Judgment and fear

(The title of this post is the subject of the email from the reader.) Anon writes: 

I have a problem. I am the mom of an only child (daughter, newly 5), and
I don’t know what the hell I’m doing most days. I know people say kids
don’t have instruction manuals or whatever. But most other people seem
to have *some* confidence in the things they are doing. I do not. Not
one bit. All I do is question whether I’m doing the right things. And
hope to make it through the day without anyone yelling at another – and
yes, that includes me.

I am embarrassed about my parenting style, such as it is. My daughter is
not an easy child. Other people talk about their kids whining or
yelling when you tell them no. I’m in the “screaming and crying her fool
head off until the parent snaps and yells and then the kid screams some
more” boat. There’s only so much screaming I can handle.

There’s only so much not listening I can handle!  I am frequently in the
middle of a sentence *right next* to her and she starts talking about
something else. I will say something to her and ask her what I just said
and she can’t tell me. Either my child is ADHD – and I’m not saying
that lightly – (meaning that life just frustrates the crap out of her so
she screams a lot) or she is the most willful and rude child in

I try so hard to do what I should. I give limits. I encourage
confidence. I give attention. I try, I swear I do. But there’s a point
that I just cannot fight any more because I’m about to lose my shit. At
that point I try to figure out a way to get her settled without seeming
weak but I doubt it works, given the results. I think it’s made my
daughter a tyrant.  And I feel like crap about it and every time she
acts up I feel this panic and anger coming because it’s my fault. I’ve
given in too much.

There’s so much guilt, from my head and from others. I have been told
since my daughter was a baby that I give her too much attention and I’ve
been weak. “She’s your only and so you hold her too much, you don’t
make her wait when she’s crying for something, you let her have a sippy
cup of water in her bed (recommended by her pediatrician), you should
let her cry herself to sleep, oh she screams not just cries, well that’s
your fault too. Hold the door shut on her while she screams at naptime.
Sometimes they just need a swat. Do you WANT to make it so no one wants
to have her stay the night anywhere? She doesn’t do that when she’s
with us because we’re firm with her.” I hide how I deal with my daughter
a lot because some family disagrees and I can’t take the conflict. All
I’m trying to do is stay sane – and I don’t say that lightly either; I
am bipolar and I had a very hard time the first 2.5 years.

I’ve read Ask Moxie since just after she was born. I’ve seen you say
multiple times that we are the best parent for our children. Given my
track record so far I think I might be the exception that proves the

PLEASE, tell me I’m not the only one this lost and panicked every day.
Please, tell me there’s other people who are afraid to be honest about
how they parent. Please, tell me I’m not the only one so overwhelmed by
fear of judgement they’ve considered moving away where there’s no family
to judge. Okay…tell me the truth instead.

1. You are not the only one who feels lost and panicked. Parenting is REALLY REALLY HARD.

2. You’re hanging out with the wrong people. Seriously. I don’t want to say the word jackasses, but. 

The idea that responding to your child’s basic needs is going to hurt them is asinine. Picking up, cuddling, holding, responding to your child is the entire point. If someone is telling you that responding to your child’s needs is wrong or is hurting your child or is causing problems, the problem is with that person.

Give your child what she needs. That changes from day to day. It changes as she gets older. But she always needs you.  

It sounds like your daughter needs you ESPECIALLY because she is higher needs and more intense. People are who they are, and if you hadn’t responded to this little high-needs person, what would have happened to her? You are giving her the building blocks of knowing that she is loved, and home is inside her. When she’s ready she’ll walk into independence, even if she’s never as bold and independent as some other kids who are wired differently. She is who she is. And she’s lucky she has a mom who responds to her.

3. It sounds to me like she’s got some kind of protecting-her-borders stuff going on. Like she’s creating a wall of sound around herself, somehow, to either protect herself or get rid of the bad. I’ve written about Tension Releasers here and in the Tension Increasers and Tension Releasers MoxieTopic , and one thing about them is that they release the tension almost by throwing it outward. I’m wondering what would happen if you just witnessed it while she was tossing off her tension instead of feeling like you had to fix it. At the very least you wouldn’t end up yelling and making yourself feel worse.

4. I think it’ll get a little easier when she gets to school because a) she’ll be older, and b) you’ll have a wider range of kids to compare to and see that she’s normal, and c) you’ll have a wider range of parents to compare to to see that you’re normal, and d) you’ll have teachers who’ve seen tons and tons of kids to help you get perspective (and who may have great techniques to help you respond to your daughter in a way that de-escalates). Back to school is back to having another adult to help you. (Big hugs to all the teachers out there.) 

4. I wish you had some good support. I know that the commenters are going to jump in and help (and suggest some resources for parenting high-needs kids, please) . But it would be an enormous help for you if you had some other parents to be with who could see the good way you respond to your daughter and who could help you troubleshoot when you need it instead of judging. I might try Mom Meet Mom (run by our friend Julia) to see if you can find other moms nearby who are parenting their kids responsively, like you are.

