Parenting Isn’t Hard

Parenting isn’t hard.

Well, okay, sometimes it’s hard.

Sometimes it’s hard to contain all this love that I feel for my child, and I’m worried I’m just going to snatch him up and squeeze him to bits in a fit of overly-emotional love-smush.

Sometimes it’s hard to fathom the future and that someday there will be a 6 year old, an 11 year old, a 17 year old living here, and someday a 25 year old not living here, living out in the world instead where I can’t watch over him.

Sometimes it’s hard to love him so deeply and yet not be able to take his hurts away. I am sometimes bowed in this powerlessness.

Sometimes it’s hard to realize that I am his whole world right now and that his trust is vast and complete. I tremble before this power.

Okay then.

Sometimes I participate in a discussion about someone in public being mean to their child. By “being mean” I mean spanking, slapping, grabbing, yanking, dragging, yelling, name-calling, belittling, punishing and so forth. And there’s always someone in these discussions ready to declare that “parenting is hard” and we should therefore cut the parent some slack. And I just reject this wholeheartedly. It is not hard to not treat people like shit. Children are small, dependent people, and we should be doubly sure not to treat them like shit.

Parenting is the very act of caring for these smaller people. It should not be synonymous with treating them in abusive ways.

Say I’m in a McDonald’s. In a booth near me is what appears to be a romantically involved man and woman enjoying a meal together. Near the end of the meal, the woman accidentally knocks her soda over and it spills over the table and floor. The man leaps to his feet and yells, “Oh my god! I told you to be careful with that!” He grabs her by the arm and drags her out of the booth. “That’s the last time you get to have a medium drink!” He shoves her off to the side while he starts to clean up. “Go stand by the door, we’re going home right now.” After an initial little gasp at the spilled drink, the woman remains silent, body slack, eyes averted.

I would be horrified to witness this scene. I would worry about the verbal lashing, and I would worry about the physical aspects. Probably most people would be concerned on some level. However, when I witnessed that scene with, instead of a woman, a 10 year old child, no one batted an eye. It doesn’t even stand out. Doesn’t register. Some might even consider it “good discipline”.

But, it’s not. It’s just abusive. We would not say about the man, “Well, relationships are hard. He’s probably just having a bad day. Cut him some slack.”

On a “bad day”, I might grumble at Joshua. I might be a little curt, a little snippy. I would not pull his body around, hit him, yell at him, say belittling things at him, or order him about. We have a loving relationship together that doesn’t include those kinds of actions. Likewise, parenting is between parent and child but is still supposed to be a loving relationship together. People who are mean and abusive to children don’t have a parenting problem. They have an abuse problem.

Except it becomes a parenting problem when there are people running around saying “parenting is hard” as a way to excuse the abuse of children. I’ll bet there are people who aren’t actually assholes trying to be mean to their kids because they think that’s what parenting is. I’d like to put a stop to that.

Parenting is supposed to be a loving relationship between parent and child, and it should look like one, and that shouldn’t be hard.


  1. ireneybean says:

    I totally understand and agree with your point. The difficulty of parenting is *not* a reason for abuse. But please consider that your experience is not everyone’s. For me, the challenges of parenting increased exponentially as my child got older. Circumstances in my life also changed to make it harder. I love my child fiercely and that love grows every day – but being a parent (particularly a single, working parent of a child with ADHD) is the hardest thing I’ve ever even contemplated doing and I often fail hard. I’m not arguing that the difficulty should earn me the right to treat my child like crap – I’m just sayin’ – for some of us (even us attachment parenting, hippy types) it *is* hard.

    • I think there’s a difference between “being a parent”, which is the status of having a child, and “parenting”, which is the relationship between the two of you. I think there are lots of ways that our culture makes it hard to be a parent. It can be hard to find childcare. Hard to balance work and home. Hard to navigate the pediatric medical system. Hard to face the stigma of single parenthood.

      But I don’t understand finding it hard to be in a relationship with this other person.

      Likewise, if you imagine an adult romantic relationship, it might be hard to balance work and home, hard to figure out how to pay the bills or buy a car, hard to figure out proper care for your partner’s mental or physical illness, hard to face the stigma of not being married, etc. But it shouldn’t be hard to be in a relationship with one another. And it shouldn’t be hard to NOT slap each other around or yell at one another.

      Maybe we’re just touching on a semantic difference of what makes up “parenting”. Because I agree that a lot of life is hard.

      Suffice it to say that I’m addressing the specific logic of, “Parenting is hard and that’s why it’s understandable to pull/push/drag/yell/belittle/etc your child.” If that applies to you, then it applies to you regardless of the reasons you think your relationship is hard. And if it doesn’t apply to you, then it doesn’t apply to you.

      • And it shouldn’t be hard to NOT slap each other around or yell at one another.

        Yes. This. People seem to think that it’s acceptable to treat their child in a way that it wouldn’t be acceptable to treat any other person: casual yelling, cursing, and physical violence. And I’m not even talking about corporal punishment, which I’m willing to set aside for the sake of argument. I’m just talking about grabbing, jerking, twisting, pushing, and smacking as a de rigeur mode of interaction.

        • ireneybean says:

          I am a person of very little patience – and sometimes it really is hard for me to behave appropriately within the parent/child relationship itself. (It’s a horrifying thing to have discovered about myself). But even if it’s hard, I do it anyway. And I absolutely agree that no degree of difficulty justifies or renders “understandable” any sort of abusive treatment.

  2. I think what is hard for some people is that they lack the patience to be that everything to one person 24-7 for some years. It’s a huge reason why I had the tubal ligation and remain childfree. I don’t doubt my capacity to love, love completely and unconditionally, but I do doubt my capacity to not get angry or irritated when the child does horrible things (tortures the cat), screams at top volume (I abhor loud noises), displays bad judgment, smears shit on the walls when a toddler… all the things that usually get a parent to lose their temper. I see both sides of the argument on this one. I agreed with your post that abuse is abuse, no matter what age the victim of the abuse, and that yeah, you don’t treat people you love that way unless you have some kind of anger management problem. But I do know that no matter how much I loved someone, and no matter what age they were, if they smeared shit on the walls and tortured the cat, I would probably lose my temper. I live VERY much by the al-anon philosophy of live and let live, and let people be themselves, but the problem with kids, is often that their inherent nature (especially very young) is actually very selfish, mean, cruel, etc. Kids can be REALLY mean and often need to be taught not to be that way. I know it’s not true for all kids, but I some. And I *hate* being in company of mean people and typically walk away. Problem is as a parent, you can’t walk away.

