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It’s OK to Cry: Why We Should Listen to Our Children’s Tears

It's okay to cry. Letting children express their emotions helps them become better adjusted adults

By Kate Orson, Special to


We all know the feeling of a good cry. Shakespeare said, ‘to weep is to make less the depth of grief,’ and a scientific review published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology in 2014 found that crying enhances our mood, particularly when we have someone there to offer us social support.


Yet when our babies or children cry, most parents don’t think of it as something, ‘good.’


We do everything in our power to just stop the crying. With babies we’ll bounce them or ‘shhh’ them. With toddlers we’ll try to distract them with a nice toy, encourage them to ‘use your words,’ or simply ignore the crying until it stops.


As adults, we also try to distract ourselves from our emotions. Maybe you scroll through your Facebook newsfeed, make another cup of coffee, reach for chocolate or a glass of wine. Why do we find it so hard just to simply be with our own and our children’s feelings?


In my teens and early twenties, when I felt low I’d go out drinking or take drugs. Happiness was easy to reach simply by changing my brain chemistry and finding friends to have fun with.


But when I was 21 I was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. I could no longer rush around being busy all the time, going out every night, ignoring my moments of sadness and covering them up with alcohol or drugs.


I was left with stillness.


I was alone much of the time, and had no choice but to actually face my emotions. This wasn’t easy. I found yoga, meditation, and creative writing helped me cope.


I never went back to my previous life of partying. Instead over the years, I went deeper into healing myself. I learned how to be with my emotions and to move through them, without trying to fix or change them.


I cried a lot.


And I found that when I let myself cry I came out the other side to a greater joy.


When I became pregnant in my early thirties, I discovered a book called The Aware Baby by Aletha Solter, Ph.D. A developmental psychologist who studied with Jean Piaget, Solter explains that crying is a built-in healing mechanism that babies are born with, and that they actually cry for two distinct reasons: 1) to get their needs met, and 2) to heal and recover from any stressful experiences they have. I suddenly realised what I’d been searching for all this time, was my own tears.


I’d been wary about becoming a parent. I remembered the poem by Phillip Larkin that goes, ‘they f**k you up, your mum and dad.’


Kate Orson's book, Tears Heal, helps parents learn to transform their parenting by moving away from stopping feelings, towards listening to their children instead. It seemed so hopeless—that we bring children into the world, and then fill them with hurt and emotional baggage.


Then I realised that it didn’t have to be this way—I didn’t need to be a perfect parent. If my child experienced difficulties I could help her heal. She wouldn’t have to wait until she was an adult to set off on her own soul-searching journey. With my help, she could recover from stress and upset, and learn to be kind to and accepting of herself, while she was still a child.


I decided I would listen to my daughter, to stay with her and hold her, and just allow her to cry when she needed to cry. If she didn’t have a particular problem that I needed to fix, I could be there to accompany her in her sadness instead of trying to cajole her out of it. I started to understand how we all have these little we automatic ways in which we try to stop our babies and children from crying, without any conscious awareness of what we are doing. For example we ‘shhh’ a baby, or distract a toddler on the verge of tantrum. We have ingrained ways of avoiding emotions in ourselves, and in our children.


What happened when you cried as a baby or toddler? Were you shouted at or punished? Were you told ‘Don’t cry,’ or, ‘I’ll give you something to cry about?’ How our parents responded to our own tears and complicated emotions affects our behaviour as parents. It can be hard to deal with crying, when our own tears weren’t met with empathy and listening when we were young.


If you were not responded to in a way that helped you accept your emotions and yourself as a child, you do not have to parent your children the same way. Instead you can write down your childhood story, or tell it to a sympathetic listener. Research has found that the act of processing our past and making sense of it is the single most important factor that determines how securely attached our children are to us. As we tell the story of how our parents reacted to our tears and emotional upsets we will find our own children’s emotions easier to deal with.


One in four adults will have a mental health issue at some point in their lives. If there’s one thing you can do to inoculate your children against future sadness, it’s allowing them to express their emotions now. When our children cry we can simply be with them, offer hugs, and listen. We can give them a few kind, reassuring words, ‘’I’m here, you’re safe.’’ We don’t need to talk too much. We don’t need to try to get our child to ‘use their words.’ The best thing we have to offer our children is our loving presence.