And since you mentioned that you’re bi-polar, I’m guessing you’re on top of your meds. But I wouldn’t forget about nutritional support–remember that parenting sucks it out of you, so you need to make sure you’re getting enough B vitamins, magnesium, and Omega 3s (fish oil or flax seed oil) . Supplementing with those might help you feel less anxious.

5. You are not alone. And by responding to your daughter and trying different things you will figure it out. I’m sorry you’re taking so much criticism, and glad you’re protecting yourself from them.  


Readers, any support or thoughts for Anon? 


33 thoughts on “Judgment and fear”

  1. Moxie always says it just right but I just want to hug you and tell you that you are not getting it wrong! Five is very young and we are pushed into getting our kids as old as possible and expect so much of them and of ourselves. For me it was the realisation that I could reject all the ‘not responding to every need’ crap and do it my way that freed me to like my child and myself again. We did move away – about an hours drive- so that we had more autonomy in our parenting but I don’t think it was essential. Learning what all five year olds do – or six or seven – is really helpful. In my experience as a mum of two at school for the last six years is that everyone has the same problems but not everyone will admit to them. Nothing in your description sounds out of the ordinary to me! Xxx

  2. Oh, yeah.

    My second was a rage machine. By three, he could scream for two hours straight over the most idiotic things (like it rained when he didn’t want it to). Screaming, thrashing on the floor, straight through for two hours, until he was hoarse. No amount of anything we tried seemed to help. We went to "The Explosive Child" (book) for management techniques (which looks a lot like giving in, but is really a sophisticated mechanism for picking your battles). That helped a ton, because we were able to identify his physical cues for when he was locking up and going to go off, and stop it before it got going. Getting ahead of it seemed like it would be a huge exhausting ordeal, but within three days, the energy burn was much lower, because we were ahead of, not behind, the fits. In three days, he was able to ask for help when he started slipping into emotional vapor lock. It just about made me cry right there, when he looked up at me semi-glazed and said ‘Mommy I need help!’ – sudden turn from us being always the bad guys, to us being the good guys, advocates, the ones who solved what he wanted solved, the ones who make the misery stop (the kind of stuff you’re talking about isn’t fun for them, either, at least not if it is the same as we had).

    What then? We ended up discovering that Mr B had a medical condition that contributed to his emotional state and behavior (Fructose Malabsorption). He has a bad case, plus lactose intolerance (early onset), and the two also crashed his growth. He had GI symptoms as well (gas, IBS symptoms, and ‘toddler diarrhea’), plus joint pain, swelling, easy bruising, and circles under his eyes (‘allergic shiners’ – but he has few actual allergies). Change of diet changed his life – it’s all diet management for that. Whether you are dealing with something similar (which can also either complicate bipolar or be misdiagnosed as bipolar or behavioral disorders), or maybe celiac (which causes a temporary version of the same thing), or if there is ADHD, anxiety, ASD, SIBO (intestinal bacterial infection often following antibiotics), or ‘just’ a little sensitivity and a lot of smarts, there are probably groups out there who can help you get your feet under you. Even if the ‘feet under you’ is just saying ‘you are NOT CRAZY this is not just normal hard but extra hard, and ‘the usual advice’ will be a total fail here – so you get to ignore it’. Look around.

    (Plus I agree that the ‘usual advice’ you got is … well, useless crap.)

    Some things to try:
    1) Forgive yourself for not being psychic. You aren’t. If there is something up that is beyond the normal sensitivity range, how the hell are you supposed to diagnose that without a specialized degree and a ton of practical experience? You are an expert on your child, not on everything that could possibly contribute to behavior. For sanity comparison, my eldest (Mr G) got his ASD diagnosis at 15. I’m a damn fine mom, and I finally got to ‘hmm, maybe this needs help’ after 15 years. You have 10 years of free pass from me.

    2) Consider checking diet – even if there is no digestive disorder at all with your child, too much fructose will cause selfish, emotionally volatile behavior. ‘Too much’ is very individual. Check out ingredients – whole grains, honey, agave, leeks, onion, garlic, mango, watermelon, apples, apple juice (and any juice-based sweeteners), pears, peaches/pit fruits, all have a ton of fructose (and polyols which magnify the effect of fructose). Summer fresh and local foods? Likely to be a complete gut-whack for overload. If she’s sometimes a little better, and sometimes way worse, diet could be magnifying. If she has chronic constipation or periodic bouts of diarrhea or pale stools, red alert. (True for adults, too – I get really ragey if I overdo fructose, and I’m on the very mild end.) Swap in baked potatoes, white rice, rice noodles (like the thai noodles), oranges, orange juice, blueberries, mandarin oranges (in sugar)/clementines, and herbs instead of onion/garlic. See if that helps take it down a notch. Also watch for HFCS, not because it is evil but because it is so common that it can stack up the fructose load really high really fast.