    When I had stepkids, I was very aware that they were the product of their environment, and so much of their bad behaviour was a direct result of their alcoholic mother and drug addicted father, and there was little I could do except love them and try and accept them as they were. I think I was a good influence on them. I cringe at some of the times I lost my temper with them, though. They were so awful at times. Just horrible little kids. Then other times they were precious angels who deserved none of the shit they born into, and I had nothing but compassion for them.

    • Shit-smearing and cat-torturing are definitely annoying actions that come with the kid territory and require patience, but I don’t understand translating that into anger with the child. I know there’s the extra difficulty of not being able to choose the child you’re in a relationship, but I can think of parallels with adult relationships, like caring for a senile parent. In that case, the elderly parent may develop a difficult personality or even smear shit on the walls, and you might be annoyed, frustrated, tired, but I wouldn’t think it was okay if you yelled at ou or pushed ou around.

      You know, I’m just not much of a temper-loser in general. You say, “I cringe at some of the times I lost my temper with them,” and maybe that’s more normal for you. You lose your temper now and then and don’t feel great about it, but it is what it is. I can see that as being different from excusing regular meanness towards the child as normal and just a regular part of parenting.

      • “…the elderly parent may develop a difficult personality or even smear shit on the walls, and you might be annoyed, frustrated, tired, but I wouldn’t think it was okay if you yelled at ou or pushed ou around.”

        Excellent point. Really, profound.

        What is weird is that I am not prone to losing my temper. Most people who know me know that I’m one of the most even keeled people going. I have to wonder if the reason I *am* as calm and even tempered as I am is precisely *because* I’ve limited the amount of time I spend with children, elderly, mean, demanding, needy… etc. people. I really am a bit of a recluse by design and tend to step away from drama. The years I spent with my ex and his kids were some of the most drama-fueled years in my life, and it’s true, I’m a very different person now than I was then. Even then, I remember riding my high horse, feeling that I was SUCH the better ‘parent’ in that relationship because I lost my temper so seldom in comparison to him and his wife, who screamed as a matter of course. I prided myself on my ability to ‘control’ myself. I see now, in hindsight, I wouldn’t have had to ‘control’ anything if the situation weren’t so wildly out of control with drugs, alcohol, addictions, mental illness… I sometimes think I would be a fabulous single parent, as the type of men I’m attracted to (ie babydaddy) are not equipped to be good parents at all. I’ve always considered that a failing on my part. A character flaw or a weakness. I seem to gravitate towards damaged goods, and I knew instinctively that those types of people usually make bad parents, so in light of the fact that was what I was attracted to, I wouldn’t be having kids with guys like that.

        All that being said, I think now, I was being too generous with myself. Thinking that I’d be so fabulous, etc. LOL I know what my good points are, and yeah, the love thing is very much in line with the love you seem to give. But I don’t have patience for destructive or mean or bad behaviour. I just don’t. I don’t know what to do when people start behaving that way in front of me. I know historically I never hit (I’m so not a hitter) but I suspect I yanked or forcibly sat them down in a corner or something like that. Stuff that I would NOT do to an adult, it’s true. And I’m not proud of it, but I don’t think I know what else I could have done in the situation.

        Fascinating topic.

        • I don’t think I know what else I could have done in the situation.

          I think this is an insightful comment. Many of these people are acting the way that they do, not because they are mean, but because they lack other tools for interacting with the child, or because they have learned that that’s the right way to do it.

          • Yes, this. People definitely need more tools about having a good relationship with their kids. There’s actually a lot of social pressure to be mean to kids, so it can be hard to break out of that. I don’t want to put all the blame here on individual parents. A great many people whose parenting I despise are really, truly doing what they think is right and best.

  3. Oh quick question here… people often say there is NOTHING they wouldn’t do for their child, that they’ve never known a love like that.

    If an abductor was doing to Dylan what some children do to cats (for example), how would you intervene? If someone was yanking your child away or physically beating him, what would you do to stop it? Would you react physically against the abductor? Would you commit violent acts to try and stop the bad/criminal behaviour?

    I think if I saw a child abusing an animal, I would lose my ever loving mind, and I would probably intervene physically. Not to hurt the child, but to stop the abuse. I would have to tear them apart. I would have to.

    • Two things matter in my interpretation of your question. One is the age of the child and one is what kind of violence towards the animals you’re talking about.

      Dylan (7 months old) currently tries to grab fistfuls of Basement Cat’s hair, which BC doesn’t like, obviously. BC has twice fought back with claws out. It’s impossible to attribute anything malicious to Dylan’s actions. When I see him going for BC, I redirect him. If he’s already there with a handful of hair, I take his hand and separate it from her and move them apart. If Basement Cat’s in a good mood, I sit with Dylan near her and model gentle touching and then move him away when either of them get excited.

      With a 2-3 year old who was pulling the cat’s tail, I would also move to separate the child from the cat, probably while expressing a strong feeling – “Ouch! That hurts the cat!” or “She doesn’t like that!” and also spend time with cat and child together to model gentle touching. Again, there’s nothing “bad” about the child’s behavior.

      With a 4-7 year old who was chasing the cat from room to room or backing a hissing cat into a corner, I would place myself between the child and the cat, speak for the cat (She’s trying to get away from you! Leave her alone!”), and possibly leave the child to go and comfort the cat.

      In all of these cases, I would physically intervene, but it’s unlikely that you would describe that intervention as violence against the child. In none of these cases would I compare the child to an abductor.

      If you’re talking about something more along the lines of a neighbor kid who likes to sneak on your property and throw flaming sticks at your cat or ties your cat up in a bag and swings it around or something like that, then I think that’s more of a serious problem and I would react more strongly, although I can’t be certain what form that would take.

      • Actually, forget the cat. Let’s say you have another baby and Dylan is hitting, hurting, torturing the new baby. My sister did HORRIBLE things to me as a child, including upending my buggy and sending me tumbling as an infant. She did this malciously. She would tell my mother she hated me and wanted me gone. And I would do horrible things right back. I witnessed horrible things children do to one another with my stepkids. Kids like to HURT each other. It freaks me the fuck out.