Kate Orson, author of Tears HealKate Orson is a Hand in Hand Parenting instructor and author of Tears Heal: How to Listen to Our Children.

Originally from the U.K., she now lives in Switzerland with her husband, author Toni Davidson, and their five-year-old daughter.

Follow her on Facebook and Twitter. Visit her website,

I Let My Kid Watch a Polar Bear Eat off a Woman’s Rear End and Other Bad Parenting Moments

I let my 5-year-old watch a polar bear eat a woman's rear end and other bad parenting mistakes

I even managed to make a mistake in this meme. It has the wrong date on it.

You banged your baby’s head against the door on the way to the bathroom by mistake. You let your toddler stick a pussy willow up her nose while you were watching and somehow managed not to stop her. You forgot to take your kid to soccer practice. We all have a bad parenting story to tell. Some of us have many.

The honest truth is that sometimes I feel sorry for my children because they have me as a mother. I sometimes feel like I’m screwing up all the time, unable to keep on top of the everyday exigencies that other people have no trouble handling.

On the worst days I wish my children didn’t have to have me for a mom. Then I feel guilty for having such low self-esteem. But secretly I know they’d be happier, better adjusted, and have more confidence with a different mother. One who uses humor instead of temper to make a point, one who doesn’t use the f-word, ever, in front of or at her children, one who manages to keep the house clean and fold the laundry with a good attitude.

I have a friend with four children who is an attentive and loving mother but was the only parent to miss an event at her kids’ school where her son actually gave a speech (no one told her). This—and my own struggles lately—started me thinking about how, though we don’t often talk about them out loud, we all have bad parenting moments.

So I asked some of my favorite bloggers, who are all moms I admire, to share their worst moments.

My hope for moms, dads, caregivers, and friends without children who read this is we’ll all see something of ourselves in these stories, and that other people’s spectacular screw-ups will help us be a little kinder to ourselves. I compiled this round-up, a different version of which was published on, to honor all of us parents who make mistakes.

Worst Parenting Moments Ever. We’ve All Had Them. These Six Moms are Brave Enough to Share…

Kristen Gough, who blogs at MyKidsEatSquid, with her two daughters

1. I Gave My Husband and My Daughter Food Poisoning

Once I left yogurt that was past due in the fridge (the thought was that I didn’t want to stink up the garbage and I would toss it on trash day).

My hubby and my youngest daughter ate the whole thing—hubby had tummy pains, my daughter, who has a sensitive tummy, threw up all morning.

That was about a year ago but I still feel bad. —Kristen Gough

Alisa Bowman, author of Project Happily Ever After, with her daughter 2. I Let My Kid Watch a Polar Bear Attack a Helpless Lady

I was struggling to meet a writing deadline. My husband was out for the evening. My daughter was home, but it wasn’t bedtime yet.

I said, “Hey, do you want to watch TV?” and turned on either the Learning Channel or the Discovery Channel.

One of them had a show about sharks, and my kid—then age 5—loves sharks.

She starts watching. I start typing. She interrupts me a few times–for a drink of water, to pause the TV so she can go potty, and so on. I give her the “Mommy is working. Please don’t bother Mommy when she is working” talk. Now I’m really jamming away on my assignment. My daughter is saying quietly, “Mommy, come here please.” I say, “In a minute.” She says, “You said “in a minute a minute ago.” I say, “Really, I’m just trying to finish this up. Just a sec.” This goes on, her asking me to come over, me telling her in a sec.

Next thing I know she’s screaming, “Mommy! I need you now!” and she’s crying. On the TV there’s footage of a polar bear and it’s eating the rear end off a woman who somehow fell into the polar bear enclosure at the zoo. That’s when I realize that she was never watching the nice little show about sharks that was supposed to be on. No, that entire time she was watching something like “Zoo Animals Go Wild.”

It took me forever to calm her down. All the while she kept asking, “Why didn’t you come when I asked you to come?”