    3) Get a baseline assessment done. Miss M, my constant motion machine, anxious enough to be in early intervention for it before 3 years old, had sensory processing issues, and a sensory diet helped. Baselining meant I got advice on how to manage things better for her, without having to guess – I got educated, experienced guidance. A mini-trampoline was an essential when she was getting wound up, and going and bouncing for 10 minutes would wind everything down again (this worked for all of them, actually). Knowing what systems helped her and what stressed her made it easy to see where she was actually doing a ton of things to try to help herself, they just drove ME batty. Once I knew from the baseline OT/PT assessment that those things were helpful, I could find safe ways for her to do them.

    4) Full blown assessment. Mr G, finally at 15, full assessment. Whoops, he has Asperger’s. Yeah, might have been good to know that sooner than high school. Miss M, at 8, ADHD and anxiety. We didn’t spot the ADHD earlier. But in her case, early enough. And amazingly, stuff that a few months ago would have me completely losing my parental cool has started to seem like symptoms of something that may have a solution, instead of something meaningful, willful, intentional. Much easier for me to stay out of it and handle it better if I know she can’t help it, at all.

    5) Line, you, child, problem. It sounds like (maybe – can’t entirely tell from the letter) that the child and you are on opposite sides of the line, and the problem (the behavior) is over there with the child, and you are on the other side of the line facing them. Revisualize it as you and her on one side of the line, and the problem behaviors on the other side. Every time you feel angry, afraid, confused, defeated, disappointed, embarassed, lost, and like you are failing, put the two of you on one side together, and the problem on the other. It’s not easy to do. I think I learned that from the archives here, and it is BRILLIANT. Saves my butt a lot. (and yes, that’s my personal list of common parenting emotions.)

    6) Bell jar. Whenever you have to deal with a situation in public, put a mental glass jar over you and your child with everyone else outside and pretend nobody else exists. That helps me when I’m microns from losing it. Might or might not work for you.

    7) Trust that you really are doing it right. Doing it right doesn’t mean doing it perfect. It means struggling through, and almost guaranteed struggling longer than in retrospect you’ll think was sane, but struggling for the sake of your child to handle what needed handling as best you could. And then reaching out for help to people who can be trusted to answer you better than the nits you already heard from can. Asking for help is HARD. It can be crushing, when we’re taught that the only value is in doing it ourselves, the hard way. You don’t get points if you get help, the way I was raised. No score, that’s cheating. Only, that’s just a ticket for making life harder. Asking for help is proof that you’re doing this right. You’re tough, resilient, and stubborn in all sorts of good ways. You’ve stuck it out for this long, trying everything you know to do. Now, you’re looking for more information, experience, guidance. That’s as right as it gets. Nobody knows to ask, or how to ask, or who to ask, right off. It took me two kids before I got there. You’re ahead of me. 🙂

  3. Just want to add – the child I am the worst parent for is the child who has the fewest real medical or developmental issues. All I can do with her is witness and try again. It’s taken 8 years, but we’re getting to where I do it in helpful ways more than I do it in the parental-face-plant with her. Getting up and trying again, being there and trying again, next day, yep, trying again. That has all mattered to her more than me actually getting it right. She knows I won’t give up on her, or on us. Yeah, she still loves daddy more, but even in the midst of a blow up fight between us, she’ll come over for a hug if I ask, and we’ll try again.

  4. My kid is very high-needs and intense. I am a full-bore attachment parent who has gotten into things like non-violent communication and really studying parenting like its my job because of how intense he is. He is the central work of my life right now, which is not something that comes naturally to me; I frequently struggle with feelings of overwhelm. I go back and forth on whether or not what I’m about to say is true or is just something I secretly think to make myself feel better, but I think that some kids are very challenging to parent. Like my kid is just not… he is not a joiner, although he is quite sociable. He does not go along. He is very sensitive, but he is also stubborn and smart and weird and driven. I believe that the only alternative to what I am doing now – the "responsive parenting" Moxie mentions – is to adopt a parenting style that would attempt to crush his spirit, and even then I don’t know how well that would work.

    If there’s any kind of non-violent communications workshop near you, it might help. It has really helped me to get to a place where I believe that people are who they are, and all emotions are fine and valid, and also not my personal responsibility to absorb. It’s been very helpful in parenting our little intense person!

  5. Ooh, yeah, Cordy! Ditto on nonviolent communication. HUGE help in handling so much with the kids – and bonus, helpful in spotting other people being unhelpful! 🙂 (responsive parenting, attachment parenting, nvc, OT/PT, sensory processing support, you name it, we’ve leaned on it!) Even just getting a few books on it can help. Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids is the one for the age your daughter is, if I recall correctly.