        I am on the extreme end of pacifist-hippy, and luckily I grew up in a family that did not hit, and valued pacificsm more than the average family. I can count on one hand the times I was spanked, and I remember one time in particular it was because I’d thrown a knife at her. I am so not that person, I was just doing what kids do… expressing anger with physical violence because they don’t have the words or skills to deal with it any other way.

        • “Kids like to HURT each other.” This is not a true statement. Sometimes kids accidentally hurt one another, like toddlers pushing and biting, but that is not malicious. Some kids like to hurt people, but that is indicative of a problem, NOT a run-of-the-mill childhood occurrence. Throwing a knife at your sister is an extreme action, not one that I would attribute to “doing what kids do”. I don’t know ANYTHING about your family and shouldn’t make conclusions based on these few words here, but I wonder if you and your sister were lacking in parental attention or affection, were set up to be in conflict with one another, or simply never had anyone step in when situations escalated. Likewise, you’ve said that your stepkids were in a horrible situation. You can’t attribute the ways they dealt with that situation as what kids do. It’s what kids in distress do.

          Dylan could never torture a new baby because he would never be alone with a baby. If he expressed that he hated the new baby, that’s a really strong emotion that Joshua and I would have to address, not leave laying so that the new sibling had to deal with it instead.

          • If he expressed that he hated the new baby, that’s a really strong emotion that Joshua and I would have to address, not leave laying so that the new sibling had to deal with it instead.

            I think this is a good point, too. Siblings don’t start out with a violent relationship. The violent relationship starts with a single act and progresses. It’s the parents’ responsibility to be aware of this and to address it. I understand that there are likely to be flare-ups of violence in any relationship between people who lack good tools to deal with their emotions (like child siblings), but what Jo is describing sounds more like a relationship with a constant undercurrent of violence. Violence as a matter of course. I would attribute that to the parents in most cases–a failure to recognize the situation or an inability or unwillingness to resolve it. And the stereotype (that Jo is propagating) that childhood relationships are naturally violent is a part of that, since parents may recognize the violence and accept it as normal, when it doesn’t have to be.

            • “…What Jo is describing sounds more like a relationship with a constant undercurrent of violence.”

              Actually, no. I grew up in a pacifist home with pacifist parents. They did not hit, they were loving. My father actually did that Belief-o-matic quiz and came out 100% Quaker (LOL) because of his non-violent ways. He believes violence is always wrong, never justified, not even for retribution, not even for self-defence. My father is an alcoholic who was mostly emotionally unavailable, but he was kind, the family was itact, and there was no violence in the house growing up, no swearing, etc. I was an angry child for a multitude of reasons (I think I had gender issues from a young age) but my sister was not. We were raised in a cult-like version of catholicism that had us SUPER religious and living very much by a strict moral code that disallowed you from thinking bad thoughts, never mind acting on them. The violent temper I displayed as a young child I don’t think was unusual. I really don’t. I was one of the better behaved kids in the neighbourhood. I don’t think it was particularly indicative of a fucked up family or violent undercurrents. I think I was just angry and I didn’t know how else to express myself. Once I was able to use words, the violence stopped.

              • Sorry… I was referring to the relationship between you and your sister.

                • I don’t know. I don’t think so. We are best of friends now. Absolute BFFs. We became clannishly close when I was about 17 and she was 18. Now I’m 39 and she’s 40. In the years leading up to that (say betweeen maybe 10 and 17), we got along very well. It was only when we were little kids that we fist fought. There was probably always that ‘sibling rivalry’ thing as we grew into the people we eventually became. I don’t want to make blanket statements but I honestly do believe the vast majority of siblings do fight, regardless of the environment they were raised. Either physically or emotionally manipulate each other, or something. It’s an animal behaviour as territory is determined. She was a *very* popular girly girl, a people pleaser who everyone loved. I was smarter, but not conventionally pretty, plus I was ‘blessed’ with a really big mouth and the propensity to speak my mind no matter what people thought of me. I didn’t care at all what people thought of me, and that set me right apart. I spent a lot of years in her shadow, being compared to how polite she was or how pretty or popular she was. It annoyed me because I had no desire to be like her. I always kind of liked myself as I was, but it’s hard when you grow up in someone’s shadow like that. You have to find your space.

                  BTW I have several YouTube videos on my channel that are audio recordings of us playing with my dad’s tape recorder when I was about 10. It’s hilarious. We really did get along like gangbusters when we weren’t fighting.

                  • I think I may have lost the thread here. How did we go from, “Yelling at your kids is mean and you shouldn’t do it,” to a discussion about whether kids are inherently violent or not? I wonder if we’ve gotten off topic. I mean, even if I accept your premise that kids are inherently violent–and I do see where you’re coming from there–I think we both agree that doesn’t justify abusive behavior towards the child.

          • A couple of things… This topic was getting a lot of buzz around my office yesterday, and I ended up discussing it with a bunch of my coworkers (all male, not that it matters). All of them agreed that kids are naturally violent until taught otherwise. All of them solved problems with violence when they were kids with siblings. Most of us grew out of it. Hardly a scientific sample, but in my world, I can’t think of a single person who didn’t do horrible things or have horrible things done to them as kids… One coworker was telling me about when his brother hit him over the head with a hammer. I don’t think any of us came from particularly violent homes. We were all reprimanded for that bad behaviour.

            Curiously, Issa, do you have siblings? Did you fight with them?

            Re: “Dylan could never torture a new baby because he would never be alone with a baby” I suspect would be a near impossible task. People need to shower. They need to go to the bathroom. As kids grow up, there are always moments when the parent has turned their back, even for a second or fallen asleep or whatever. There are always opportunities.

            BTW, I do mostly agree with what you’ve written in your main blog post. I agree completely that parents/people should not attempt to solve problems with violence. My only point here, is that often children display violent behaviour — never mind if the kids are developmentally delayed or otherwise disabled. I work in a school board and DAILY see kids with violent tendencies who punch, kick, bite, thrash etc. their EAs (educational assistants) and those EAs are all required to take Non-violent intervention courses, but they have to restrain the kid as best they can when they are out of control. It’s something to witness. I could not do it. I just couldn’t. I also couldn’t be a bar bouncer, nor could I be a parent. I don’t like having to get involved in fights. Ever.

