This blog is Day Four of my 30 days of motherhood blogging challenge. Every day, for 30 days, I’m sharing diary-style snippets of my life as a working mum to one cheeky toddler. Consider this part creative experiment, part self-therapy. Feel free to play along at home! You can read days one to three here.
I yelled at Zoey this morning. I’m not proud of it, but it happens sometimes – usually when she’s throwing food (or other objects), doing something dangerous, or when I’m trying to coax her into doing something she doesn’t want to do (like sit down while she’s eating).
This morning, I yelled at her over breakfast. Lately, she’s been refusing to get into her high chair, and when she does finally climb into it, she refuses to let me push her close to the table (we removed the tray so she can sit at the table with us – it’s like half high chair, half normal chair now). I end up spending what feels like hours coaxing her closer to the table so at least 10% of her food ends up in her mouth (instead of all on the floor).
Today, all this was going on, except she was also standing up in her high chair and trying to climb over it backwards onto the couch behind her. Basically – trying to do anything but eat her food (Zoey is extremely uninterested in food at the best of times). I thought enough is enough, yelled at her to SIT DOWN! and STOP BEING NAUGHTY! and then picked her up, made her sit down, buckled her in, pushed the high chair into the table, and gave her her porridge.
She cried at my boldness at first, but then she happily ate the entire bowl of porridge (which suggested she was actually hungry, just distracted). Meanwhile, I was marinating in mum guilt, feeling awful that I’d yelled at her, called her naughty, and buckled her in the high chair against her will.
Okay, writing this down, it’s clear there’s a lot to unpack here – where to even begin?
I know yelling makes me feel icky. It’s not very effective (today’s yelling didn’t work; swiftly buckling her into the high chair is what made all the difference). I usually yell as a last resort – when no amount of coaxing, negotiating or distraction will do. Or when I’m scared she’s going to hurt herself.
I know yelling from time to time is par for the course for most parents – definitely no judgement here (in fact, I’m desperately hoping I’m not the only occasional-yeller in the house… help a sister out and let me know if this is you sometimes, too?)
What I’m really interested in is how icky yelling makes me feel. I can’t think of ONE time (even before motherhood) when yelling felt good. It never feels good! It always feels heavy, icky, and embarrassing. Like I’m the child, not the parent. I know Tom feels the same.
I do think the ickiness is trying to tell me something. It’s trying to say ‘this isn’t the way’.
So, what IS the way? How do you get a strong-willed toddler to listen? How do you stay calm and relaxed when you’re exhausted and frustrated?
I do believe boundaries are very important for small children – and that it’s their job to continuously test those boundaries, and our job to continuously reinforce them.
One of my boundaries/rules/expectations/values is that Zoey sits down while she’s eating and doesn’t throw food. Is that too much to ask? Am I dreaming? Should I give up and just let her play jungle gym on the high chair every day because she’s 20 months and having the time of her life? Or does that mean I’m ‘failing’ her as a parent because I’m not reinforcing healthy boundaries and creating an expectation that she learns how to sit at the table in a civilised manner? If I let her get away with it now (because she’s 20 months), will she still be running riot when she’s three? Four? Five? Fifteen?
You see, it’s about the high chair – but it’s also not about the high chair. I don’t actually care whether she sits in the high chair or not – it’s more what the high chair represents (a healthy boundary) and the principle of teaching her ‘this is what we do in this family’. Of course, it would be easier to let her eat porridge on the couch every day. But she doesn’t sit still, the porridge gets smeared into the furniture, and I’m not teaching her that sitting at a table is important (at least in our family).
There is such a fine line between being relaxed and letting Zoey lead the way and knowing when to step in and ‘be the parent’.
Intellectually, I LOVE the idea of child-led learning and of giving Zoey as much autonomy over her own body and decisions as I possibly can. That’s why I dislike buckling her into the high chair and why I like to let her climb up by herself and make the decision to eat. I always give her plenty of space to come to the table (in a literal and metaphorical sense), because I do truly believe that toddlers are way more emotionally intelligent than people think.
But maybe I overestimate her emotional intelligence and overlook the fact that she’s actually still so young, she doesn’t know that eating three regular meals a day is good for her energy levels – so it’s up to me to enforce that healthy boundary.
What I struggle with is being authoritative – with finding a way to be no-nonsense that doesn’t involve pleading, placating, begging, apologising or, you guessed it, yelling.
How do I be firm and fair? Demand respect without appearing scary or authoritarian? Help Zoey understand there are consequences for her actions?
It’s questions like these that make me realise just how much of a novice mum I am. Parenting is new and confusing territory and what works for one child won’t work for another.
Writing this down has helped me to have more self-compassion, to realise that I’m really only at the beginning of this journey and I’m going to make a lot of mistakes. And probably yell a little bit along the way, despite my very best intentions.
I guess all I can do is learn from my mistakes and try to do better tomorrow.
“Do the best you can until you know better. Then, when you know better, do better.” - Maya Angelou
On that note, time to have a hot shower, hop into bed early and read my book – so I can fill up my ‘mum energy tank’ and reset my patience levels for tomorrow!
P.S. Today wasn’t all high chair battles and existential questioning; I worked, Zoey had a great day at daycare, and we both did a happy dance when Tom surprised us by arriving home at 4.30 pm. I’m pinching myself that we have him around for four whole days. Happy Easter!