  6. I just want to mention that sometimes it feels like we parent in isolation in modern American society. I see lots of other people’s lives in my Facebook feed, but it is just their highlights reel. I don’t know what goes on in their houses at 5:30, right after pickup, right before supper, that time when everyone is grumpy and frayed and prone to yelling. And I don’t interact with a lot of other young families at that time of the day, either. So I see other parents with their kids at the best times, at parties and picnics, where most kids, including my own, are on their best behavior. And I often forget that everyone, every family, every parent, every child, has really bad moments. I yell at my kids more than I would like. They yell at me more than I would like. But taken as a whole, we are a happy healthy family. But it is hard to see others as wholes, especially because I live in a suburban American world. I have to work hard to remember that life isn’t what is in the Facebook feeds and we all have bad days. That doesn’t make us bad people or bad parents.

    Also, 5 year olds can be real snots.

  7. I get to be the first to suggest a parenting group on facebook that would be a good place to vent, hear how you’re not alone, and such. It’s called Anxiety/Depression Support for Gentle Parents. I don’t know if you can ask to be in the group without and invite, and if that’s the case, please message me and we will get you added. Much love to you. We are all in this together! And I agree with eep. It’s soooo true. Some 5 year olds are quiet and chill. But most of them are in an uproar, all over the place, controlling, demanding, freaking out, AGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH and such. I think if we can NORMALIZE this behavior, instead of saying it’s abnormal, or the infernal bad we can start to let ourselves off the hook!

  8. I have a five year old boy, and the part about not listening sounds all-too familiar. We especially have trouble with anyone else but the five-year-old talking. Over and over, my husband and I say to him, "Sometimes Mommy and Daddy need to talk to each other." Say, to plan dinner before midnight. But it doesn’t sink in, and that’s part of the frustration: having to draw the same line over and over again.

    We also get a little of the "screaming and crying his fool head off" when you tell him no bit — not a lot, but it happens, usually when he’s tired or overwhelmed somehow. Sometimes it just happens. We mostly send him to his room when it happens — the other day, he actually stayed mad for over an hour and threw things against his door, effectively barricading himself in. It was like I suddenly had a teenaged daughter! But usually sending him to his room gives him the space he needs to chill out. It’s not punishment, exactly: he gets to do whatever he wants in there — but he does strongly prefer to be around other people, narrating every thought and action to them, so he has motivation to get a grip sooner rather than later and return to the normal world of people. But if we’ve got a lot of the screaming, it’s almost definitely a sleep problem. I wonder if the OP can think of something similar that might be laying the groundwork for her daughter falling apart.

    In short: most of this sounds so, so normal to me. Especially that thing where the child behaves better for others…. Mom becomes the person the child can let go in front of. Isn’t that a special lottery to win? My overall sense is that the OP’s kid is probably fine (though trust your instinct on that!), and that the best thing to do would be to let the child express herself somewhere where it won’t get on the OP’s nerves. At least half of parenting is taking good care of yourself while your kid is going through the sometimes awful process of simply growing up.

  9. Ditto Schwa De Vivre.

    You might try shifting into acceptance mode of what she is going through developmentally and behaviorally and do some more self care. Sometimes you need to reboot the dynamic. I have an almost 5 year old son (only) and hoo, yea, it is tough. Love him to bits, but sometimes parenting brings out the worst in me. Especially if I’m sleep deprived or he is (or hungry). Also, you might find a moms group as Moxie suggested so you can get support from some fellow moms instead of relatives who either forget or have no idea what parenting a young child is like. Of course she is better behaved for them! She feels safe letting emotions out with mom. Other people are novel.

  10. You’re obviously trying so, so hard. That is impressive in itself. My kids drive me nuts with the not listening. (They are 5 and 7). I feel like it takes 7 or 8 times for them to even register that I might have said anything–and that doesn’t mean they do what I ask. It is maddening. I totally understand your frustration.
    Hang in there!

  11. I second the diet angle! 1 of my 3 in particular is sensitive to gluten (don’t know if it’s coeliac; afraid to test!) and goes into vibrating berserker rages and obsessive behaviours when she has been exposed to it. she normally has iron control over herself (at age 2!) so it is pretty freaky to watch it all bust out and she’s inconsolable when it happens. Changing her diet made her a different, sunny, calm child, and also she packed on the kilos. On her best day I think she is one of the finest humans I have ever met, and it’s lovely to have more of those best days now. The other 2 react to lesser degrees to it, but I can still see them react. When she was eating gluten all the time we lived in constant fear of her next tantrum even if she did only have 2-3 a week, and considering she has a twin and an older sister too it was pretty hard to manage.

    If your daughter has any digestive symptoms at all (eg. farty, unformed stools, tummy pain, constipation, reflux or was a refluxy baby), or skin conditions (eczema, etc) or asthma, or sleep disturbances (eg. difficult to get to sleep, wakes frequently or early, stays up very late, seems sluggish in the morning) think food first and behaviour management second!

    Bets of luck. And gosh, your family needs to learn how to shut up and be supportive!