            • “All of them solved problems with violence when they were kids with siblings.”

              Since the majority of parenting in our culture is coercive and much of it is abusive, it doesn’t surprise me that in a given group of people they all remember being violent as kids. I do not believe that children are inherently violent, but that may stray into “belief” territory, and I think it’s getting off track to defend it further. Even if we agree that children all have violent urges, that doesn’t excuse them being treated violently by the people they are 100% dependent on.

              “Curiously, Issa, do you have siblings? Did you fight with them?”

              I have a younger brother. I remember a handful of violent incidences when he was very young, and they were most definitely indicative of a problem in our household. After I was, say, 7 or so, there was no violence between us.

              “Re: “Dylan could never torture a new baby because he would never be alone with a baby” I suspect would be a near impossible task. People need to shower. They need to go to the bathroom. As kids grow up, there are always moments when the parent has turned their back, even for a second or fallen asleep or whatever. There are always opportunities.”

              I was addressing the issue of a new baby. It is really easy to never leave a baby alone. Dylan is 7 months old and is still never alone. I take him to the bathroom and into the shower with me. As kids grow up, sure. Walking, talking kids get left alone and with each other.

              “BTW, I do mostly agree with what you’ve written in your main blog post. I agree completely that parents/people should not attempt to solve problems with violence. My only point here, is that often children display violent behaviour …”

              I guess I’m not sure where else to take this. It seems a little odd for the conversation about not being mean to kids to have turned so sharply towards the behavior of the kids.

    • All of that was a really longwinded way to say this: Sometimes children are meaner to animals than we would prefer that they be, AND it’s still possible to have a respectful relationship with both them and the animals at the same time.

  4. I just had another thought (unrelated to the above exchange which I might reply to when I get home… I’m pressed for time at the moment).

    Anyhow, I think one of the reasons you don’t find parenting hard is because you’ve always liked kids, always worked with kids, always wanted kids. I think working as a nanny out of choice is the career path of a VERY specific kind of person. It’s like when people say “Math is hard” to a mathematician. They just don’t get what you are on about, as it’s not hard to them. In fact, they quite love it. LOL

    I think a lot of people were not prepared for the absolute immersion in the kids’ lives… how everything you used to be is no more, and all your time, thoughts, energy are taken up by something to do with the fact that there is a living being 100% dependent on you from pretty much now on. That is a heavy load, and if you weren’t up for the challenge in the first place, it is hard. Never mind if you were not predisposed to it in the first place (ie, no access to birth control, religious expectation that you will have kids, etc.)

    • I agree that many things will come faster and easier to me as a parent because I’ve had so much experience with children. Nothing about parenting surprises me, and it’s a relationship I’ve chosen.

      That being said, for the unprepared, less-than-willing parent, how many times do they have to pick their kid up by the elbow and drag ou across the parking lot (an action I’ve seen gazillions of times) before they think, “Huh. Maybe I should get some help with this parenting thing”?

      I don’t blame people for not knowing what to do, for not having good tools, for not being well supported by their culture. I blame people for thinking that there’s nothing wrong with treating other people like shit and not seeking out other solutions. And specifically for this post, I blame the other people who enable that by sweeping it away with the vague excuse that parenting is hard.

      What if I just agree that parenting is hard? What if I said it’s complicated, exhausting, confusing, irritating, disgusting, frantic, no fun, and inescapable. Would that make it okay to call a child names or yank ou around?

  5. I totally agree with you Issa. Not *just* the physical stuff that you focused on, but what I see more often is the demeaning way people talk to their children. I realize that children don’t think like adults, so you can’t necessarily talk to them just like adults. But you can still treat them respectfully.

  6. I personally- have a short temper, can respond without thinking, and i’m impulsive- which makes me think sometimes that I would find parenting hard, and not be able to be civil to a little human that doesn’t understand and you can’t rationalize with them that you don’t mean to snap. I try not to snap at those I love and sometimes I do. I can see how sometimes I might do that to a child who wouldn’t understand. I do not have children, and I do well with people and children when I’m around them typically, but its something i watch carefully.
    Thank you for this article :) and your continued wisdom and insight! <3

  7. When I see parents behaving in abusive ways towards their kids it really upsets me. It is a harmful, mean horrible way to behave. Kids are people, and all people deserve to have control over their own bodies and to not be physically or verbally abused. I actually think about this a lot. Puck and I talk about it a lot.
    That said, I don’t know if I would abuse my child or not,which is one of the reasons we don’t have kids yet. Having come from abuse and having been abusive to other adults I worry about this. Sure I am like 100x better now. I control my anger, I don’t hurt my mate, friends or strangers (ok, there was that guy on the marta a few months ago, but I only hurt him a little), but I know there must be a point when my control snaps. And that point might never come with my child, then again it might.
    I guess lots of the people who behave this way come with their own history of abuse, and they are just paying the pain forward. It might not be hard to be a parent, but it is hard to not do what was done to you sometimes.

    • Kids are people, and all people deserve to have control over their own bodies and to not be physically or verbally abused.

      I agree, and also want to add that children should be treated with even MORE kindness and patience than adults. They are totally dependent on and molded by their parents, so it has more effect on them. More potential to do long-lasting harm or even have repercussions into future generations (as other have mentioned).

      • …Children should be treated with even MORE kindness and patience than adults. They are totally dependent on and molded by their parents, so it has more effect on them.

        Completely agree! My power as a parent/adult is so vast and so complete that I find it easy to give a lot of space and consideration to my child and to all children.

  8. I know when I was the parent of only one small child, I would have agreed with you completely. And yes, it is horrifying to hear some of the things people say to their children. But now as the parent of 5 children, two of which are teens, I have to say that when witnessing those situations, my sympathy extends to the parent as well as the child. I completely understand how a person cracks under a god-awful amount of pressure that squeezes you until you are no longer yourself. I am NOT excusing the behavior. I’m just saying, there’s no way of knowing what’s going on, and what you would be doing under those same circumstances.