Now, even months later, she mentions that show and asks, “Why did you let me watch that show about the polar bears?” —Alisa Bowman

Tertia Albertyn at the aquarium without her laptop3. I Took My Laptop On The Ferris Wheel

I’ve accidentally knocked the baby’s head against the doorframe many times. And once, I insisted, against much protestation that my son STOP MOANING AND PUT HIS SHOE ON, only to discover quite a bit later that there was an old sock crumpled up in the toe of the shoe the entire time. But my real BAD MOMMY MOMENTS are much less obvious and much more insidious. Subtler than eating all the chocolate Easter eggs, fooling the children into thinking bedtime is 30 minutes earlier so I can get to my Chardonnay, hiding the vegetables so a 5 year old is tricked into eating something healthy. My BAD moments all involve my laptop/Blackberry/cellphone/INTERNET addiction. The need to be constantly online working/emailing/blogging/Facebooking and of course, my latest addiction, Twitter.

My lowest (highest) moment was when I found myself going round and round the Ferris wheel with the kids with my laptop on my lap, working! In my defense, I had to work (really, promise! It was actual work this time) and they wanted to go to the amusement park. So we decided to do both. I took my laptop on the rides with them. It was a win-win situation, although I did get quite a few horrified looks from the other (better, more focused) mothers. Hey, at least I made my deadline AND the kids had fun. — Tertia Albertyn

Claudine Jalajas's daughter has a knack for getting stuck in small spaces4. I Was So Busy Talking On the Phone That I Let My Daughter Get Trapped in a Box

On our patio is a deck box which is supposed to hold all the outdoor toys.

Since our kids don’t actually put toys away, it’s usually empty.

One night we were having a barbecue with family and the kids thought it was funny to go in the deck box and “hide” while we were all sitting there. My daughter was three years old.

One week later my mother calls me and I’m walking around the house cleaning and doing whatever as she rambles on, interjecting “oh my god.. you’re kidding! so it was on sale?” and just going about my business. The boys come in because my husband is about to mow the lawn and they turn on the TV to avoid helping. My mother is still talking, the lawn mower starts up, and I’m still walking around the house now straining to hear her over the mower and cartoons on TV.

My daughter’s not in the house and so now I’m going from room to room to look for her in the yard assuming she’s either on the swing set or in the sand box.

I can hear her calling me but it sounds far away. My mother talks a LOT and it’s hard to interrupt her to say, “I’ll call you back” so I just keep “uh huh’ing” while looking for Annabelle.

Now I’m getting more annoyed at all the extra noises (mower, TV, my mother’s Walmart rant) and I say, “Have to go… no… I have to go… I’ll call you later.” Without waiting for the answer I hang up.

I can hear Annabelle crying, “Mama!” but she sounds so far. I suddenly turn my head and look at the deck box. I open it.

There she is, so small, all sweaty, clutching her blanky, tears streaming, crouched in corner. She went to hide in the box but when nobody came looking for her she wasn’t strong enough to open the top. — Claudine Jalajas

Jane Boursaw, writer and entertainment blogger5. I Let My Baby Almost Drown Because I Was Too Scared to React 

When our first-born, Will, was still a baby, we took him swimming in our wonderful bay. We live on the Old Mission Peninsula which juts 18 miles into Lake Michigan, just north of Traverse City, Michigan. So we have East Bay on one side (that’s the side we live on) and West Bay on the other side of the peninsula. Hubby Tim had Baby Will in his arms near the shore, and stepped wrong and fell over. I was on the beach—and they were just a few feet into the water, so they weren’t very far out or anything—but I almost passed out when I saw Tim start to fall over. I felt like I was moving in slow motion … trying to get to them before Will hit the water. When Tim was scrambling to his feet under the water trying to get to the baby, he looked over and saw Will happily swimming under the water, eyes wide open, like a little fish. So I can now confirm that babies really can swim when they’re born—at least in Will’s case. He loves the water to this day. —Jane Boursaw, Reel Life with Jane.

 6. I Was The ONLY PARENT Who Didn’t Show Up For My Sons’ Thanksgiving Feast at School

Meagan Francis with her husband and four sons

Meagan Francis with her husband and four sons

My sons (now 12 and 10, at the time 8 and 6) had just started at a brand-new school in a small town where we didn’t know many people yet. A note had come home about a special Thanksgiving lunch for the two oldest, but I had kind of blown it off—I was hugely pregnant (about a week from my due date), and at the school my sons had gone to previously it seemed there was always some big ‘event’ or other to sign up for. I was picturing a “special” dinner of cafeteria sliced turkey and cranberry sauce.

