I’m sure that it has happened to you—the differences that you see in your child’s behavior when they’re with you versus when they’re with their dad. You get home from running errands or from being at work and you ask your partner how your kid has been. “He’s been fine,” is his easy-going reply. 

And then you realize that your partner is not in shambles. He isn’t flustered—not one bit. The house isn’t a mess. Your child isn’t screaming at the top of his lungs. Matter of fact, he’s down for bed—on time. 

Related: The reason your kids act worse for you than anyone else

You ask if your little one threw food on the floor during dinner. Or if he whined for no apparent reason. Or if he sprawled himself across the floor during one of his tantrums.

And the answer remains the same. 

“No, he’s been fine with me this entire time.”

I grew to believe that the cause of my child’s behavior was rooted in my inability to be a good mother.

And suddenly, a wave of jealousy hits you. 

Because if the tables were turned, and your husband had just walked in the door, you would be in shambles. You would be flustered. The house would be a mess. And your child would be screaming at the top of his lungs, fighting bedtime and insisting on more snacks. 

This narrative seems to be one that has written itself into your story—even though you did not ask for it. Even though you are trying to be the best mama you can be. Even though it feels downright unfair.

Your child seemingly gives everyone else the best of their behavior, but when it comes to you, their mess has no boundaries. And many times, you have this lingering defeat that follows you everywhere. You wonder: “Why does my child only act out with me? Am I not doing good enough? Am I not giving my child what they need?

Related: You can’t be a perfect mother. So be a ‘good enough’ mother.

And that voice in the back of your head—you know, the one that carries the infamous mom guilt—tells you that you’re not doing good enough. That you’re not giving your child what they need and that therefore, you’re failing. 

There have been multiple accounts where I’ve told my husband that I felt like a failure because (for some reason unbeknownst to me) my presence warranted our child’s misbehavior. It welcomed his tantrums and talkbacks and endless tears. And it tested every bit of my patience.

I found myself met with defeat when my husband could get our son to eat his dinner without making a mess, drink his water without spitting it back out and take his daily naps on schedule—every time. 

I found myself searching everywhere for answers—until I grew to believe that the cause of my child’s behavior was rooted in my inability to be a good mother.

Related: The tantrum is not about you, mama—it’s just a tantrum

I remember one day, I was at my wit’s end. My son had been up for hours because he refused to take his nap. I had a terrible headache and still needed to cook dinner for the evening. By the time my husband got home that night, a huge boulder of defeat sat upon my shoulders.

I complained to my husband about how I didn’t understand why I couldn’t manage our son’s behavior. My husband responded something along the lines of, It’s because he feels his safest with you.”

It took me a minute to wrap my head around it, but suddenly, those words redirected my entire understanding of my child’s behavior.

Your child’s misbehavior isn’t your shortcomings.

Because how often do we as adults let down our walls for those we feel our safest with? With those who we know will love us despite our bad moods and temperaments? We, adults, who have had years to learn how to control our emotions and our responses?

I have lashed out at my husband more than I can recall. He has gotten the absolute worst of me at times. But I know that he will love me anyway, which gives me security—and sometimes causes me to take my mess out on him even if he doesn’t deserve it.

And this rings the same for my son, a child who feels his safest with me. Who finds security in me.

So naturally, I get every unfiltered version of himself that he has to offer—even when I don’t deserve it. Because he does not yet know how to control his emotions with patience and humility—and he feels secure enough to let me see every detail of his feelings.

Because I am his safe haven. He sees every bout of my emotions—my joy, my frustration, my relief and my deepest grief—and he knows that I can be my most vulnerable self around him. And because of that, he feels the same. He gives me every version of himself without restraint—his goofiness, his short-temperedness, his stubbornness, his lovingness.

Related: Dear Son: You will never be too old to need your mama

My child’s behavior knows that it has a home with me—a home that will shelter his tantrums and his outbursts of giggles and his tears of sorrow and his smiles of joy. A home that will do its best to teach him how to express his feelings respectfully—and give him the room to do so. A home that will validate his emotions. A home that will tell him that his voice matters—and instill in him the best ways to use it lovingly, even amongst disagreements and differences.

So it isn’t that you’re failing, mama. It isn’t that you don’t know how to meet your child’s every need with grace. Your child’s misbehavior isn’t your shortcomings. It’s a sign of stability, assurance and protection that only a mother’s love envelops.

In your presence, your child feels an emotional security that allows them to be vulnerable, unguarded and exposed. In your presence, your child feels like every one of their feelings is seen, heard and tended to. 

You’re not a superhuman, mama. You’re simply human. And so is this child of yours that is growing and learning and experiencing the world around them. So give them grace—and give yourself grace as well. You both are simply doing the best you know how.