    • I don’t think anyone is saying that we shouldn’t have compassion for people who behave in this particular abusive way towards their kids. That being said, I don’t think that we should excuse the behavior either. If we were talking about an adult being abusive to his or her partner, or if we were talking about a volunteer at a nursing home abusing a resident, I don’t think we would be saying, “Well, you never know what’s going on.” We, as a society, are much more prepared to unilaterally condemn abuse of one’s partner, or one’s elders, while we generally excuse this form of abuse of one’s children.

      What would I be doing under those same circumstances? It doesn’t matter, because my conclusion would be the same: if I am verbally and physically abusing my child, I need to get help so that I stop doing it.

      • I think what struck me so hard is to think about how far my own parenting behavior sometimes is from my ideal, and I think a defensive attitude came out in my comment. I never call my children names, I never say anything that, if you heard it said calmly or read it on a piece of paper, you would consider abusive. “Why did you do that? I’ve told you not to do that ten times today!” No biggie. But there are times when I will literally scream it. I am so angry and frustrated. Although it’s not actually abusive, it is quite disrespectful and not at all what I ever imagined happening.

        Perhaps I feel some jealousy when I read of a parent who is still able to live their ideals, whether it’s because they only have one small child or they know how to manage stress or whatever. I don’t condone my own behavior and I certainly don’t excuse those who cross the line into actually abusing their children. But I adore my kids, I have poured my life into them for the last almost 20 years and I would gladly do it again, but some days parenting is really, really hard for me. Some days being alive is really, really hard for me. Some days it IS really hard for me not to treat people like shit. I can refrain from saying specifically horrible things, but I don’t know how to keep from hollering and expressing intense frustration ever again. I feel like saying that as a way of commiserating is not a bad thing to do, for those of us for whom it’s true. For me it’s not a way to make excuses for never changing or learning or growing as a parent, it’s a way to not be swamped by guilt for what’s happened and to acknowledge the difficult experience of it.

        • There will be things in my parenting that I struggle with, that I feel defensive about, and that I hope people have compassion for. Mine might not be anger; it’s more likely to be related to paralyzing depression. When I’m in times like that, it’s very helpful to have people to commiserate with who understand where I’m coming from, and so I understand you wanting to speak up for a parent that you see yourself in.

          But I think that already exists: I think that there’s a lot of space given for parental anger and lashing out. I don’t think it’s hard AT ALL to find people and places where everyone is happy to agree that sometimes you just gotta yell at them, or maybe you don’t want to but you lose your cool and it just happens sometimes.

          This post is about saying, “It’s not okay to be an asshole to your kids,” and I don’t think that gets a lot of attention. I think it’s an idea that needs said a lot more often.

  9. An idea that I think is relevant to this discussion is the concept of “centering” which looks at who talks in certain discussions and what they talk about.

    My post was about not being mean to kids just because “parenting is hard” or because that’s what you think parenting is and not sweeping away meanness with a wave of the hand.

    To break that down further, my post was about not being mean to kids.

    In the comments, we have talked about (“centered”) how kids are inherently violent. We have centered the abuse of animals. We have centered how parenting is hard.

    Isn’t that interesting?

    We have not discussed strategies for ourselves to be nicer to kids. We have not discussed how to help other parents be nicer to kids. We have not discussed how to get the word out that yelling counts as mean. We have not discussed how to help kids stick up for themselves or get help in shitty situations.

    This is the second time I’ve posted about how maybe we should just treat children like people instead of like objects to control, and both posts have received a record-number of argumentative comments. That’s interesting.

    • We have centered how parenting is hard.

      Isn’t that interesting?

      Especially because you explicitly acknowledged, in your post, that parenting is hard sometimes, and then went on to say, “but that doesn’t excuse this behavior, and saying that parenting is hard as a way of excusing this behavior is part of the problem.”

      • Well, my “parenting is hard” acknowledgement was kind of backhanded. I didn’t actually say anything about it being a difficult interpersonal relationship.

    • … well, I just went back and re-read, and I’m not actually sure that you said that, but that’s what I heard. I may be better at reading your mind than other people.

    • ireneybean says:

      “We have not discussed strategies for ourselves to be nicer to kids.”

      You are right, we haven’t, and I’d really love to! I am struggling with this so much right now. I desperately want help in this arena – maybe I’m not seeing things I should – but there really doesn’t seem to advice out there other than “take some deep breaths” or any resources I can turn to. I’m constantly being bombarded with the message that “kids need clearly defined boundaries” and very little advice about how to enforce those boundaries without actually violating my child’s personal boundaries.

      Also, desperately needed is advice on how to reconnect with my child when I do mess up. I always apologize and point out that I was wrong to treat him that way, and that I’ll never stop trying to be better. But … it seems lame and I’m not sure how to repair the damage done.

      • I guess I’ve heard and tried so many strategies (or not had the opportunity to try strategies) such as: be sure to take time for yourself, withdraw and take time to relax and count to ten, all these things that, yep, I know I could sure use some time off, but it ain’t happenin’. I don’t have the time, money or support system to withdraw or use other measures such as grabbing some food to go to take pressure off. I think so much of a parent’s anger and frustration stems from the nuclear family set up that most of us have, where we are isolated in our own little box and are supposed to deal with EVERYTHING ourselves – the kids, the finances, the dinner, everything. We were not built to live like this. I don’t see any way out of it for myself right now, and I know a lot of other parents are currently stuck as well.

        I know there are some temporary solutions that can be used in a situation, and I would love to be part of a discussion of these. We all need to have tools at hand for different situations. Ultimately I think they are bandaids on a serious underlying condition (not to say this is where any of you are, but where I definitely am) of social isolation.

        Some techniques I’ve used to reverse or prevent a slide into serious parent/child conflict when I’m not completely overwhelmed already: stopping my activity, focusing my attention and reconnecting with my child; really listening to my child and responding honestly; having a glass or two of wine as I make dinner so I’m more relaxed; reviewing in my own mind if my child has eaten and slept enough that day or identify other needs they might have and not realize; engaging them in a simple interactive game to refocus their energy (like “Now hop like a bunny! Now wag your tail like a doggie!”) as I’m shopping, cooking, etc., or for older children, delegate tasks they can complete to help me.