I happened to run into one of the other school moms in town that afternoon, and she said “Oh, I wish I had your cell phone number—I would have called to remind you about the Thanksgiving feast!” As it turned out, at this school, the Thanksgiving lunch is The Event Of The Year, with real home-cooked turkey, giveaways, games and a little concert from the kids—and my sons were literally the only children there who didn’t have a parent or some other special person with them. My oldest son had wandered around with tears in his eyes until this other mom felt sorry for him and “adopted” him for the afternoon.

The worst part of it was, I didn’t have any good reason for not going to the lunch. I just didn’t realize how important it was, and was feeling tired and uncomfortably pregnant and blew it off. Now I am so much more careful about carefully reading those notes that come home from school, and if I don’t know much about an event, I ask other parents to get a sense of how big a deal it is. —Meagan Francis

Jennifer Margulis teaching a workshop at a Parent-Daughter fair. Photo courtesy of Sarah WestoverJennifer Margulis is a travel, culture, and parenting writer who lives in southern Oregon. She is a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University, a sought-after speaker, and the recipient of several awards. Her most recent book, The Business of Baby, is a finalist for a Books For a Better Life Award. Find out more at

Ever forgotten to pick your kids up at school or been the only mom (or dad) with spit-up on your shirt and unkempt hair at a fancy kid function? If you’re brave enough, we’d love to hear about your worst parenting moment in the comments section below.

Biggest Parenting News Stories of 2013 (The Ones You Haven’t Heard)

Kids need affection at any age, grownups too

This year has brought good parenting news from around the world. It was pretty wonderful that the Prince William and Kate Middleton had a healthy baby boy as fans from Britain and around the world eagerly waited for news, and equally as wonderful that Pope Francis spoke out publicly in favor of breastfeeding.

But then there are the parenting news stories you haven’t heard on NPR or read about in the mainstream press — the stories that aren’t sexy enough for ABC News, the stories that journalists and editors are systematically ignoring because they are too challenging or too painful, or because they mean we have to radically shift the way we are treating moms and babies in this country.

The three biggest parenting stories of 2013 that haven’t made the national news:

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America’s Maternal Mortality Rates Continue to Rise: It is more dangerous to have a baby in America than in any other country in the developed world.

It is safer to give birth in many countries that we don’t think of as developed, like Bosnia and Herzegovina.

While countries like India are reporting improvements in their maternal mortality rates, America’s maternal death rates continue to go up.

Moreover, America’s health care system has no centralized reporting, which means we are not keeping accurate records of the number of deaths related to childbirth.

In fact, the CDC reports that maternal mortality is grossly underreported.

Elizabeth Curtis, 34, a Grand Haven dentist, died after having a baby in December 2103. Connie Kin, a video blogger, died after delivering her second child by C-section in November 2103. Heather Nichols, 29, died after contracting a hospital-borne flesh-eating bacteria on an episiotomy site in August 2013.

While the media reports on these deaths, journalists continue to ignore the fact that our maternal care system is the worst in the industrialized world and that the deaths are not isolated incidents of “bad luck” but part of a broken system.

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Ultrasound Exposure May Trigger Autism: More and more children in America are being diagnosed with autism or other atypical neurology. We have an epidemic of autism among today’s children that is mind boggling.

Any thinking person will realize by now that this is not because of more frequent diagnosis.

One main cause of autism may be in utero exposure to ultrasound.

Despite mounting evidence that this is the case, medical practitioners continue to IGNORE SAFETY GUIDELINES, USE FAULTY ULTRASOUND EQUIPMENT, AND INSIST ON ULTRASOUND WHEN IT IS NOT MEDICALLY NECESSARY.

A scientist researching the connection between ultrasound and autism recently wrote to me: “We had a grant rejected from the NIH. The primary reviewer’s opening comment was that the basic idea that ultrasound was not completely safe was flawed as he/she presumed that otherwise we would be in the midst of an epidemic of patients with neurodevelopmental problems. Yes we are.”

Read my op-ed in the Daily Beast about ultrasound and autism.

