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Sometimes mommy yells: The truth about losing it + how I'm trying to stop

My daughter's defiance simmers between us, and irritation creeps up my spine. She is sitting on the floor of our kitchen, having a tea party with her Elsa doll and ignoring my pleas to eat dinner.

The kitchen is stuffy, a combination of the warm temperatures outside and the oven being on for an hour. Sweat trickles down my temples, my shirt sticks to my back and my feet ache from being on them all day.

I dig deep to find patience and offer a compromise, “I know you're in the middle of a game with Elsa, but it's late and you need to come to the table for dinner. You'll finish playing after you eat."

She sighs, exasperated by my interruptions. “Fine, Mom," she relents.

After arranging her doll to sit next to her, she deposits herself in a wooden kitchen chair in front of her lukewarm dinner. I try to ignore the glint in her eyes and hope that she'll settle down and eat.

When I turn my back to wash the dishes in the sink, she giggles while throwing her food onto the floor. “Mommy look!" she taunts as she drops a cucumber into her water. The dark hardwood is littered with small pieces of chicken and broccoli. Water pools in the middle of her brown placemat, slowly inching its way towards the edge of the table.

“Why are you throwing your dinner on the floor?" I ask calmly. “Please stop doing that and act like a big girl. You're three now." She ignores the bait that I dangle in front of her, acknowledging her recent birthday. Sometimes the fact that she's three years old influences her behavior. Tonight, it does not.

“Look Mommy, I'm eating Silly Putty instead of dinner!" She shrieks with laughter while putting Silly Putty on her fork and into her mouth. When I rush to her and try to pry it out of her lips, she pulls my hair, sending pain through my scalp. Anger rises through my body and spills out of my mouth.

I'm tired from a day of chasing after her, carrying her, looking for her toys, and begging her to eat. My bones ache with the weariness from being on since 7:00 a.m., I am out of patience and I cannot help myself.

I yell at her.

“Why won't you eat this dinner that I cooked just for you? Is it really so hard to sit in a chair for 10 minutes? How could you pull my hair when you know how much it hurts?" My voice rises with each question. I speak quickly, not allowing her the chance to answer.

She looks down at her plate and continues to play with her food. Anger moves through my body, tingling my fingertips until I snap. I threaten to take away TV, to take away dessert, to not go to the park the next morning. My voice is deafening but I cannot stop.

The silence is heavy in the kitchen when I finish my tirade. Tears fall down her flushed cheeks and my heart sinks as I watch her. Did I really just scream at her because she didn't want to eat dinner? I ask myself. My face is hot with embarrassment and I taste regret, bitter in my mouth. I close my eyes and count to ten, willing my heartbeat to slow down and my breathing to deepen.

I am horrified at the angry words that came out of my mouth, but desperate for the day to end. There is nothing more I want than a hot shower and to lay under the soft covers of my bed, but this seems impossibly far away.

When I open my eyes, I see her hunched in the wooden kitchen chair, looking at me with a hurt expression. My heart cracks in my chest and I am overcome with the desire to hold her.

I scoop her up and we sink into the sofa. A plastic princess pushes into my back, a remnant from her earlier playtime, but I don't want to move. Instead, I pull her deeper onto my lap, and lean onto the brown leather.

“I'm sorry for yelling," I whisper into her ear. “I always love you, even if I sometimes yell."

She turns her small face up to mine, and our eyes meet. “Mommy, please don't yell like that again," she asks. Her voice cracks.

I nod. “I'll try my best," I answer, “but I need you to try to listen to me and show me what a big girl you are. And no more pulling Mommy's hair and throwing food." She nods.

She pushes her head into my shoulder, burying her face into my shirt, and we sit there, intertwined. I wrap my arms around her and pull her closer to me.

Our promises float in the air around us, between us. I wonder if we will be able to keep them. I wonder how I will find the patience to mother her through the challenges of being three.

My struggles have less to do with her behavior and more to do with my own reactions. Every time I lose my temper and yell, the words pouring out of my mouth twist my heart. I can't believe I am saying these things to her when all I want to do is hold her in my lap, feel her skin against mine, and breathe in her scent.

For me, the biggest challenge is finding my daughter's big eyes in the midst of the chaos and anger and holding her gaze. I need her to know I love her even when I lose my patience, even when I desperately need a break, even when I am so angry at her defiance that it is difficult for me to stay in the room.

After the storm, I hold her closer to me and whisper phrases of love into her small ear:

I am sorry I yelled, but you made me angry.

I am always right here for you, even when I am upset.

I love you sweet girl.

We are both spent and the hurt feelings linger in the air. I give up on dinner. “Ready for bed?" I ask after a few minutes. She nods, and we walk upstairs hand in hand, leaving the messy kitchen behind.

Once I tuck her in under her princess blanket, I apologize again for the words I said and how I raised my voice, but she has already forgiven me.

“I love you, Mommy," she whispers and reaches her arms out. I gratefully fall into them.

I lay on the soft, carpeted floor next to her toddler bed, my hand wrapped around hers. “Today was a rough day for us. I'll try to be more patient tomorrow and I know we'll have a better day," I suggest.

“Ok Mommy," she responds, sounding hopeful. We rest side by side in silence. I close my eyes, looking for patience and empathy within.

I don't know if this will be enough, but it's all I can do for my daughter: to try to have better days while mothering through the mayhem of three.