        • I’ve never had much luck with the “breath, count to ten, take time for you,” variety of advice. It seems so shallow. For me what’s helpful is perspective shifts which are more subtle but ultimately have more impact. For example, I used to use timeouts as a discipline tactic with kids. Then I read Alfie Kohn talking about how timeouts are a form of love-denial and all that’s happening during them is the kid is thinking about how mean you are or plotting how not to get caught the next time. No kid is sitting there thinking, “Hmm. I shouldn’t have done that. Issa is so wise for punishing me, and now I’ll be different.” It was a real eye-opener for me to read that, and I stopped using timeouts. Other things became possible once that was out of my toolbox. I saw situations differently and had different relationships with the kids.

          I completely agree with you about the isolation, too. Our culture’s ideas of family and independence are so detrimental to people and relationships. I wish there were enough communes for all of us!

      • In Unconditional Parenting Alfie Kohn talks about how there’s all this parenting advice out there that seems so varied, but it’s all basically about the same thing: how to get your kid to do what you want. Our culture defines the parent-child relationship as one of control, coercion, and manipulation and sets parents in opposition to their children. It’s hard to break out of that. It’s the premises that are bad, and the unhelpful techniques flow from there. Kohn talks about “working with” rather than “doing to” as a basis for relating to kids.

        I like to talk about it from a general relationship stand-point and imagine that it’s an adult friend or family relationship, because you can find some different tools there. What kinds of things might you do if changing the other person, controlling the other person, or getting explosively angry at the other person weren’t options on the table?

        As far as reconnecting after you’ve acted in a way you wish you hadn’t, I think that just has to be authentic. As soon as you can (even mid-yell) say that you wish you hadn’t said/done that, that you were having such-and-such feelings and you reacted to them, but you wish you’d reacted a different way. Ask about your kid’s feelings. Think about ways to prevent stuff in the future, maybe even enlisting the kid in solutions (depending on ou age). By authentic, I mean, don’t just say, “I’m sorry.” Be vulnerable. Say what you’re afraid of. Explore for yourself what’s going on in there, and share some of that with your child as it feels right.

        I’m reading a book right now called Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort that has some really good inspiration on how to get out of your own way so that you can have the loving relationship with your child that you desire.

        I know having the time to read a book is a tall order, so I also recommend the Consensual Parenting Yahoo group. I am continually amazed at the advice those parents give. Even if you don’t offer up your own situations but just read some of the other people get advice, you will see some amazing perspective shifts and tools that might be really helpful.

        • ireneybean says:

          I read Unconditional Parenting when my child was an infant. I really liked the way he thought, but found it to be very lacking in practical advice and unfortunately that’s how my brain works. But … that does remind that it’s probably time for me to re-read Playful Parenting. (Which, if you haven’t read, is really excellent).

  10. Interesting discussion, Issa. Takes me back to the days when my first child (mother now of Astrid) responded to her new sister. I’d been all hers until that time and she felt threatened and feared my love loss. She suggested throwing the new baby in the garbage. I explained that while it was unacceptable to throw the new baby in the garbage she could take this black crayon and draw a story about the new baby.

    She also hit the new baby on the head with a tonka truck and clipped clothespins to her toes (at different times) and neither even awakened the young’n.

    Astrid will be 2 in February and will have a new brother in May. While she’s currently toilet-trained, we expect some setbacks in all areas until she adjusts to her sibling.

    When Astrid was 4 months old, I volunteered to have her for 2-3 hours three times/week so WE could bond. I offered mainly because I understood the need for breaks on occasion from parenting. My daughter doesn’t work outside the home. I’ve enjoyed Astrid more than I can say and hope to enjoy her baby brother as well. Right now we’re thinking that one day/week I’ll have Astrid alone, one day the new baby alone, and one day both of them. The other grandmother will watch whichever kid I’m not so mom gets a break 3 days each week. This could work for us.

    On discipline, my daughter uses time-outs, but I’ve not had to discipline Astrid yet. I thought (for the first time) that she was having an off-day on Monday of this week, but Monday actually turned into one of the funnest days we’ve had together. It’s fortunate that young children are so distractible. A bad mood or thought goes away just watching a 3-minute Frosty the Snowman Youtube online.

    • I find the “throw the baby in the garbage” suggestion really charming. I can just see her confusion as to why you can’t just get rid of this pesky new thing.

      It’s really great that Astrid (and impending brother) has multiple adults to pay such close attention to her. The one-on-one attention is really valuable, and I’m sure her mom values the time without her, too.

  11. What a great article. Thanks for posting it.

  12. I like everything about this post, except the name. I wonder if that’s part of why the centering is happening? I think parents of more kids or older kids often feel dismissive when a parent of a baby says, “Parenting isn’t hard.” Well, that’s great! You’re really not that far into it, though ;) Yes, you have experience with older kids and perhaps it will never feel very hard, but I’ve certainly had times when it was hard! There is something more all-encompassing about the hard when it’s your own kids and you have them all the time, than when you’re caring for others.

    None of this is to say I don’t agree. Of course there’s no good reason to be mean to children. I just think that really important idea might get hidden a bit behind the reaction to the title sentence.

    • Yeah, I know the title is confrontational. I’m specifically responding to people who use the phrase “parenting is hard” to explain why one person is yelling at or yanking on another person. I’m sure there are many aspects of parenting that I will find difficult in one way or another, but not yelling or grabbing at Dylan isn’t one of them. If someone is using the phrase “parenting is hard” to mean something else… well, then I’m not talking about them.

  13. This is SO good! I love the example you have used of two adults in a romantic relationship – it really puts things into perspective.

    I would love to share the link to your post in an upcoming edition of the Blog Carnival Against Child Abuse.

  14. Thanks for this post. It wasn’t until reading this that I realized that I am guilty of really hurting my children through yelling. For the most part we are good parents, we practiced attachment parenting, don’t spank, breastfed till each of the kids were two, do everything for the kids, eat organic, —I had never thought that we were abusive. I have a short fuse and though things may be going great all day–something may set me off and I just start yelling. I’m not proud of this and I am doing a bunch of different things to try to relax and just let it go (yoga, meditation, trying to just have more fun with my family, losing expectations of a clean house, etc.) This post made me realize that my yelling may be just as abusive as hitting and that makes me so sad…..Even more reason to make changes to our lives and NOW! Thanks for the insight.

