In this episode: Janet responds to an email from the exasperated mother of two boys who asks: “What do I do when I find my adorable children genuinely annoying?” She remembers a time when she was happy with them and enjoyed what felt like precious moments, but lately there’s been very little joy in her parenting experience, and she feels that their behavior is exacerbated by her attitude. “It breaks my heart,” she writes. She’s looking for tools to change her perspective.
Transcript of “What Can I Do When I Find My Adorable Children Annoying?”
Hi. This is Janet Lansbury. Welcome to Unruffled. Today, I’m responding to the mother of two boys, two and four, who admits that for several weeks now, she has not been enjoying them. In fact, she feels like they’re genuinely annoying. She’s been less patient and becomes easily exasperated, and it breaks her heart, because she knows it’s not her boys’ fault. She’s looking for some suggestions.
Here’s the note I received:
“Dear Janet, my best friend introduced me to your podcast a year and a half ago, and I’ve been listening ever since. Your words and insight have gotten me through many parenting challenges and long jogs. I see my children completely differently now thanks to you and the RIE approach. Thank you for your time and energy in this important quest. I’m a mother of two energetic loving boys, two and four, and I have a question of my own that I’m not sure I’ve heard you speak to. To be honest, I’m a little embarrassed to ask this, but in the spirit of transparency and in an effort to be a better parent, I’ll ask anyway. My question is what do I do when I find my adorable children genuinely annoying? I love them. I respect them. They’re fascinating creatures most of the time. But there are these days like today where it takes all I have to not to be short with them, or internally roll my eyes, or just feel plain exasperated.
I remind myself that this time is fleeting and that I need to enjoy them, but sometimes I don’t. This has become especially hard since my four-year-old son has dropped his nap and I don’t get time to myself in the afternoon. I’m becoming more short-tempered and less patient, and I just don’t know what to do. I work part-time, and am with them every other day and on weekends. I look back on pictures or journal entries of when I was just so happy to be with them during what felt like precious moments, but this week, and for a few weeks now, I feel that less and less. It breaks my heart. My biggest fear is that my children, in all their intuition, are catching on, and this makes them act out, which of course, exacerbates the entire situation. I know I am at fault here. I just need tools to get through these moments. Any help would be greatly appreciated. You’re the bomb. Seriously. Much love.”
Well, thank you for that. I love that this mother wants to be transparent and wants to be a better parent. Right there, I already know that she has all the tools she needs. When we have feelings like this, first of all, it’s very, very normal. If we think of anyone that we love passionately and deeply the way we love our children, we’re not going to be excited about them all the time. We get annoyed with lots of people we’re close to in life. That’s just part of the relationship. With children, we’re dealing with people that are very, very immature emotionally. So, the chances of there being annoying moments is great. So, the first thing I want to say to this parent is please, forgive yourself for feeling a normal thing about your children. Don’t let yourself fall into the, “Ah, I’m supposed to be enjoying every moment, and I’m a bad mom.” That’s only going to make you more annoyed and less patient with them and yourself.
We’ve got to start by loving ourselves, knowing this is, again, very, very normal to not always be happy to be with our children. Once we do that, we can take that feeling, allow it to have a life, just like we want to allow our children’s feelings to have a life, and we turn it all around, and we look at it and see, “Hmm, I wonder what’s going on that’s making me feel this way. What is it about them? Is there anything I can do to make this better for myself?”
Sometimes, maybe the answer’s going to be no. But oftentimes, I’ve noticed in my work with parents over the years and in my own experience as a parent of three children, there are some things that we can fall into that will cause us to get more annoyed. Those are the things I want to go over today. This is a situation where I don’t know the details here. This mother didn’t give any details, so I’m going to have to kind of generalize about what I’ve noticed are the most common reasons that we get annoyed with children.
