Future Memories Of My Frustration

Every day, every night I worry. Am I messing this up? Am I completely failing?

This parenting shit is hard.

We’ve moved beyond the parts with Kendall that are hard because he’s not sleeping or not potty trained. We’re well out of toddlerhood and can understand 99.9% of his requests. He can tell us exactly how he feels, exactly what’s wrong.

I’m here to tell you, the next round of challenges aren’t any easier than the exhaustion and the pain of trying to decipher a toddler’s screams. Now I have the added stress of knowing that he’ll likely have memories from this time in his life, that one of the earliest memories he may have of me is my inability to keep my cool when he’s pressing my buttons.

And that, honestly, makes me cry.

It’s a battle every. single. minute. of every day. He is negotiating and contesting every request around the clock. I hate that I’m not strong enough to be the bigger person, to NEVER engage in an argument with a four year old.

I’ve tried letting him win battles… he wants to win ALL of them.

I’ve tried letting him make decisions… he’s not happy with us making ANY.

I’ve tried only positively reinforcing him… he still does the bad stuff and seems to relish in getting away with it.

I’ve tried rewarding him… he wants more.

I’ve tried taking away and timeouts… he’s not fazed.

Man oh man, this little guy is wickedly smart. The wheels in his head are always turning. He can see how to turn any situation to his favor. He is going to be an amazingly successful business man/lawyer/hostage negotiator when he grows up.

If we can get him there. If we can channel all this willfulness to the right side of the path of life. If I don’t royally screw everything up and turn him into a rebel without a cause.

If he can forgive me for the memories of my frustration… or maybe just understand them someday.

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  1. I heard once that there’s a million ways to be a good parent. I hope so. Like you, I have a VERY strong willed child. I hope that past 3, she’ll change her tune a little bit. Fewer fits, more peacefulness. The last few days have given me hope. It hasn’t been a screaming fit over every single thing. She’s not even remotely spoiled, she just wants her own way. She doesn’t get it very often. I’m sure it’s immensely frustrating for them, too. Doesn’t make it any easier on us, though. Does he show empathy? Help someone who needs it?.. and not because he thinks he’ll get a reward for it? Then chances are, you’re finding one of those million ways. I happen to think you do a great job…

  2. Children, particularly strong willed children like boys, want boundaries. They push because they want you to stand firm. It helps them build confidence. Know that you are learning this just as much as he is – Like EVERY parent before you. I am sure your mom argued with you and struggled with you, and you came out great. Its not your job to be perfect. Being perfect does not create perfect children. Give yourself a break, drink a glass of wine and enjoy being a mom even if its for 10 seconds until they push you to your limits again.

  3. It is amazing how absolutely different my boy is from his sisters. I never fed into the disparity between sexes but now? Yeah, it’s there and I’m living it every damn day with a boy who just…yells.

    All I can say is beause you are thinking of these things means you’ll make better decisions. You’ll get to a point where you can channel patience and feel like you are totally winning this shit. And then he’ll do something that’ll make you want to say, “I’m running out for bread” and never come the hell back. And it’ll go on and on but you know what? The best part is the on and on because it helps us continue to grow as parents. Believe me, we all question what we’re doing. I hope like hell my kids’ first memories are not of me losing my shit. But, it happened so often that it’s likely that’s what they’ll recall. I try to give them many more normal things to recall, but I have no idea how that’s going.

  4. You have once again managed to capture the feelings that I have had with my 4 year old daughter. Everyone who knows her agrees that she is a ‘strong-willed’ child. I have found that we will have weeks where all I feel I do is say ‘no, no, NO!’ and I’m thoroughly depressed about it and then…suddenly we emerge on the other side of this new round of testing…and my sunny, delightful child emerges again. Take heart! I hope that you emerge on the ‘other side’ soon too.

    BTW, apparently I yelled so loud the other day that ‘the whole house shook’, according to my daughter. Truly I hope she doesn’t remember THAT!

  5. I think every parent feels like they’re doing a terrible job but the truth is all kids want their way 100% of the time and at least 50% of the time they shouldn’t get their own way for safety reasons alone not to mention the ridiculousness of some of their requests. As adults we don’t always get our way and it’s a good lesson to teach our kids now.