    • Your yelling is probably not as abusive as hitting, so don’t add too much guilt on top of your already full plate. Yelling is a lot easier to take back, for one thing. You can probably go a long way towards shifting your dynamic just by noticing your yelling and pointing it out as soon as you can. I’m imagining you trying to be lighthearted about it, like stopping mid-yell and saying, “Well, fiddlesticks, I seem to be yelling again.” I bet if you are a little more lighthearted with yourself, you’ll find it easier to be lighthearted with your kids.

    • Depending on how you phrase it, you may be able to enlist your kids in helping you. You might be able to make a game out of them pointing out to you when you’re yelling, or something like that. Or maybe make a “swear jar”–you know, every time you yell, you have to put a quarter in the jar, and when it reaches some pre-set amount, the kids get it as allowance. I don’t know… I’m just throwing out ideas here. I think the key would be to be open and sincerely vulnerable about it to your kids–expressing your regret and asking them to participate in the solution, but without making it seem too much like it’s THEIR RESPONSIBILITY to fix it.

      On the flip-side, if you DO enlist their help, you have to be absolutely receptive to their feedback, or I fear that they will very quickly learn that you are not sincere in your desire for change. The key is not whether YOU think you’re yelling at them, it’s whether THEY think they’re being yelled at. I suppose there is room for a power struggle here, but that may be an acceptable risk for the payoff you’re going for.

    • I do not think that yelling, in and of itself without further qualifiers, is necessarily abusive. The words matter a lot. The age of the child matters. The event that you responded to with yelling matters.

      I’ve certainly lost my temper with my children (now 22 and 20 years old). “You are behaving like savages and this is unacceptable” is not remotely the same thing as “you *are* [insert negative words here]”. It doesn’t hurt smallish children (in my experience about three to four years old) to begin to realize that even adults have limits on their patience, time, attention, etc.

      My kids learned pretty quick, once I established the Magic Code Phrase, that they needed to come back for whatever they wanted in about 15 minutes. They’d just seen Ghostbusters, so the phrase “There is no Mommy, only Zuul!” resonated with them in a way they could actually grasp. Mommy is cranky right now, and it’s not related to them.

      YMMV, your children are not mine and are individuals in their own right, but mine still remember those events of Mommy “losing her shit” without any hurt feelings. They remember that I took the time to make sure that they knew it wasn’t anything they did (except when it was – the black Sharpie all over the white walls was especially memorable!), and it *certainly* wasn’t because of who they were as people.

      So, all of that rambling is to say that I think it’s good for children to recognize, at an appropriate age and level of development, that Mommy is an independent person with her own stresses and idiosyncrasies and reactions and even irrationalities. They learn how to gauge when to take someone else’s frustrations or even anger seriously, and when to sit back and say “… well, that’s got nothing to do with me” and just let it go. So don’t beat yourself up too hard, Karla.

      …Of course, it also helps when the children are afforded the same level of respect for their limits when THEY lose THEIR shit. But somehow I don’t think anyone here has any major issues with that reciprocity.

  15. I, myself, a long time ago, chose not to have children. Even though I adore children, I chose not to have them because I was too selfish. I couldn’t give up my life to be there 24/7/365. Just recently, during a sad family reunion of sorts, one of my siblings commented to me that they were surprised that I did not have any children. They expanded the comment to say that I always was so good with children and seemed kind of strange that I was childless. Well, I did have children at one time, two step-children from a past failed marriage in my EARLY twenties. Two boys, the oldest seven, the youngest I believe was four. I got along fabulously with the oldest. He wasn’t hard to step-parent. However, the youngest(!?), well, different story. I am ashamed to say I fell into the same category as you’re stating here. I parroted what I knew, what I grew up knowing as I didn’t know any. other. way. I was sad that it couldn’t be as easy with him as it was with his brother. Our life together was very short but I just hope I didn’t leave any detrimental damage.

    Thank you for your continued opinions/thoughts/expressions. Without people like you willing to open up there can never be a change in people’s minds/attitudes/perspectives. Thank you for you!

    • Thank you Charlee, for you, too, and I’m sorry about your recent family sadness.

      You don’t have to be ashamed of what you did in the past. Two things are certain: one is that children are very resilient, and he is probably just fine. The other is that no one alone is responsible for turning the tide of culture. It’s not your fault for parenting the way you were parented, the way you were taught, or the way you saw others around you parenting. I got that message from Jean Liedloff in The Continuum Concept, a powerful book about children and human development that’s easy to walk away from feeling guilty. But, it’s a complicated thing to turn the tide of culture, and our child-rearing practices are kind of a distilled version of our culture. Don’t be too hard on yourself. I appreciate your support, and don’t forget to support yourself, too! :-)

  16. I keep opening this post to say something thoughtful and articulate about it, and then closing any drafted replies again before I post them. I might as well just get on with it at this point:

    I agree that it is never acceptable or excusable to abuse another person. Children are people. Ergo, it is never acceptable or excusable to abuse a child.

    This bit, though: Parenting is supposed to be a loving relationship between parent and child, and it should look like one, and that shouldn’t be hard.

    The question I keep having is, to whom? To whom should the relationship “look like” a loving one? And if the answer is anyone other than “to the people most immediately involved,” how do you decide which other opinions/perceptions matter? What are the criteria for how those perceptions are determined?

    I ask because – well, there are lots of different ways of showing love. In my experience, love for one person is never totally the same thing as it is for another, and people express love differently from one another. My brother and I are both in our twenties and we still body-check each other into walls as a display of affection. Does that look like love to anyone who isn’t us? Probably not.

    I dunno. Maybe I am giving too much weight to these words. They just – sit wrongly, with me. There’s so much wrapped up in what love means to people and how love is expressed – personal histories, cultural expectations, etc. – that I am very wary of One True Waying.

    • “To whom should the relationship “look like” a loving one? And if the answer is anyone other than “to the people most immediately involved,” how do you decide which other opinions/perceptions matter? What are the criteria for how those perceptions are determined?”

      Mostly the two people involved. I tend to think in pictures, but maybe “feel like” would be a better phrase there. It’s most important that the child feels loved, though. Lots of parents are running around insisting that they love their children “all the time” or “no matter what”, while their children are getting the message loud and clear that this parental love is rather fragile, highly conditional, and otherwise fairly nasty.

