPD per se does not a bad mom make, though of course it makes it harder. Having PPD, refusing to treat it, and taking your pain out on your kids with no self-reflection, no consideration of whether what you’re doing is fair or right, and a total unwillingness to consider options other than abusing your kids into submission *does* make you a bad mom. (Ditto substance abuse issues, etc.) I’ve snapped at my toddler before, or spoken harshly to her. I shouldn’t have. However, I’ve then nearly always given us both a time-out to cool off, apologized for what I did wrong, given her a hug, and then done something fun with her to try to distract her and cheer her up. Thank goodness that at 2, one’s whole life outlook can be turned around by the judicious application of snuggles, fruit snacks, and a story!

        • guest
          November 24, 2016 at 12:28 am #

          Hey, I’ll even admit to not having PPD, depression, or substance abuse issues, but nevertheless I get overwhelmed with my kids. I get angry. I do things you are not supposed to do (spank, yell). I do not think I am a bad parent causing irreparable harm to them. I’m working on eliminating spanking. It isn’t easy (maybe for some of you it is, but just trust me that it isn’t always easy) and I probably could use the help of a good therapist, but I’ve never found an actually GOOD one and don’t have the money to keep looking. But I *am* making progress. Yelling is even harder, but there’s different kinds of yelling, after all. There’s yelling because you’re far away and I’m too lazy to get up, which I think is benign if annoying. There’s yelling because I’m angry but the yelling dissipates the anger and everyone knows it. There’s yelling because I’m really scary angry but the yelling gets it out and my kids trust me to stop at yelling. There’s also yelling that is a prelim to hitting, and that’s not good. And there’s yelling because we are a yelling family and the yelling isn’t even angry, although it might sound like it to outsiders. So yeah, I yell. Sometimes it’s the only thing that cuts across the din. But there are rules: yell, okay, but don’t belittle. Swear if you like, but don’t call your children names, etc. But most of all: slipping up isn’t the end of the world. You *can* apologize to your kids. You can become better, and in doing so be all your kid needs. We don’t have to be perfect from the get-go. My anger took me by surprise. I never knew I had this much anger in me before I had kids. It has taken me some time to understand where it came from, but even if it’s not what anyone would describe as ideal, my kids are still loving and loved, and I tell them when I’ve screwed up – and now sometimes they tell me when I’ve screwed up, and I can accept it.

          • Inmara
            November 24, 2016 at 3:58 am #

            It’s scary how tempting it is to hit a small child who is not cooperating and laughing in your face when you’re trying to, say, change dirty diaper. I have resolved to yelling sometimes, though it’s simply pointless with him (he finds it funny, not scary; when husband raises his voice, he respects it more). Only thing that actually works is to keep calm, confidently restrain and/or remove kid from the situation and don’t expect that he will learn something from it (yet). Sounds simple, but is damn hard to follow through, especially with my temper.

          • guest
            November 24, 2016 at 2:04 pm #

            It is that immediate compliance that’s so hard. Sometimes you feel like you really, really need it NOW, but toddlers and preschoolers so rarely give it. I don’t move very fast, so stopping a bad/dangerous behavior by physically intervening isn’t always possible. A yell can give me the few extra seconds I need to get there. But no, I don’t use spanking as a discipline technique where I expect them to learn anything from it. I have other approaches that I have consciously chosen after evaluating them and trying them out. And I have really improved my control, although some of it is because my children have gained some more sense. I used to feel like I needed to get through to them any way possible about certain dangerous behaviors, but I have more trust in them not to kill themselves now, so any behaviors I don’t like are less urgent and I can afford slower responses. Or something. I’m still watchful of my anger in case some new stage of behavior brings it out again.

          • Dr Kitty
            November 24, 2016 at 3:25 pm #

            Oh, they try you sometimes.

            #2 is a typical boy.
            He climbs, and can get out of all 2 and 3 point and most 5 point harnesses. I have had him in his high chair and gone to get a spoon or something, turned around and he is standing up in the chair, out of the harness, preparing to dive over the side.

            He smiles and wags his finger saying “no no no” while he does it!

            He managed to climb onto a high stool at the breakfast bar by pushing the cat’s scratch post (which is not light) over beside it and climbing, Spider-Man style. He stood on that stool, pleased as punch saying “no no no, bad baby”!

            That child is determined to break a bone before his second birthday. Yelling is about the only thing that stops him in his tracks.

          • sdsures
            November 25, 2016 at 7:54 pm #

            “He smiles and wags his finger saying “no no no” while he does it!”

            My niece did something similar: “No no no no!”

          • Dr Kitty
            November 26, 2016 at 6:37 pm #

            I got a Houdini Stop- swear to G-d that thing is my most favourite parenting buy!

            He can no longer get out of harnesses!
            He sat in his high chair today saying “baby out, bad baby out, no out”, which I think means he has accepted defeat.

            I may actually be able to go to the supermarket and push a trolley with two hands rather than trying to carry him on my hip while pushing it with one (because he climbs out of the kid seats).