    You’re doing great…just tell yourself that over and over. Also know you’re not alone in your doubts.

    Now I’m going to bookmark this post so when my little darling pushes my buttons I can re-read my own advice.

  6. My husband and I always joke that we need to start saving money for my daughter’s future therapy bills. Parenting is hard. Most of the expert advice only works some of the time (if you’re lucky), each child is different, and everything is changing all the time. We put so much pressure on ourselves to do it the “right” way, but the right way is often so elusive. I can relate to how you feel!

  7. You’re not screwing him up, you’re being the best mama you can be to him. Four-year-olds are tough cookies (well, so are 2 and 3 yr-olds, and maybe 5 and 6, and well, ALL of them). You’ll get through it, just take one day at a time. They are demanding and independent and trying to figure out where they fit in and when their voices can be heard, and it seems like nothing you do is right. I know, I’m right there with you. You’re not alone in your struggles on how to figure out negotiating with a 4-yr-old. We just happen to have challenging, very strong-willed little boys (and, well, girls too). This characteristic will help them be great one day….hopefully a long time from now because I don’t want mine to grow up 🙂

  8. I totally hear you and could have written this same thing for my daughter. She’s nearly 3 and we recently moved and I know a lot of this is coming from all of the changes, etc. but I was loosing my shit with her on the regular and couldn’t understand where the absolute RAGE was coming from. She is also wicked smart and negotiates like Kendall. My husband and I call her our tiny terrorist because she does/did hold us hostage with her behavior! It seriously scares me how mad I get and how quickly. Like, I just react and I’m not just mean mommy, but monster mommy. After days of tears from us both, I realized I’m the adult and I have to do something to manage myself if I’m going to be able to manage her. I googled around and found Love and Logic and they had a 2 hour webinar for $40 that was geared towards toddlers and though it hasn’t worked overnight (because I forget to use it after being up with her baby brother at night) the improvement in her behavior and mine has been incredible. When I use it, it works wonders! I feel the same way about not wanting her to remember her early years (or at this rate, all of them!) with a lunatic for a mom. Like I said, not perfect, but not expecting that…just trying everyday to do better! Good luck and you are not alone. Thanks for being so honest.

    • I’m right there with you!! I could have written this word for word about my son 9 months ago. I totally did not recognize my self when I would be loosing it on my three year old. Once I held myself accountable for my own behavior, his improved too. It is so hard living with a ‘tiny terrorist’ (which is what we called my son too!) I still have my moments, but things are improving.

    • Thank you! I hear such great things about L&L, but I hesitate to invest too much time and money into it because I feel like I’ve read about systems similar to it, and so much is dependent on my ability to keep cool, which is my biggest struggle. So I think that it’s not going to matter what method I read and learn about. If I can’t rise above arguing with a 4 year old, it’s not going to matter. That said, I definitely consider doing L&L frequently, and honestly, if I could find a book of theirs that I could download on my phone, I’d be all over it. Good luck to you!

      • Ïf I can’t rise above arguing with a 4 year old…” — swap with 3 year old and ditto! Totally agree and I think the biggest thing that is working for us (and her) is consistency. My husband and I sat down to watch it together and it was easy enough to pick up right away. We agreed on the “language” we both wanted to use, etc. and then we can both step in if the other needs a timeout of their own! 🙂 I actually had read the book before, but it didn’t really stick. I’m sure I have it in a box somewhere, but I needed help FAST and it was nice that we could download it immediately and then watch it as many times as needed over a 3 week period. Geez! I sound like I’m getting a kick back on this! Sorry! Just know how you feel and wanted to share what’s working for us! Good luck!

  9. Beautifully written, as always. As the daughter of a single mama who TRULY lost it, many many times when I was growing up, I can promise there is no way you’re doing irreparable harm to Kendall and he will, most likely, forget many of these arguments you torture yourself about. Even for all the mistakes my own mom made, I grew up with a very strong sense of being loved beyond all else, and she is still the first one I call for comfort even though she drives me crazy. Kendall will be just fine 🙂

    As mama to a strong-willed 6 year old, I can’t promise that it gets easier, just…different. These phases come and go, perpetually, changing ever-so-slightly until you have all new issues to contend with and worry over.