First of all, when children have these typical annoying behaviors; whining, touching us a certain way, repeatedly asking for the same thing, perhaps calling us certain names, “You’re stupid,” things like that. When children do those things and we react on a regular basis, then we give the behaviors power. That means children will have the impulse to continue them. It doesn’t mean that they’re consciously trying to be annoying. They can’t help but go there anytime they feel the slightest uncomfortable feeling that they want to share with us, these people who are closest to them, that they feel safe to share with. They are going to realize,This is a way that I can share that my parent really reacts to, that my parent really kind of gets. It’s, in a way, successful. It’s also curious that they get a little touched off by this. Just when I whine, when I repeat those questions, or when I touch them in this certain way, or knock passed them as I’m walking passed. It gets a rise out of them. So, I have to keep exploring that.
So, when something annoys us, children will tend to keep doing it, which obviously, makes them even more annoying.
So, how do we not react to those things? We perceive them as normal ways that children express feelings that aren’t our problem to fix, that aren’t personal, that aren’t genuine. They don’t genuinely think we’re stupid, they just go there, and then sometimes they see that this really has an impact, and they can’t help but keep going there. So, getting that perspective on why children do these things… A whine is a kind of constipated cry. Repeated questioning is the way an older child, older than a two-year-old, will have kind of a tantrum. Those physical behaviors are typical lashing out behaviors. None of these have anything to do with us. They are all expressions of emotion that our children have that we don’t need to fix or do anything about, just allow them to be.
I’m going to recommend a few posts to this parent, or anyone else having this issue that’s listening. One is called A Mental Health Mantra For Parents and Kids. The mantra is, “Let the feelings be.” I would add, “They don’t belong to me.” And. “The feelings will heal if we let them be.” So, just letting children express those things. Not getting sucked into them, not getting caught up in them, not trying to address them as if they’re genuine needs or questions. That means we try to hear what our whining child is saying, but we hold our own pace in helping them. Maybe they sound like they’re being very demanding and they need it right this second. We have to hold our own instead of getting sucked into this as if it’s an emergency. Again, this is about perspective.
This parent says that she works part-time. There are a lot of parents I work with that work full-time. It can be really hard when parents work outside the home, then they have time with their children that they want to be “quality time,” the way we’ve seen it all in the wonderful memes and movies, how we’re supposed to be, just loving each other, and it’s all joyful and playful, and we’re having a blast and we’re laughing. That does happen of course. But oftentimes, the way children will need to be with us when they’re not with us all the time, they’re in expressing feelings mode, which is pushing limits, whining, screaming, having a tantrum, questioning, having those physical behaviors. They need to share with that person that they’re closest to. It will help us to become less annoyed if we can try to reframe what quality time, what love really means.
It’s definitely about the good times, the easy times, but it’s also, or even more, about allowing children to be all the uncomfortable things that they are and annoying things they are without taking them on as our problem to fix, or to perceive as some kind of invalidation of us as parents. There are a lot of emotions that children have in just a normal day. If we’re riding those roller coasters of emotions that our children have at age two and age four, those are tough ages. Feeling responsible, feeling like when they’re up, we’re good parents, when they’re down, we’re bad parents. We’re going to feel helpless. We’re going to feel like we suck, to be honest. We’re going to feel like we’re not cut out for this job, and then again, there’s something wrong with us, and la la la la. It’s going to wear on us and we are going to be annoyed.
But we can also notice, Hey, I did this hard thing. I really let my child have these crazy unreasonable-seeming feelings that they were having. It wasn’t fun for me, but I did it, and I found that bit of emotional distance that I needed. It’s not the same as numbing out, blocking out our children and becoming a wall to them. We’re quite open and accepting, but we’re not letting it impact us. When we do that, we notice often, that our children clear something, it may seem like it’s taken half a day, or it’s something that goes on and off, on and off all day, if children just have a lot to spill, they have a lot to express, they’re processing something. If we allow that, we will get the reward of a calmer child that seems freer, that seems more comfortable in their skin, more at ease. We notice that they’re relaxed, at peace. It works. It really does.
