Ask Scary Mommy is Scary Mommy’s advice column, where our team of “experts” answers all the questions you have about life, love, body image, friends, parenting, and anything else that’s confusing you.
This week: What do you do when your patience with your own child has dwindled to practically nothing? Have your own question? Email [email protected]
Dear Scary Mommy,
I feel like a terrible mom because I have literally no patience with my four-year-old daughter. I am constantly on the verge of losing my temper with her. As far as I know the things she does are just normal four-year-old behaviors and I shouldn’t be so worked up about her just being a normal kid, but I can’t help it. She will barge into the room while I’m trying to get her baby sister to sleep, or whine because she doesn’t want whatever lunch I’ve made, or doesn’t want to get her shoes on when we’re already running late. I end up frustrated (if not outright angry) and yelling, which upsets her, and then everybody is crying and I feel like crap. Help!
You know the saying “the patience of a saint?” Well in my estimation, the reason saints were so patient is that most of them didn’t have children. Kids have a way of testing even the calmest, most unruffled parents, so don’t beat yourself up for running short in the tolerance department. It isn’t easy raising kids, and at times it’s downright taxing.
It’s hard to infer your exact circumstances through an email alone, but this pressure can increase if you’re a stay-at-home-parent, because you’re never off duty. And you said you have a baby as well? Sheesh! Talk about being needed constantly. It isn’t any wonder that you feel worn thin. (Side note: I don’t know how old your baby is, but it’s worth mentioning that anger can be a symptom of postpartum depression — so if you think that could be the case, it might be time for a visit to your doctor.)
To cut down on the incidents where your daughter is grating on your last nerve, try setting very clear boundaries so she knows what’s expected of her. Kids’ brains don’t yet work in the way that adults’ brains do; when she runs into the room while you’re rocking the baby, for example, she isn’t thinking about how doing so might affect her sister — or you. She isn’t purposefully wrecking the baby’s nap time to be a pain in the ass; she’s just not seeing beyond her own needs and wants.
Try calmly but firmly spelling out what you need from her, and then you can address her wishes. Tell her that you’re going to be busy putting her sister down for a nap for the next few minutes and that you need it to be quiet, so if she needs anything — a drink, a snack, a show on TV — you’re happy to get it for her first. This is twofold: first, she’s been briefed on exactly what you expect her to do. And secondly, she knows that her needs are important to you too, and she feels seen and heard.
This won’t always work like a charm, of course, because kids are kids and even the most gentle parenting techniques can’t circumvent every meltdown. But you might find that the frequency of the times you clash with your daughter diminishes, and that can count for a lot.
Make sure you’re giving her plenty of attention and one-on-one time. Babies are demanding, and maybe your daughter feels a little slighted sometimes. She might be less apt to demand attention — negative or otherwise — if she feels more fulfilled in that area.
Another thing, and this one’s really important: are you trying to pour from an empty cup? We all start to feel prickly and resentful (and understandably so!) when we give and give and give to others without caring for ourselves properly. It takes a toll, not only on us, but on everybody around us. I’m not saying that you have to book yourself a weeklong spa retreat (I mean, what parent of young kids can do that anyway?!), but make sure you’re prioritizing yourself once in a while.
Regardless of what techniques you try and solutions you come up with, she won’t be four forever. This is a hard age, and patience isn’t an easy thing to come by. Give yourself some grace, and remember that she isn’t being a pain — she’s just being four.