    I agree with the poster who said setting boundaries with a strong-willed kid is key. Over and over, we’ve tried the tactic where, as she consistently makes better choices, we loosen the reigns a bit, bending rules and being generally more flexible in our expectations as sort of a reward for her good behavior. Mistake. Although that works with some kids as a reward (it would have with me as a child, for example), my daughter sees it as an invitation to lose self-control, to argue more, to negotiate when there should be no negotiation.

    Now I say a lot of “This is not a choice. Period.” When we put the effort into being consistent even when we know it’d be easier not to enforce here and there, it’s like she relaxes and gives up the idea of fighting us. It takes time, but we’ve really been able to lessen the amount of conflict (for now…talk to me in a month when she comes up with a new thing to make my hair turn gray and fall out).

    Good luck, mama! Hang in there!

  10. As one who is FAR on the other side of this parenting thing – I can tell you not to lose hope. I had one easy child – and one that was a challenge. He was sweet, lovable, and the most hard headed person I’d ever met. You know what? Today – he is 33 years old. He is sweet, lovable, and one of the most determined, successful businessman, brother, friend, son you could ever know. The traits that worked against him as a child were tempered with the traits that worked for him. We could not be any more pleased with the outcome. Don’t give up!

  11. Just wanted to pop over and say 4 is the age where I really wondered if I had COMPLETELY screwed up parenting. I would HIGHLY recommend the Ames’ developmental books. Not parenting books – they just explain what is normal for this age. Age 4 is called Your Four Year Old: Wild and Wonderful. Wild summed it up for us!

    I also cried to some friends with older kids and they all said the same thing.

  12. I have two 4 year olds. I so get this. I read a little bit of Parenting the Strong Willed Child and a little bit of 1-2-3 Magic and both have helped so far, at least in helping me get my parenting role in check. I realized i was giving them too much control. Choices are great when it’s something you don’t mind giving up control on, but I realized I was giving them too much. Good luck! It’s hard.

  13. Hi There 🙂
    I happened upon your blog recently through Instagram. Reading this post was exactly what I’ve been needing. I am having a hard time with my almost 4 year old, and I tend to blame myself and my parenting for every little naughty thing she does. It weighs on my mind constantly…and makes me so overwhelmed that I feel like it affects how much I’m enjoying my kids right now. I know that I need to snap out of it, but I seem to be in a rut.
    I bring this up with my friends, and they are great listeners and I love them so, but it seems that none of them can quite relate to my level of worry 😉 They take it like I should — kids will be kids. I take it as, “I’m royally screwing up my kids because I don’t keep my cool 100% of the time, and THAT’S what’s causing them to not be perfect kids.”
    Anyway, thank you for this. It’s amazing how much it helps me to finally have someone else say what I feel so much of the time. May both of us find some more peace in the fact that we are doing just fine 🙂

  14. Ugh! Sorry you’re dealing with that Jill. I”m sure his first memory won’t be of you being frustrated with him. He’ll come around. We are just now doing time-outs with Charlotte. She’s 21 months and showing signs of being too smart for her own good and very “strong-willed” ::sigh:: Good luck!

  15. Jill, this is spot on. Chloe is just over 3 and she’s the best spin doctor I know! Thanks for articulating exactly what I think about.

  16. Willow Matteson on

    Hang in there! It gets tough at times, but then they turn around and do something amazing and show you all the lectures/timeouts/tantrums weren’t for nothing, the life lessons are sinking in.

    When I find myself on the
    braking point, I take a mommy time out. I’ll tie them down if I have to and go take a breather.

  17. O I feel ya and I am not to his age yet! My motto is “they all have a currency”. It may change over time and day to day but there is SOMETHING you can bargain. Now the work is finding it. Then you get to high five yourself when you figure it out…that time.

  18. Courtney Dawkins on

    I know exactly how you feel I have a 7,6, and almost 3 year old. All boys! They are tough cookies to crack at times and I fear somedays I am creating more bad memories then good but I have faith that overall they will remember the good more then the bad. I have to believe that or I will go insane.

