17 different women, 36 crazy children, 0 babies in utero
Adventures, Advice and Questions from a group of Mormon women who met in Queens, NY and have now scattered all over the place.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Bringing Out the Worst in My Child

I’m beginning to fear that something about my parenting style brings out the worst in my daughter.

It seems that she is her worst self when I am around and her most angelic when in the care of others. We spend a lot of time together. I’m a full-time stay-at-home mom with very few obligations that she can’t participate in. So we go everywhere together, do everything together, and spend most all day every day together. So she doesn’t spend a lot of time with other people.

But it’s been a long time now that I’ve noticed an immediate difference between her behavior with me and her behavior when I’m not around. Here’s a common scenario: on the mornings that dh gets up with her, he takes her upstairs (our bedrooms are downstairs) when she wakes up and makes her breakfast. From downstairs while I get ready, I hear her wandering in her play room, playing by herself, singing songs, and being content while he makes her oatmeal. I hear happy conversation between the two of them while he makes her oatmeal. Then I come upstairs. And the whining begins; she pulls on my pant legs begging to “hold Mommy;” she falls apart in little bursts of tears when I tell her she can’t do something she wants to do. When breakfast is over and I’m trying to clean up the dishes she lingers by my legs complaining about this or that.

When I was home visiting my family a few months ago, my brothers and sisters started banning me from the room when they wanted to interact with her, because if I was in the room she wouldn’t have anything to do with anyone else. But if I wasn’t around, she was fine and able to happily enjoy her aunts and uncles. But as soon as I returned, we all had to endure a constant stream of repeated, “Hold Mommy! Hold Mommy! Hold Mommy!”

Obviously, someone would have to really observe my parenting style to be able to tell me if my reactions to her are encouraging this kind of behavior. I try very hard to not respond to her whining and crying, attempting to be patient enough to give positive responses to only positive behavior: not giving in to her tantrums or whining, not picking her up every time she demands it, etc.

But I’m wondering if anyone else has noticed this kind of shift in behavior with their own children—especially when it involves mothers. One of my good friends here—a mother whose parenting style I deeply respect—says that children really are their worst behaved when around their mothers. Being around mom brings out all their emotions and natural tendencies because we are the ones they are closest to and feel most comfortable with. They “let their hair down,” so to speak, when they’re around their moms, just like we—as adults—do with our spouses, often taking out the frustrations and anxieties of work on our spouses at home, while being kind and patient with the people and circumstances causing the negative feelings to begin with. This friend’s children are, in my opinion, very well behaved, yet even she complains that her two-year-old daughter is at her worst when at home with Mom, exhibiting the same kind of behaviors as my dd.

Has anyone else experienced this or heard of this? Am I just trying to convince myself I’m not responsible for this behavior by searching for a reason for it? If anyone else’s children seem to do this—be their worst behaved at home with Mom—how do you handle it? Or is it just part of being Mom, part of raising kids and being the one who is always there for them?


  • Your daughter has all day to probe for your weaknesses. She knows you well. This is very common. My children do it sometimes too. I recommend reading the book 1-2-3 Magic by Thomas Phelan and pay special attention to the chapter on testing an manipulation. I don't think this is a matter of parenting style, but I do think you can learn some tricks to stop some of her annoying behavior. You just need to learn to counter manipulation. Just don't be too hard on yourself. Being a mother isn't easy.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 6/20/2008 06:06:00 AM  

  • Yeah, I would say this is DS #1 too. And it is because you spend all your time with this one child. they know you best, they know how to push your buttons and get a reaction. i don't know how to fix it. its getting better for us now that he is getting older and wants to play by himself. But i do have to eliminate certain activities that seem to aggravate our relationship. I've gotten rid of toys, movies, and him going to school has really helped him step outside of himself and learn that he can be independent. Time out works for us too, but only if i follow through to the very end (which is asking him why he's in time out, and telling him I love him and that he's a good boy. with a hug). I noticed that when he would act insane (as i like to call it) i would treat him like he was insane, instead of treating him like he was better than his actions. if i can control this, then he is better. Also, i will explain kindly that I will not listen to him or give him what he wants until he can act respectably. Its really hard, but if you can wait it out and ignore what they are doing, they will realize they cant get the reaction out of you they are looking for and quit. Good luck! I didn't know it would be this hard, but it does get better!
    posted by Blogger Larsen Family at 6/20/2008 06:21:00 AM  

  • I think it's totally natural. Remember as a kid when your feelings got hurt and you were able to hold the tears in until you saw your mom...and then it all just came out? There's just this bond and vulnerability there that you share...and you are "at risk" too, of not being your best mom self with her because you love her so dang much...so you have to be strong.