          • Empress of the Iguana People
            November 26, 2016 at 9:27 pm #

            i may need one for the toddler car seat

          • sdsures
            November 29, 2016 at 7:39 pm #


          • Mishimoo
            November 27, 2016 at 2:17 am #

            My youngest has picked up “Uh uh uh, you didn’t say the magic word! Uh uh uh!” which is hilarious most of the time, and frustrating when I’m telling him not to do somersaults down the couch or in the bath.

          • Who?
            November 27, 2016 at 3:22 am #

            Some of my now 24 year old’s first words were ‘get down’, which is what was said to him (a lot) when he climbed everything in sight. And he still hasn’t had a broken bone, despite some fairly hair-raising antics over the years.

          • Empress of the Iguana People
            November 27, 2016 at 7:00 am #

            Not sure it counts if mom falls on you and breaks your leg for you, but he’s certainly afraid of nothing.

          • StephanieA
            November 25, 2016 at 12:04 pm #

            It is terrifying how much smacking my 3 year old has crossed my mind. He went through a phase where he was awful for diaper changes, kicking and moving while I’m trying to wipe poop off his bottom. I definitely yelled some, which just made him laugh and made me more angry. I have never hit him and I am adamantly against spanking/hitting, but I can see how it happens. Toddlers are freaking tough.

        • Sean Jungian
          November 25, 2016 at 12:27 pm #

          To everyone who replied to this: thank you for sharing your experiences. It really does help to know that the overwhelmed parent who might not cope perfectly in every instance is not alone. Something the NCB/EBF/Sanctimommy crowd knows very little about.

          There were times when my son was a toddler trying my patience, when I would look at him and very clearly envision my handprint across his face, and it gave me some rough amusement to think, “Boy, wouldn’t THAT surprise him!”.

          I’ve only tried spanking once, for three days, and it just made him more defiant, and didn’t get me the behavior I was going for, so I abandoned it.

          I am not a yeller so much as I can be a Destroyer of Self-Esteem. That was my mother’s talent and you really do learn those lessons, even when you wholeheartedly believe that you are learning what NOT to do. There have been times when I have been angry and let some of it rip. The best you can do is to admit it as soon as you’re able, to apologize to your child and explain as well as possible, and to keep your eyes open for what triggers it, so you can hopefully catch it earlier and earlier.

          Good luck to everyone here and thank you for your honesty.

          • N
            November 25, 2016 at 1:23 pm #

            I would even say, that, not showing your anger and always force yourself to smile and stay calm, will irritate a child more than if he/she sees that a human being can get really angry.
            They try us, as they know, that even IF we shout and scream and sometimes let slip our hand, we will still always love them. They can be sure of that and it is a sign that they trust us, when they try us.

            If in those situations we would not show how to be angry, or how to apologize afterwards if we were too destroying in our shouting and yelling, they would not learn how to handle anger or how to accept their own anger. Anger is a feeling that belongs to us humans after all. It is just the tricky question, how to control ourselves to not permanently hit them, or call them names.

            And yes. That IS REALLY DIFFICULT! And I don’t know anyone that is perfect in that way.

            My mother could destroy self-esteem by name calling too. And Oh dear, have I learned to copy her. And the rage attacks of my father, when he resembled Jack Nicholson in Shining (he never hit us, but could destroy things). I can copy them too. And I was so sure I would never do those things too my one children. Stuff to work on…

      • J.B.
        November 24, 2016 at 8:09 pm #

        I come from a long line of bright people who drink between a little too much and a lot too much. Most of us are now medicated, and I think it’s a lot easier to manage a controlled ssri dose than self medicating. It’s tough but hopefully we can help our kids learn coping skills for when they are adults.

    • Erin
      November 24, 2016 at 2:03 pm #

      That’s one of my biggest worries too. However my husband’s family have zero history (that we are aware of) of mental health issues and one of his sister’s children is starting to show signs of depression and anxiety. It’s been really hard for them to deal with supportively as they have no benchmark.

      At least coming from an entirely bonkers family (my Dad has had at least one suicide attempt, my Mother had severe postnatal depression and spent the first 4 years of my life attempting to abandon me, one of my Great Uncles thought God was talking to him and one of my Great Aunts almost killed an innocent passerby because she had paranoid delusions and that’s just the edited version…) I’m probably better equipped to notice and deal with it.

      • yentavegan
        November 27, 2016 at 8:12 pm #

        I am humbled by your trust in this “community” to share with us the reality of your private life. I believe that if you need a place to air out issues and ask for input, the people here will answer that call with intelligence and understanding.

    • sdsures
      November 25, 2016 at 7:56 pm #

      My husband and I both deal with anxiety and depression. *hug if appropriate*

  8. sdsures
    November 23, 2016 at 11:43 am #

    *Parenting, not just mothering.

    • crazy grad mama
      November 23, 2016 at 12:15 pm #

      Although with natural parenting, it really is just mothering. Dad is just supposed to “support mom” in vague and gender-prescribed ways.

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