  19. Pretty much every time I read your blog, I have a rush of ohthankGodit’snotjustme. My 4 year old son is delightful, beautiful, nerdy-smart, and hilarious, and drives me absolutely nuts on purpose. I hold it together until I lose it and then I just feel like a horrible human being who took a situation that was turning bad and dragged it straight down to crappy. My twenty month old watches as my voice gets loud and my eyes go CRAZY and now I’m a bad example for absolutely everybody. Sigh. I’m hanging my hat on the fact that I remember very little from when I was 4, so hopefully most of the bad moments won’t stick around in his little memory.

  20. I was feeling smug yesterday as my 6 month old has yet to be sick (touch wood) and yet to fall of some piece of furniture. This morning however, Karma came to bite me in the ass, as she fell off my bed onto hardwood floors on her head. She is fine but, Jesus, she scared the crap out of me. That, teething and “baby puberty” what ever the hell that is, is killing me. I got nothing but respect for anyone with more than one kid, and if one more person says it is character building, things may get ugly. God bless that glass of wine at the end of the day.

  21. So with you hon! My 4 year old was diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder earlier this year, and there have been a LOT of times I’ve lost it on him, just out of sheer frustration. I mean, I am in no way proud of it or ok with it, but there have been days that are just one long string of irrational, loud, violent tantrums and when they break me, well, I’ve learned to forgive myself for it. And our preschool director’s advice was simply to talk to him about it when we’re both calm again, and apologize and make a deal for both of you to work on things. I also thought once we were out of the woods with toddler-hood that it would get easier, but every stage of childhood comes with its own challenges.

  22. Jodi Krumholz on

    I apologize in advance for commenting on a parenting problem with a book suggestion, but this one really did help me in my time of need, because it helped me feel softer and more empathetic. It’s called “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child” by John Gottman. Good luck, and lots of empathy from over here.

  23. My daughter will be 4 in January. I’m smiling and nodding as I read this 🙂 I loose my cool A LOT with her lately, yeah, just did about an hour ago. Not okay, but sure is tough! I working on it. She has shown me just how little patience I have and my own character flaws. I need reminding myself she is not even 4, though that doesn’t make it easier! One day at a time…. Doesn’t help that my 9 month old is crawling and getting into everything!

  24. I was sooooooo beyond excited for my daughter to turn 4 because I thought the tantrums would stop and she’d be less dramatic. Boy was I WRONG. 4 years old is bad! I made the mistake of telling her she turned 4 (we had her party the weekend after) and later that day she started with “4 years old don’t like that” and “4 years old don’t have to do that”. The tantrums and drama has progressively gotten worse. I just pray 5 years old for her is better. It’s really depressing and tiring. And she’s not even an only child. I have a 6 year old son, 1 year old daughter and one on the way.

  25. Wow thanks for a look into my future. My son is 3 1/2 now and just at that point where he is potty trained, can communicate his needs and almost out of the tantrum stage. I was just thinking to myself the other day, out of the woods and another stage down. It’s only up from here. Ha! Who was I kidding right?? This parenting thing sure is hard and those darn baby books don’t teach you anything about how to really BE a present parent. All we can do is our best and learn as we go.

  26. Jazzmine DeForest on

    Man oh man I could have written this about both my boys aged 6 and 3… Parenting shit IS hard, and it really helps knowing that other moms struggle too. I read another blog religiously where the mom always seems to have her shit together. I think I try too hard to be like that and just realize that I have to be me, and do what works best for my kids and family.
    This is why I love your blog. You’re a real mom. (Until you post pics of staying at the Bacara…cuz that’s celeb status! lol)

    • I love sharing the hard stuff because there is always a reader or 20 who are going through the same exact thing. And I really do try to stay “real” on here. Even I had to pinch myself when I was at Bacara last week. Totally like a fish out of water there 😉

  27. Hey… Even rebels with or without causes can channel their willfulness after they’re not a teenager any more. Dear, sweet, Jill… You’re doing the best you can. Believe me when I say that is all you CAN do. You love your children, you wish for the best for them. Even the best parents don’t have ANY CLUE as to how to deal with a willful child. <3

  28. Um, I could’ve written this post word for word. I am so glad to know I am not alone. I wrote about it on my blog several times. Maybe they’ll make you feel better or at least let you know you are not alone. My boy is too smart for his own good, outsmarts me on the regular, and tries to negotiate/test everything. Those skills better make him a good amount of money later in life because he is going to owe me big. 🙂