  12. Sounds like my oldest (now 11). I’m a reader, so I read bunches of parenting/discipline books. You know, the ones that go, "you do this, and your child will do this." Except she didn’t. The only way that child would go to her room for a timeout is if I carried her, kicking and screaming. The only way to keep her in her room was to lock the door or hold it closed, neither of which felt right at all. Timeout on a little stool a la Supernanny? Hahaha! Maybe if someone sat on her! Sometimes we could "head her off at the pass" if we caught it soon enough, but once she was in full-blown tantrum, nothing we did seemed to shorten it. As she got older, the full-on tantrums have (finally) seemed to gone away, but she is still highly argumentative and emotional, about what we see as minor issues.

    "Raising Your Spirited Child" helped with not feeling like I had ruined her somehow, though I didn’t find it very practical for what to do. It did help me in understanding how she felt and (sometimes) how her mind worked in certain situations. I don’t have a lot to offer you, unfortunately, because I haven’t figured out much myself. Except to forgive, forgive, forgive, your child, because it’s really hard not to take it personally. And it’s easy to say, but not so easy to believe: she was born with her own personality, her own quirks that make her more difficult to parent. It’s not disloyal or unloving to acknowledge to yourself that parenting her is more difficult than parenting a more easygoing child. And the fact that her tantrums are longer and louder than other kids’ tantrums is NOT because of parenting, no matter what anyone tells you. It’s hard to believe this when you have an only child, because parents are told in many ways that everything is their fault (or to their credit). But when we had our second child, and I laid her down in her bassinet, and she happily looked around and didn’t immediately start to cry/scream, that’s when I started to believe in my heart (rather than just intellectually) that children are born different, and that some are easier to parent than others. Yeah, I’m sure there are kids out there whose tantrums/bad behavior are mostly due to bad parenting, but I’m here to tell you that there are also kids who are just more intense in their reactions, more sensitive to things like unexpected changes in routine, lack of sleep, etc., more anxious, more negative in their approach to life. They are still lovable, can still have a good, kind heart and they still want to behave well. It’s just harder for them and thus harder for you. Give yourself some grace, and give your daughter some grace. Make a real effort to enjoy the good moments, because some days, well, moments are all you have. Relive, savor the good moments, so that you can keep in mind her good points when the situation turns dicey. She may need you to remember her good points for her, and tell her about them, because she may feel just as bad about her bad behavior (after the fact) as you do.

  13. I love how, over 6 years, through infant, toddler, then prek and k issues, Moxie’s got me covered. Once again, here’s a post that hits close to home. M oldest is 6 and 5 was one of the toughest years ever (that’s saying a lot – this kid was colicky and I could say the crying never stopped). I had many rough days over the past year when I said things I regret. Your daughter sounds like a fairly typical 5 year old who might also be a Highly Sensitive Child (HSC). I’m not a big fan of parenting books but when I took the online quiz (google Highly Sensitive Child quiz) for my daughter I was
    impressed enough with how perfectly it described my daughter that I read The Highly Sensitive Child by Elaine Aron, Ph.D. (who has also written The Highly Sensitive Person about adults which not too surprisingly described me to a T).

    The book has many helpful tips for dealing with HSC’s who need very different treatment than the average temperamented kid. Give yourself a hug, take a breath and ignore the idiots who are telling you to ignore your daughter’s needs.

    A couple of other resources that have been very helpful to me: Playful Parenting and How To Talk so Kids Will Listen & Listen so Kids will Talk are both books with many great techniques for dealing with kids. Checking out your local Attachment Parenting Group can be a great source of strength in reaffirming your decision to respond to your daughter’s needs rather than ignore them.

    Best of luck and hugs!

    1. ITA that there are components of an HSC in the OP. My son, who is 5 and an HSC also does the talking over me thing, especially when I am correcting him. Tonight he even said ‘Mommy, I don’t want to hear a sentence starting with [his name] or ‘but’. I don’t want to know about ‘hurt’. I think he generally gets overwhelmed by the idea that he’s done something wrong or hurt someone with his actions or words. And he will go to many lengths, including screaming, or talking over me, to avoid those situations in which he feels overwhelmed. Sometimes the best thing to do is to just sit, and wait. And then talk about it when the explosive or intense energy has past. Easier said than done, I know.

  14. I don’t have much new to add. I just wanted to acknowledge how hard it is to have your parenting questioned. You try so hard, it’s a slap in the face to be judged so harshly. Also, the people judging you out loud in such a confrontational way are showing some lack of social savvy/basic kindness. Sometimes, people value feeling right more than they value looking at reality. If you can back off the amount of time you spend with these folks, do it. It’s asking too much of yourself to be confident in the face of that kind of criticism.

    Also, I have three kids. I spend a lot of days wondering if the circus really will buy kids. They are all different, they are all wonderful, and they are all awful by turns. In the end, we love each other, just like you love your girl. You deserve a little space to feel good about that.