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America’s Children Are Sick: At least one percent of the children in the U.S. between the ages of 3 and 17 have an autism spectrum disorder.

In addition to autism, we are seeing rises in asthma, food allergies, Type 1 juvenile diabetes, childhood cancers, Crohn’s Disease, celiac disease and other disorders.

Maybe you think autism is not your problem because your child is not on the spectrum. But the rising rates of autism in the United States are everyone’s concern.

May 2014 be the year you stick your neck out. May 2014 be the year you demand improvements. May 2014 be the year things start to change.

Here’s to pregnant women, new parents, bloggers, and the mainstream media being brave enough to start talking about the real issues affecting our children’s health.

SmallHeadShotJennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism at Brandeis University and author of The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby BEFORE Their Bottom Line. The Business of Baby is a finalist for a BOOKS FOR A BETTER LIFE AWARD, along with Temple Grandin’s The Autistic Brain, Ann Lamott’s Stitches, and Katy Butler’s Knocking On Heaven’s Door. Winners will be announced at an award ceremony in New York City on March 10, 2014.


13 Random Parenting-Related Things You’ve Probably Never Thought Of

a_monster_in_paris_hi_JPEG1. Most children’s movies have a French and Spanish soundtracks. If you play the movie in a foreign language and turn on the same language’s subtitles, you will learn a lot of new vocabulary and expressions, and so will your kids.

2. A Monster in Paris is a movie the whole family will like. Not as famous as The Incredibles or Shrek, this charming movie is a lot of fun and not too scary for the younger set.

3. Goodwill is a great place to take your younger children to shop for holiday presents for their siblings and relatives. They can pick out whatever they want, it’s inexpensive, you are doing a good deed by shopping there, and, by not participating in the first world economy, you’re making the world a better place.

4. You and your kids can then wrap those presents, or any others, in old maps. No need to buy wrapping paper. (If you have no maps because you only use a GPS, a decorated brown paper bag makes great wrapping paper, as do used calendars and even newspaper in a pinch.) Here are 15 other ways to save a tree.

Photo by Brittany Powell from

Photo by Brittany Powell from


5. Wondering what your child is thinking about? Play interview. Set up two chairs and a table. Put on a suit jacket or a silly hat. You are the interviewer, your child is the client. “Right this way, please, Mr. Smith,” you say after your child knocks on the pretend door. “You’re here for your interview, I presume?” Then you ask them questions and write down the answers. Sample questions: 1) What’s your favorite color and why? 2) If you could spend the day doing anything you want, what would you do? 3) What do you like best about school? 4) What are your three favorite candies? 5) What do you not like about school? (See, you slip in the burning questions in between the lighter ones.)

Image from

Image from



6. Toys get really boring really quickly. Two ways to fix this: 1) Swap a box of toys with a friend your child’s age (have them put their name on the bottom of anything they want back.) 2) Put toys on vacation (your child can help) for a couple of months in the closet. Pull them out later and they are suddenly fascinating again.

7. Let them climb trees. As high as they want. Don’t hover and don’t help them. In Scandinavia where children are given a lot more freedom to climb trees and explore nature, kids also have fewer accidents! Read more about this in Christine Gross-Loh’s wonderful book Parenting Without Borders.

Let them climb trees. As high as they want. Photo by James di Properzio.

Let them climb trees. As high as they want. Photo by James di Properzio.


8. It’s OK if your kids don’t want to share. You wouldn’t share your car or bicycle with someone you just met. You probably wouldn’t share

Unknownyour jewelry, a brand new book, your pajamas, or something else special, either. We shouldn’t expect more from our children than we do from ourselves. (And it also doesn’t work to shout “STOP SHOUTING!” when you want your kids to stop shouting. We all do it anyway. But it doesn’t work.) Read more in Heather Shumaker’s wonderful book.

9.  The best way to make a baby laugh is to throw a piece of spaghetti against the wall.

10. Kids can and should use knives. Even little kids. (See #7, details in the book. Or read this essay by Christine in the Huffington Post)

Any knife will do but a blunt one is better for obvious reasons. This knife is made by Curious Chef and part of a 3-piece set designed for kids.