  29. Oh darling.. Let me tell you of a little boy that is name Ramzees (yes I did name him after a Pharaoh ) & wow has he played that name to a T. Oldest of my children.(next mth he’s turning 14) Strongest willed person I’ve met (besides me lol) . Blood tears have come pouring from me if you will with the battles I have crossroad with him. Yet in all the turbulence and battles it seems we have had so far I also see his gentle soul when it comes to siblings (sure not always but it is there) His intelligence and his matter-ism his always questioning what and why. His wanting to know everything. In it all he has made me grow as a mother. Patience I NEVER thought I had. Faith and prayers fill my heart for him and about him. This past school year was SO SO SO difficult I can not even tell you my heart ached as I saw this amazing smart boy not putting his effort UNTIL it was too late and worked his bum off. As he graduated from 8th grade he hugged me and said Mama we did it. I love you and thank you for always being there for me and supporting me and loving me like you do no matter how I act or behave. Yes thinking about it makes me tear up. No matter HOW many battles I might have to do I will because this is the most crazy and INSANE hard of HARDEST jobs but in itself is the most rewarding and that love is like nothing that could eve be explained. Oh and FYI I tell Ram ALL the time he SO has to be a lawyer because he can go at it for HRS. and day sif need be. Just know I am sending you hugs and know it is tough OH YES but also it is SO rewarding to have a little man who is so strong willed. Watching them grow in to young men is even more awesome. Oh & Next week my kids start school & I’ll be starting Yoga 🙂 DEEEEPP BREAAATHES

    • Oh, wow. It seems like you are really working hard at this whole thing. I love your perspective. Thank you for sharing! And I hope you love yoga.

  30. My strong-willed child is 32. She turned out GREAT. Many, many times I stomped my foot and said, “But, I”M the momma!” I remember very few easy moments. Today she is an independent, happy, well-adjusted person. She has a fullfilling career, many genuine friends, and loves life. I often said….”They come with their own personality. All you can hope for is to mold character!” He will be fine. YOU will be fine. Enjoy the roller coaster ride. You will both be a better person for it in the end. Hugs to you ALL! 🙂

    • I love hearing from the mommas who have made it through to the other side. My mom says the same thing all the time… about me. It seems Kendall gets a bit of this from his momma.

  31. Samantha Creach on

    You.are.in.my.head. I never have any days an more that don’t end with reflections of my many parenting fails with my four year old that day. Sometimes I think, what of that was the last thing I ever said to him, his last memory of me…sigh.

  32. Louise Prenton on

    I am with you every step of the way. Spending the evening alone feeling like today has been another failed parenting day. We are all just doing our best.

  33. I’d really just like to hug you right now. And then pour both of us a glass of wine to commiserate. I spend so much time worrying about what my anxiety and inability to stay calm is doing to Joshua. So much. You’re not alone.

  34. I stumbled on here after re pinning a funny (& oh so true) quote of yours on Pinterest and WOW reading this (and some other comments) has made me not feel so alone! i often cry and over analyze that my 3 year old son will remember me briefly going bat shit crazy and that I’m scarring him for life because every moment isn’t perfect. Thank you so much for your honesty (and for finding humor in the HARDEST thing ever- parenting.)

  35. Pingback: Something Amazing | Baby Rabies

  36. Susan @learndhappiness on

    My three year old turned into a nightmare after her baby sister was born 8 months ago. So my struggle is how to cope with my feelings of frustration with a willful preschooler while feeling so easy with the baby. I mean, sure the baby gets into stuff, but it’s hard to get mad at her – she doesn’t know any better. The almost 4 year old totally does and then I swear she f’s up on purpose. Makes me feel rotten. So I’m right there with you. Taking it one day at a time.

    Also, bravo for writing about your feelings in a way that Kendall can read in the future without being hurt. I haven’t written about my situation bc I fear No1 would read it in 20 years and be devastated that there was ever a time when I liked the baby more than her. Beautifully witten.

  37. I too spent nights wondering if I am going to fail as amother.. my wonderful hubby pointed out to me.. BAD MOMS don’t ever wonder if they are bad moms…. so you have to be doing something right… The moms who are failing their children don’t sit up at night and worry about if they are doing it right…. They don’t worry about it at all.. So you have to be doing something right…

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