  15. Oh, this sounds so familiar that it almost hurts. We are in the middle of working out of this right now. I can tell you what is working for us right now…First we went and had a neuropsych evaluation done. It was wonderful, the psychologists were great at pointing out for all of us that it is a test to probe strengths and weaknesses. So we found out some strengths (he is super smart and kind) and weaknesses he has anxiety and ADHD. They suggested ways to play to his strengths and strengthen his weaknesses (so far therapy is the best, despite our "friends" who say talk therapy doesn’t work with 6 year olds). Finally we had some vacation time with family, turns out he is a mostly normal kid. I am sure that we will need to tweek these with time, but I really encourage the assessment. I dreaded picking him up every day last year, he dreaded every day of kindergarten-but it is getting better.

  16. Anon, you are NOT ALONE. I’ve been where you are. Many people are where you are right now…they’re just not revealing it. You’re already getting so much good advice that I can’t add anything more…except to hug you, virtually speaking.

  17. We are always so quick to blame our parenting. The criticism you are getting is ridiculous. There is nothing bad about responding to your child’s needs and being loving. You might think about investigating other issues that might be going on with your daughter. Particularly because it sounds like there are hereditary issues (i.e., you’re bipolar). My son is very difficult too, and it turns out he has high-functioning autism. Things like ADHD, ASD, anxiety, bipolar, etc. tend to relate to one another and run in families – my husband and I both suffer from anxiety and depression, and there is a lot of bipolar on my mom’s side of the family. Sometimes we focus so intensely on ourselves and what we must be doing wrong that we may overlook things that are going on with our kids that have nothing to do with our parenting. Hedra’s comment below has good suggestions in terms of looking into other things that might be going on with your daughter.

  18. A few bullet point thoughts… My older is 4 and when she was even an infant she was just different from everyone else. I felt bad going to playdates when I chased her all around the park and other kids just sat in their mom’s laps. I eventually made a decision to only associate with people (friends and family) who made me feel good about myself and stayed away from those who made me feel bad about myself. Interestingly, some of the folks that I feel good around parent very differently than I do, but we are all rooting for each other. And vice versa, some of the folks that I feel bad around parent very much like me but there isn’t a good vibe.

    I read Parenting Without Power Struggles which was life-changing. Totally changed the way I communicate with my kids, spouse, co-workers…

    I stopped reading essays on the Huff Post or WSJ blog about other people’s parenting experiences. Like no more of this "my life is so great because I work with my child to express her feelings instead of throwing a tantrum." I’m happy for that mom, but I’ve tried so hard and I can’t get that to work for me and my daughter and it was making me feel bad. Instead I’ve come up with other ways to work through things. Reading too much of that stuff, I found that I was using everyone else’s techniques but had forgotten to think about what really worked for me and my kid. Like what Cordy said.

    I am full-blown in the middle of diet eval for my younger one (not for behavior, for sleep) and I can say that it has completely overwhelmed me. I was overwhelmed by the sleep already, now I’m just cooked. I don’t know where to start – blueberries are good but for him they aren’t. He seems to do ok with regular yogurt every other day but is it the lactose or the protein? But I can’t really tell cuz someone gave him blueberries by accident.

    I spent $2.99 and invested in an app called MySymptoms and it has been extremely helpful. I found the elimination diets to be too much for our family. So now I’m feeding him the same things we’ve always eaten but logging in that app. It crunches the data and connects symptoms with foods and does the work for you. It’s only been a couple weeks but I can see that soon I will be able to see patterns and then I can either omit those foods or know what’s coming if they are consumed.

    (Also Moxie – one comment on the new format, it would be great if the box to type comments in was a little bigger so I could see more of what I’ve written without scrolling. Not sure if that’s possible, or easy…)

    Good luck.

  19. Oh, wow, I hear myself in you. Our older child is like that and always has been. We get the judgements, too. "Oh, if you only gave him enough time outs". Like someone said, yeah, we could do a time-out if we sat on him. Didn’t work. We have been working with a psychologist and it turns out what works for him is LOTS of praise, even for mundane things. Like "Great job putting your shoes back where they go!" Giving short bursts of attention for what you want him to do instead of for the not-good stuff all the time. It’s changed our lives. We also read "Setting limits with your strong-willed child" which gave a lot of good insights and ideas.

    I’ve said that i wish more people would admit this issue. There are tons of us out there, but everyone puts on a brave face because you don’t want the judgement. But people that don’t have kids like this just don’t get it and it’s easy to judge. Things that work with "most kids" just do.not.work. for ours. We are grateful for our younger child because he makes it clear that it’s NOT us — he is just so much easier to get along with than our older, high-needs child.

    Good luck to you. You are not alone, believe me. And it’s not your fault. Your child is just who she is. It’s taken me a long time to get here and I still have my doubts sometimes but it’s true.

  20. So many great comments already! You are NOT alone & you are NOT a failure.
    What so many people overlook regarding parenting is that it is a set of SKILLS (that most of us have never learned before we have a child!) And extrapolating from some of the feedback you are getting from those in your life (parents, inlaws?) – they actually don’t possess these parenting skills either, which is probably why you are struggling to learn them on your own.