      I completely agree that there are lots of ways to show love and some might not be so obvious to onlookers. I think it’s pretty rare for an expression of love to look cruel to onlookers, though. I might not think body-checking is a good way to show love, but I’m unlikely to see you and your brother do it in public and wonder if I should intervene or call the police.

      People can also be wrong about what is a loving expression, and it’s possible for an onlooker to have a more objective view. I know adults who express gratitude that their parents beat them as children because they believe it helped positively shape them. I think they are wrong, and their opinion cannot sway me from saying it’s wrong to hit children. Just because the desire to believe your parent did what was best for you is stronger than the desire to condemn abuse doesn’t mean what happened wasn’t abusive.

  17. I’m trying to pinpoint why I am reacting negatively to this post. I agree that it is never OK to abuse a child’s body or soul. But–and this isn’t the same as using “parenting is hard” as an excuse–I also know that parents are human. They make mistakes, and sometimes those mistakes occur in public. I tend to “cut them slack” simply because I don’t know the full story. If I see someone lose their temper and yell at a kid in a shop, I try to remember that I am seeing a small snapshot of two lives. Sure, it may be that I am witnessing a shitty parent. Or there might be something else I don’t–and can’t–know about contributing to the parent’s stress level that leads them to make a one-time mistake.

    If someone had seen me bottle feed my twins, it would have been easy to assume that I had fallen under the spell of the formula companies, or that I didn’t want to give them the food that was best for them. What couldn’t be known to a casual observer was the fact that I had developed a post-partum mental illness so severe that my life and the life of my babies had been in danger. The medication that literally kept us all alive precluded me from breastfeeding. It’s an extreme example, sure, but it has caused me to never judge another parent based on a moment’s observation.

    I by no means condone violence or abuse against kids. If it were someone I knew who had a pattern of hitting or screaming, I’d intervene for sure. But, since I cannot know the whole story from a snapshot, I try–I don’t always succeed, but I do try–to react with compassion and not judgement.

    • This post got a lot of negative reactions. Part of it was in my delivery, and part of it is the idea you talk about that you can’t know what’s going on in someone else’s situation. I may be starting a series soon to address this topic in a larger, more detailed way. For now, let me just say that I agree that parents are human, that people make mistakes, and that you can’t always tell that much about people by watching just a snippet of their lives.

  18. July for June says:

    You have one child who is still a baby. You don’t know shit when it comes to parenting so stop being such a self righteous blowhard about it.

    God. Shut up.

    • Geez, I really specialize in being a self righteous blowhard around here. How ’bout instead of me shutting up, you move the fuck along? There’s plenty of internet out there for you.

    • I am sick to death of the, “not parent enough” argument. Before Issa and I had kids, people said, “You don’t have kids yet. You don’t know shit.” Never mind that Issa had been a professional nanny for ten years or so. Yeah–I know that being a nanny is not the same as being a parent, but it does teach you a thing or two about interacting with children. In fact, I think that the variety of kids she got to interact with actually gave her a more valuable perspective than many parents who only care for their own children and no others.

      But whatever. So now we have a child, and very little has changed about our perspective, and people say, “Oh. You only have ONE child. And it’s a baby. You don’t know shit.” Fuck’s sakes: by that logic, the Duggars are the ultimate authority on parenting, and none of the rest of us should deign to even have an opinion.

      So I guess what I’m saying is this: If you would like to address an argument on its substance, you are welcome. If you would like to be more specific on how one’s perspective might be different if one’s circumstances were different, you are welcome. But if all you have to say is the same invalidating, “Not-parent-enough-to-talk,” bullshit that I’ve been hearing forever, you are not welcome. Do us both a favor and go read somebody else’s blog.

  19. Issa, firstly, I want to preface this with my belief that you seem to be a beautiful person with wonderful intentions. Your post smacked me in the face. HARD. I started to reply, then realised I had so much I wanted to say, so I have replied to you in the form of my own blog post. I’ll share it here, if you don’t mind:

    Having read a few of your posts, I really respect you as a mother and as a writer. Wishing you only good stuff :)

    • Michelle, thanks for you comment! To be honest, though, I’m not going to read your post. I got so much flack over this post, and I’m wanting to move on in the conversation (see today’s post “Okay, Parenting Is Hard”). I’m going to be writing more posts in the next couple of weeks that relate to what I said here and expand on it. The truth is that whatever accusations are made of me (“high horse”, etc), they’re probably true. If I read your words, I’ll probably be defensive and want to say defensive things, but that doesn’t really help. I hope that you stick around here and offer your thoughts on the posts to come.

      • Issa, I think you got attacked enough! I promise, my post is not at all an attack on you. There is nothing in there for you to be defensive about. I have nothing but support and respect for you and I think you have exactly the right intentions. Please read it, and know you have my support as a mother. I really hope I haven’t caused you any undue stress xo

  20. Thank you so much for this post. I happen to be the late teenage product of parents much like the abusive man you described. And it shows. When I hear someone in public start to reprimand their child I fear the worst. If it escalates, I will cringe, become ridiculously anxious, and, at my worst, try to flee the situation entirely, even if it means getting off the bus a mile’s walk from home. My parents constantly try to justify their actions to other people (like my therapist) with the phrase “parenting is hard” often adding “my children are difficult”. Well when you set a piss poor example, yes, things are going to be harder. I will freely admit that I had violent tendencies as a child. These were LEARNED. If you don’t want your kids to be violent, DON’T BE VIOLENT. And of course we all slip up – there are days when I yell at my little brother or push him off me with more force than necessary, but the thing is you can’t be content with slipping up. Part of learning from mistakes is actually trying not to make them again and being truly sorry for what you have done. As I approach the period of my life where I might consider raising kids, I get terrified sometimes of doing the same things that were done to me, and posts like these give me hope and tools for not doing that. Thanks.

    • Seth, thank you for commenting. You have really summed up the problem I was hoping to portray in this post. You might be interested in this follow up post. (If the video might be upsetting to you, you don’t need to watch it to get the rest of the post, and a brief description follows the video).

      About raising your own kids, it’s true that it’s hard not to do the things that were done to us. But, if you actually want to do things differently and are willing to put effort towards that, it’s not as hard as all that. There are lots of helpful books and helpful online communities for going a different way.

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