Any knife will do but a blunt one is better for obvious reasons. This knife is made by Curious Chef and part of a 3-piece set designed for kids.

11. An activity for a rainy day, ages 2 – 8 (44-year-olds have fun with this too): Sit on a sheet on the floor in the kitchen and play sandbox. Use flour, corn starch, and dried beans for sand. Jars of different sizes, a small bucket, and a shovel or trowel make good sand toys.

12. An activity for a nice day: intersection. Walk out of your house or apartment. At each intersection a different member of the family gets to decide which way to go. Take turns. See where you end up.

WIL2308-123513. Use cookie cutters to make shapes out of tofu! This idea came to me last week. It was so much fun and my kids ate a ton of tofu and veggies (we fried the shapes in soy sauce, garlic, and broccoli.) I’m sure other parents have had this idea but I can’t believe I never thought of it before!

SmallHeadShotJennifer Margulis is the author/editor of four books about parenting: Toddler: Real-Life Stories of Those Fickle, Urgent, Irrational People We Love; The Baby Bonding Book For Dads; and The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby BEFORE Their Bottom Line (Scribner, 2013).


When Hurry Becomes a Habit: It’s Time to Stop Rushing Our Kids

Photo by Lora Horvath

Photo by Lora Horvath

“Whaddya doing Max?” a father shouted at his 5-year-old when his son stood looking longingly at the snack bar. “We came here to go on the water slides! We’re going on the water slides! C’mon!”

The little boy reluctantly but obediently turned to follow his father.

I watched them get in line. It was a hot summer day but the waterslides at Emigrant Lake were not too crowded. This was the first time we had been to them and I couldn’t help thinking we had found the perfect activity for a Friday afternoon.

But the man’s impatient words to his son were disconcertingly familiar.

They reminded me of my father-in-law.

They reminded me of myself.

When we still lived in Massachusetts every year a touring fair would come to the Amherst Commons. It was sleezy and thrilling, the way small touring fairs tend to be. My father-in-law was visiting us from Buffalo the same weekend of the fair.

He strode onto the Commons and bought a packet of tickets. My girls, ages two and three, clambered onto the carousel and held onto their horses with white knuckled grips, their mouths open in wide-eyed delight. The new baby, in a front pack, snuggled deeper into my chest and sighed contently.

After the ride my girls lingered to watch contestants try to reach the top of a rock wall on the side of a truck.

“C’mon,” my father-in-law motioned, putting his hands on their backs and herding them in another direction. Then he walked in front of them. “Hurry up,” he called over his shoulder. There was impatience in his voice. “We’ve got to go on the next ride!”

Hurry up? To the next ride? Better go as quickly as you can so you can go on the electric choo choo train. Come on!

It was easy to feel annoyed at my father-in-law. When James and I talked about it later he had the unpleasant memory of being a very small child and always being rushed. But it is harder to admit that if you ask every parent in the room who’s unnecessarily hurried their kids when there was no reason, my hand would be the first one up.

Hurry becomes a habit. So does scolding. Even when there is nothing to be late for really, even when no one has done anything wrong.

Why is it that when we take our children out to do something “fun,” we try to prescribe what they do? When it is the weekend? When we have the whole day before us? What harm is there in eating a snack before the water slides or lingering over the rock climbers?

It’s so hard for us—for me—to turn off the automatic pilot. To stop hurrying. To stop stressing. To slow down. To let our children jump off the stoop 35 times when we really came to go to the museum or let them stop and run their fingers in the sidewalk cracks when we are supposed to be on our way to the park.

When my oldest daughter was two she received a box of hand-crafted, hand painted wooden alphabet blocks. “Rainbows!” she cried fascinated by the colorful ribbons, completely ignoring the present inside. Instead of letting her enjoy what interested her most, I opened the block box and tried to draw her attention away from the ribbons. I wanted the relative who bought my daughter the gift to feel like she had made a good choice and I was embarrassed that my toddler wasn’t more interested in the present. Despite my best attempts, my toddler had no interest in the blocks. But she liked the ribbons so much she brought them to bed with her.

These days I am trying to slow down as a parent. I am trying to let go of my expectations of what I think my children “should” be doing during fun time.