Getting comfortable with this is the key to being a consistently happier parent — understanding our role, and feeling good about the times when we do manage to do it and we won’t be perfect. But practice makes it easier, makes it work better.
Often, what happens if we try to avoid letting these feelings roll out, if we get caught up in, Well, if I just give him this thing he wants, maybe he’ll stop, we don’t want to set the limits, because in the moment, that feels like the easier way to just let them get what they want, or let it go. But then, we find that now they’re pushing another limit, or now they’re demanding another thing, or now they’re imposing on us for something else. Personal boundaries, a lot of it is. “I’m going to take my time and go to the bathroom. You guys want to come with me, I’m not going to let you.” That means locking the door, even if they’re banging on the door.
My children can’t be the one to release me and set the limit for me. I have to be the one to do it. When I do it, I’m probably going to get blasted. That’s why my child pushed the limit in the first place. That’s what they needed to release. So, that’s how the system works, and it does work.
Most parents I know, including myself, we would do anything to just have a happy child in that moment. It’s so hard to remember that there’s always a reason, and it’s usually that our child needs to release a feeling. The sooner we can allow that to happen by holding our boundaries, the easier it is for them.
This was the hardest lesson for me personally. I wanted to be the good guy all the time that just had happy times with my kids. I had to discover, as many of us do, that that wasn’t as loving, and that it actually took me down a road to possibly resenting my children and being annoyed with them, because I was kind of expecting them to make my job easier, because I didn’t really want to do it and face the music.
So, I’m making educated guesses here about what’s going on with this parent, and really, that’s all I can do besides encourage her to be okay with feeling whatever she’s feeling, and to love herself enough to be able to examine it without judgment.
Another thing this comes down to is self-care. I also have a post that I recommend, The Self-Care Parents Need Every Moment. What I describe in that post is setting our boundaries. “I don’t want you sitting on my lap right now. I want to be able to sit here for a moment by myself, so I’m going to keep you off my lap.” Tuning into ourselves and our needs, and feeling good about asserting them. They will often be in conflict with our children’s wants. That’s okay. There’s other important self-care, that getting away kind of self-care. I don’t know if this mother’s been able to make that work in her schedule. If there’s someone else that can care for her children so that she can have dinner with a friend, or go somewhere for coffee, do something at least once a week for herself.
That’s really important. But I think even more important is this moment to moment willingness to stand up for ourselves and allow children to melt down around us, and to see that as a very loving act. Again, we’re not turning a cold shoulder on their feelings. We’re seeing them, we’re nodding, we’re accepting, but we’re still doing the things we need to do. We welcome them to share how much they dislike that.
This mother says, “It breaks my heart. My biggest fear is that my children, in all their intuition, are catching on.” Well, they may be, and that’s even more reason for this mother to have the love for herself to explore the annoyance that she has, to really explore it so that she can, when she understands it, repair with her children. She can express to them, “You probably noticed I’ve been really annoyed lately. I think this is why. I think those times when you said you wanted blah blah blah, and I said okay, but I didn’t really want to do it, that was wrong of me. I needed to say no right then, and I didn’t, so I got annoyed. So, I’m going to stop doing that, because I don’t want to be annoyed at you guys. You guys don’t deserve that.”
It might look something like that. I don’t know. But again, I don’t know the details. I just know that, I think most of us can say, we’ve been there. My heart goes out to this parent, and it will be all right. Instead of going to heartbreak, I would love for her to go to exploration and love for herself, and then any mending that she needs to do to make this feel right to her. I hope that helps.
Also, please check out some of my other podcasts at janetlansbury.com. They’re all indexed by subject and category so you should be able to find whatever topic you’re interested in. Both of my books are available on audio, No Bad Kids, Toddler Discipline Without Shame and Elevating Child Care, A Guide To Respectful Parenting .You can get them for free from Audible by following the link in the liner notes of this podcast, or you can go to the books section of my website. You can also get them in paperback at Amazon, and an e-book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and apple.com.
Thank you for listening. We can do this.