    In addition to all the suggestions about diet, books to read, etc., please do talk to your pediatrician about whether your child is getting enough sleep. There is lots of evidence building that many children’s attentional and behavioral "issues" are related to not enough sleep. And then ask your pediatrician about a therapist who knows something about sleep training & about parenting skills so you can get some help here.

    Five year olds are TOUGH – they are going through enormous changes, from little kid to big kid, and they don’t know how to navigate these changes so….some of them take it out on us, their mothers.

    My other favorite blog (besides AskMoxie, of course) is The Orange Rhino — she’s working hard at providing support for all parents who wish to decrease or eliminate the use of yelling as their go-to strategy. The blog is full of support, techniques, strategies, support, did I say support? She also has a facebook feed too.

    Best wishes to you & no, you’re not alone!

  21. You are a wonderful parent! Would a bad parent even write this letter, asking for help? No. Part of being a good parent is realizing that what you’re doing isn’t working and asking for help. None of that is easy, so good for you.

    There is not an exact equation that states well behaved children = good parenting (or vice versa), just like there isn’t one between good sleeper = good parent. People who think that & judge you for it either a) don’t have kids, b) forgot what it was like, or c) suck. Perhaps even a combination of those things.

    I think there’s a lot of great advice & data points here to help you with your specific situation. One thing I’ve found is that no one will love my child like I do, and so maybe my "job" (fun as it may not be) regarding that love, is to give him the love during the hard parts. Other people’s job in loving my kid is the easy stuff, since he’s often easy to love (especially around others), and they have hard love jobs elsewhere in their lives – like maybe their marriage, in-laws or whomever.

    This is a good time to reflect in job vs. relationship, the Moxie principal (?) discussed last year or so. This is a tough job, to figure out how to help your daughter. The relationship, the one you’re creating by caring for her, especially when it’s so hard, exists outside these tough jobs.

    Big hug to you, and best of luck. There seems to be a lot of great advice here, and I hope that some or all of it is helpful to you!

  22. Everyone else has said it, but I wanted to first echo the helfpulness of "Raising Your Spirited Child." I found it when I was trying to figure out a strategy for tantrums that would work for us that wasn’t based on ignoring the behavior. I read it, and found my child, and began to understand why all of the mainstream "advice" didn’t work on my girl. I feel like I had the justification I shouldn’t have needed to parent her the way my gut was telling me she needed to be parented. She really is different from other kids.

    I’m also surprised that no one has yet mentioned Sharon Silver or her website, Proactive Parenting. http://proactiveparenting.net/ Today is the last day of a super sale on her webinars, and she is fantastic about guiding people to change parenting behaviors that haven’t been effective, or that people aren’t proud of (like yelling). There is so much there that I haven’t absorbed yet, but just her frame and her approach makes me feel better about interacting with my daughter in different ways, like the idea of "time ins" instead of "time outs." My daughter, like most spirited kids, craves connection, and thinking about responding to her this way helped me. But even still, sometimes the impatience takes over, and no matter what your intentions, you respond inappropriately. Forgive yourself, and practice again next time.

    I saw a great quote here in the archives about forgiveness–and of course it was from hedra. 🙂 I recently had a really bad parenting moment and came here looking for guidance, and found it (of course). From a very old post – but it made me feel so much better and less guilty. Thanks again to Moxie and hedra for such a supportive community.

    "Regret for the situation that moved out of your skill range and not being able to stop and recognize where to go instead – it’s okay to regret the error that you didn’t know how to not make."

    Do I still wonder if I have been over-indulgent? Sure. Do I wonder if she will ever be independent? Absolutely. But I feel like I have a lot of support and validation for rejecting the parenting beliefs or approaches that just don’t work for us, and for following my gut in trying to be a better parent.

    1. Yesterday, my very curious daughter had been talking and asking questions almost non-stop for an hour – driving home, picking up the other kid, in the house, etc. I was trying to get two sentences in with my husband and she continued on and on ("mama when the man in the wheelchair gets to his home, how does he get in the door if it has steps?"). I couldn’t help it, walked out into the living room and yelled "SHUT UP!". Honestly, it felt really good. And it worked. And a few minutes later when we sat down to dinner she didn’t miss a beat and started up with why some sunsets are pink and some are orange.

      1. OMG, I can so relate to this! My 4 y/o talks constantly in the afternoons when I’m home alone with him. And when he isn’t talking to me he’s talking to himself, often whispering random sounds and words under his breath. All. The. Time. It makes me crazy and there have been times I’ve yelled at him to shut up after repeatedly asking him to stop making noise with his mouth.