When I unnecessarily start to rush my kids I force myself to bite my tongue. I tell myself to breathe, and I try to pay attention to why I am feeling the need to hurry.

All these years later we still have those wooden blocks, and still play with them.
Now I understand that sometimes wrapping paper is more interesting than the present inside. My daughter’s enjoyment of the present came later, on her own time.

Living With a Toddler is Like Living With Someone With a Multiple Personality Disorder


“If you don’t wear a coat, you’ll be cold.”


“Okay. You don’t have to wear a coat. But if you get cold on the way to school, I’m not stopping the bike …”

“Waaah, waaah, I’M COLD! I’M COLD! I’M COLD!”

You may have found some of your baby’s behavior baffling—all that unstoppable drooling and incomprehensible babbling. Maybe you were even counting the days until said baby could walk, convincing yourself that you’d change fewer diapers, get thrown up on less often, and finally be able to understand what your child was telling you. After all, toddlers “talk.”

In a word, you may have thought life would get simpler.

Your friends with older children tried to disabuse you of the notion that babies are easier once they’re walking but you knew that your toddler would morph into something akin to a miniature adult (albeit one with an oversized head who falls down a lot).

So now that you have a toddler why do you suddenly feel like you’re parenting a small dragon who breathes fire and bites through skin one minute but wants to be held and rocked the next?

Living with a toddler is like living with someone with a multiple personality disorder: you wake to a smiling eager beaver jumping on your face, you breakfast with an infuriated little tyrant who NO WANT DAT OATMEALS! so much he dumps his bowl on the floor, you go for a walk to the park with a inquisitive scientist who stops to examine every dandelion, play at the playground with an intrepid climber, and seconds later find yourself comforting a tearful, fearful, flailing mess that was once your cherubic child.

Our first child was an easy, mellow baby who became an extremely, shall we say, spirited, toddler.

Our second was a challenging baby who became a relatively easygoing toddler.

With our third I thought we lucked out: he was the kind of baby who forgave every parenting misdeed (bonk him on the head and he’d smile; forget to bring a wash cloth and he’d kick his legs happily as you cleaned him in the library sink with cold water and scratchy paper towels), and he was just as forgiving and good-natured after he turned two.

But right before he hit his third birthday our son found his toddler stride. His favorite activities included screaming “NO!” at the top of his lungs, stealing things he knew he wasn’t supposed to have (my husband’s cell phone disappeared for weeks until we found it buried in his toy stash), sneaking sweets (he’d close the kitchen door when we weren’t looking and manage to finish off a pint of ice cream before we even noticed, let alone figured out how he opened the freezer by himself), and destroying all of his older sisters’ most coveted possessions.

One day, after Etani had plugged the bathroom drain by smushing an entire bar of soap down it, I called my aunt close to tears.

“What am I doing wrong?” I moaned. This was my third child. I had been writing magazine and newspaper articles about parenting for several years. I was supposed to know how to handle parenting a toddler!

“It isn’t your fault,” Judy said, trying not to laugh. “Toddlers are like that. Haven’t you read your own book?”

My book?

Oh right.

When our second born came into the world screaming 19 months after her older sister was born (we planned it that way), I was so overwhelmed by the experience of having a difficult toddler—who still nursed and had peach fuzz for hair and acted like a baby—and a difficult newborn at the same time, I decided to compile a book of first-person real-life stories about toddlers.

Writing the book was selfish altruism: my first goal was to help other parents but I also secretly wanted to read as many stories as I could from others in order to get a handle on my own life and figure out how to parent my fickle, irrational, utterly loveable yet totally trying little girl.

Now I need to read my book on toddlers again. Our fourth and last child was the easiest, most mild-mannered, cuddliest baby. She breezed through age two. Up until a few weeks ago she was the sweetest, kindest, most helpful, most patient little person. But in early November she turned three.

Reminder to all parents: If you don’t pay now you pay later.

Now, where’d I put that coat?

Jennifer Margulis, Ph.D., is a senior fellow at the Schuster Institute for Investigative Journalism. Her latest book, The Business of Baby: What Doctors Don’t Tell You, What Corporations Try to Sell You, and How to Put Your Pregnancy, Childbirth, and Baby Before Their Bottom Line, will be published by Scribner in April 2013.