    I think little people are like animals in some ways...and when I have gotten caught up in the insanity that Poopy shares with larsen family's DS #1 (when those two get together watch out)...I have learned over years of this that I can't get swept up in the emotions of her behavior, I have to literally stand tall and put my metaphorical uniform on and become trainer/discipliner/drill officer. We're getting down and dirty here peopls. I can't be her friend in those moments or her cuddle partner.

    With my daughter though, she is contantly throwing me curve balls, so I am on my toes and I never know who she is going to be on any given day...as a friend of mine coined her: She's predictably unpredictable.

    I am sure it's not your parenting...but I would suggest giving her more time away from you for both of your benefit.
    posted by Blogger Kage at 6/20/2008 07:54:00 AM  

  • This syndrome is very natural and it doesn't stop after toddlerhood. Sandra and I had between us a few, ah, "high maintenance" children. And yet those were the very ones that other people (church leaders and their friends' parents) would describe as being such delights. We would look at each other and say, "Huh?"

    You're not bringing out the worst in your child. Your child just feels free to bring out the worst in herself around you because she knows you love her and that you'll put up with stuff that other people wouldn't. Kids get that at a very young age. ..bruce..
    posted by Blogger bwebster at 6/20/2008 08:39:00 AM  

  • Ditto what Bruce said. I've seen my own children go from raging insane creatures to beautifully-behaved company-mannered little saints in five seconds flat. The difference? The presence of some other adult.

    My two oldest were so difficult as little children and we still get shreds of that now that they're entering the teenage years.

    The clingy times come and go. Rule of thumb: odd numbered years (such as a 3 year old) are expressive years. Tantrums and making friends and so forth. Even numbered years (such as 2 or 4 year olds) are inner years. The years that they have nightmares, get clingy, etc.
    posted by Anonymous Anonymous at 6/20/2008 11:10:00 AM  

  • This phenomenon is especially obvious if you work in the nursery. Kids would be very well-behaved until their parents were in the room.
    posted by Blogger Susan M at 6/20/2008 11:40:00 AM  

  • Ohh, this is actaully comforting to see this is a pretty common phenomenon. My DD who is 6 gets rave reviews of perfect behavior and helpfulness from all her teachers... and then at home- well, let's just say has quite a bit more of an OPINION.. people are always shocked to hear that too.

    I agree with the idea that we allow ourselves to be on our worst behavior with our moms because we are most safe with them. It's kind of unfair - but that's the way it goes!
    posted by Blogger Rachel H at 6/20/2008 01:25:00 PM  

  • Thanks so much for these thoughts and comments. It's always nice to hear that someone else is experiencing the same thing.

    Anonymous #1 I will definitely look into 1-2-3 Magic. Thanks for recommendation. I've been shocked at how young children understand--or just have figured out--how to manipulate. Whether or not they understand what they're doing is another matter, perhaps.

    Larsen Family--I definitely do the same thing--treat dd like she's insane when that's how she's acting. And I probably get a little insane myself. In my rational states, I know that ignoring behavior I don't like is one of the most powerful tools that I have--it's just the hardest thing to do! Thanks for the tips.

    Kage--I still completely break down when I am around my mom if I've been holding something in. All I have to do is talk to her on the phone and all my emotions come blubbering out! So thanks for that perspective. I like the image of putting on a uniform rather than getting emotional at these moments.

    bwebster--thank you for simply stating the difference between "bringing out the worst" in my child and being the person who is willing to put up with her worst. Thank you. Thank you.

    Anonymous #2--I've never heard the even/odd aged rule of thumb, but I'm going to keep it in mind. So far, it makes sense.

    Susan M--Ah, thank you for that perspective--from the someone-other-than-the-parent side.

    Rachel H--while I don't like the thought of still dealing with this kind of flip-flop behavior when dd is 6!!!! it IS nice to hear that this is common, isn't it.

    Thanks everyone.
    posted by Blogger sunny at 6/20/2008 05:27:00 PM  

  • I did 1, 2, 3 Magic with my oldest (now almost 6) when she was about 2. It still works well with her. One evening when she was 3 she was upset with our cat and I heard her counting to him. It was the funniest thing! I have started 1, 2, 3 Magic with my twins that are two. Cami just continues counting (I think Dora taught her?) up to 11 and Brie, my fiesty one, could not care less what I do to guide her. The two year old - such a peculiar form, don't you think?
    posted by Blogger Tandy at 6/26/2008 06:30:00 PM  

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