        My current strategy is to teach my kids there are certain behaviors and/or sounds that make me lose my shit and times I’m more susceptible to flipping out. In traffic or times when I’m already trying to do three things at once and they start bugging me about getting them water or something. Warning them I’m getting stressed out and they need to give me space or I’ll probably start yelling. No idea if this is in anyway a psychologically healthy plan but my goal is to make it about my boundaries rather than about them misbehaving. Mostly because some of the behaviors that set me off are normal kid stuff. We’ll see how it works. 🙂

  23. I want to echo all the words of support that have posted here already, and I wanted to add there is nothing wrong or weird about fantasizing about moving away from family because they judge your parenting. We all want to escape from people who make us feel terrible about ourselves. If my family made me feel like a failure all the time, so I had to hide my authentic self from them, I wouldn’t want to live near them, either. You are looking for respect and support, and you deserve both of those things. We all do.

  24. I’m right there with you anon. My son turned 5 this summer and managed to get kicked out of camp. I’m still a little miffed about it and think they should have handled it differently…but a lot of the feedback I got from people was "you need to be more stern" "he needs more consequences". AGH!
    The other day he was laying on the couch and it hit me that society now has all these expectations for a kid his age. At 2,3,4 years old, it seems like most people give them a pass- think ‘terrible twos’, but that changes when they get to be 5,6. He’s expected to know how to behave, be friendly, use his words, not hit. If he CAN control himself he will, but when his brain goes off track he CAN’T.
    I can recommend a non-profit parenting group that I absolutely love. Their website has a lot of free articles, but if you can afford it I would highly recommend purchasing their "Listening to Children" booklets. When I read them, it was like seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. They also run a yahoo discussion group that is awesome. One of their suggestions to parents is to find a listening partner. Someone who will just listen to you vent without interruption, without offering suggestions or ideas. Parents just don’t get the support they need and deserve, but it’s so important! Anyway, I can’t say that the ideas/methods from this group have turned my son into an angel, but rather that I feel like I have TOOLS to be a better parent. http://www.handinhandparenting.org/

  25. Does the behaviour happen just in your relationship or with different people in different settings? That will give you more clues as to whether it is a broader developmental thing or a relationship thing.

  26. You are not alone! I had some major challenges with my almost-5-year-old over the last year. And I know there will be more. Honestly, I never knew I had intense rage inside me until this little guy came into my life. I felt lots and lots of self-loathing.

    What helped me was trying to focus as much as possible on MY behavior (not his). I realized that I was not doing many of the things I was yelling at him to do (stop interrupting, listen, do what I ask, CALM DOWN!!). So, I focused on grounding myself, stay calm, pausing before responding, putting my iPhone away in his presence (really helpful), trying not to rush unless it really matters, scheduling less, multi-tasking less. I realized that his behavior is worse when I am stressed, rushing, impatient, etc. So I just worked on changing my piece of the dynamic, and it has helped some. He’s still a pain in the butt sometimes, but I find that my own reaction is smaller and calmer, which means less distress for me (and I assume for him as well).

    Hang in there. You cannot ever do this perfectly, and you cannot ever know how to do something before you know how to do it. You are amazing for being self-reflective and thoughtful in your relationship. It’s a dance that changes and changes. The steps to this part are really tough, but it will get better. xo

  27. Hugs to you. The guilt-inducing/judgey comments from family and ‘friends’ are toxic. TOXIC. That is not good parenting advice and any qualified doctor/therapist/child development specialist would support you in being responsive to a child. It is SO SO hard to figure out how to parent when you’ve got unkind know-it-alls telling you you are doing it wrong all the time.

    Like a previous commenter, I wonder whether seeing a therapist of some kind who specializes in kids might be helpful. Someone to assess your daughter, listen to you both, give you tools and tips and just encourage you a bit? It is such a gamble, though, because it has to be a good fit…

    Hang in there. I really, really hope you can find a kind and wise soul to give you a break and some encouragement because what you are so bravely dealing with is EXHAUSTING!

  28. Wow. I’m just writing to say I love this community. I haven’t been reading AskMoxie lately (though it was my lifeline for the first four years) and as soon as I wander back over there is a post that hits me between the eyes!

    @Hedra and @eep, you guys are awesome. I’d like to collect your comments into a book.

    FWIW, my six year old is a high energy, curious, intelligent, boundary testing (every single nanometer of boundary must be mapped out through experimentation! what a scientist!), super fun and wonderful extroverted talk-box. He’s not so ragey, though that comes out sometimes (in perfectly age appropriate ways, I think) but he can be exhausting. I’ve often had to remind myself to put on my own oxygen mask first. I also do not hesitate to give MYSELF time-outs when I feel like I am losing it (or have already lost it and need a few minutes to recover).

    Moxie is right– temperament wise, kids are who they are. That kid who sits quietly and pays attention in class at all times and is super-cooperative every day at pick up? He was BORN THAT WAY! That little monkey who still hates transitions even though he’s been picked up a zillion times and we gave the 5 minute then 2 minute countdown warning and motivated with what we are doing next but he is just too absorbed in what he is doing to drop it and come along– he was born that way, too. Parenting technique can only change so much. Take care of yourself and hang in there.

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