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When we consider all the skills our kids will need to succeed in the future, what comes to mind? Perhaps creativity, tech skills, or an excellent understanding of math might be at the top of many parents' lists. Social-emotional skills, like empathy, compassion, or the ability to understand another person's viewpoint may not be the ones you thought of right away, but deep down you know they matter.

We've all had those co-workers who didn't know how to listen to our ideas or friends who couldn't compromise with others. We know that in the work world and in our personal life, emotional skills are key to developing and maintaining healthy relationships.

If you are the parent of a toddler, you know that young children are inherently self-centered. It's not some faulty aspect of their character or a misstep of parenting skills. Young children simply do not have the brain maturity to consider another person's perspective or needs just yet—their brain physically is not ready to handle that kind of mental work.

However, child development research shows us that we can do a few things along the developmental path to help foster social-emotional skills in our kids. With a little help from us, our kids' brains can develop with meaningful connections that tune them into the feelings of others.

Here's how:

1. Treat others how you want your kids to treat others.

How we talk to our kids becomes their internal dialogue. We know from research that this goes for emotional skills as well. A recent study showed that when parents talk to their kids more about how other people might be feeling, the kids had better perspective-taking abilities—the ability to see a situation from another person's point of view.

This, of course, is the basis of many emotional skills, especially empathy. Just by talking about another person's feelings, kids begin to develop those crucial brain connections that help them develop empathy.

It's worth pointing out that very young children under ages 3-4 do not have the brain maturity to really understand another person's perspective. They lack a crucial skill that psychologists call Theory of Mind, meaning they can't understand the mind of another person.

However, our urgings and thoughtful phrasing to point out how another person might be feeling can only help them down this developmental path. Then, once their little brain matures, they will be in the habit of hearing and understanding the feelings of others.

2. Model positive emotional behavior in daily life.

It's probably not surprising to learn that how we react to our kids' feelings influences their emotional development. When your child gets upset, do you get angry or ruffled by their big emotions? We are all human, of course, so sometimes our kids' emotions are the exact triggers that fuel our big feelings, too. However, if we can remain the calm in the emotional storm for our kids, their development will benefit. Through modeling emotional regulation, over time our kids will learn how to self-regulate as well.

One study, in fact, showed that toddlers whose parents exhibited anger or over-reacted to tantrums were likely to have more tantrums and negative emotionality by the end of the study. However, the opposite dynamic can happen, too. Parents who model firm, but calm emotional regulation help their kids learn these skills as well.

3. Don’t be afraid to show your emotions.

Many times, we feel that one of our main jobs as a parent is to protect our children from the big, often overwhelming emotions of adults. For instance, we try not to break down crying or become red-faced with anger in front of our kids. It just feels too big for them to handle and perhaps not developmentally appropriate.

As they mature, however, older kids are able to handle a bit more discussion and expression of honest emotions. Have you noticed that kids usually pick up on the fact that you are upset even if you try to hide it? Kids are naturally curious and, many times, very sensitive to the emotional tenor at home. If they are developmentally ready, this can be a good time to have more discussions about emotions and how to handle them.

For example, my 9-year-old is playing a lot of baseball this summer and always wants me to pitch to him so he can practice batting. Now, I am not a very skilled player so my pitches often go off course or are too weak. He had gotten in the habit of correcting my pitching or (more likely) complaining about it every time we played.

After repeated experiences with this, I was not only annoyed but it also sort of hurt my feelings—so I finally told him how I felt. Guess what? His behavior at practice time changed dramatically! The mere fact of him realizing that his mom has feelings too really made him think about his words more carefully.

These types of interaction can become part of your "emotion coaching." It may sound silly but it can make a big impact for kids, especially as they grow older and are more able to really understand the emotional lesson. On some level, it's nice that our kids think we are superheroes, but it's also crucial that they understand that we are still human, with real feelings.

The magic of helping our kids develop empathy doesn't happen in well-planned lessons or elaborate activities. The real magic happens in the small, simple interactions and discussions we have with our kids each day.

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In the moments after we give birth, we desperately want to hear our baby cry. In the middle of the night a few months later it's no longer exactly music to our ears, but those cries aren't just telling us that baby needs a night feeding: They're also giving us a hint at what our children may sound like as kindergarteners, and adults.

New research published in the journal Biology Letters suggests the pitch of a 4-month-old's cry predicts the pitch they'll use to ask for more cookies at age five and maybe even later on as adults.

The study saw 2 to 5-month olds recorded while crying. Five years later, the researchers hit record again and chatted with the now speaking children. Their findings, combined with previous work on the subject, suggest it's possible to figure out what a baby's voice will sound like later in life, and that the pitch of our adult voices may be traceable back to the time we spend in utero. Further studies are needed, but scientists are very interested in how factors before birth can impact decades later.

"In utero, you have a lot of different things that can alter and impact your life — not only as a baby, but also at an adult stage," one of the authors of the study, Nicolas Mathevon, told the New York Times.

The New York Times also spoke with Carolyn Hodges, an assistant professor of anthropology at Boston University who was not involved in the study. According to Hodges, while voice pitch may not seem like a big deal, it impacts how we perceive people in very real ways.

Voice pitch is a factor in how attractive we think people are, how trustworthy. But why we find certain pitches more or less appealing isn't known. "There aren't many studies that address these questions, so that makes this research especially intriguing," Hodges said, adding that it "suggests that individual differences in voice pitch may have their origins very, very early in development."

So the pitch of that midnight cry may have been determined months ago, and it may determine part of your child's future, too. There are still so many things we don't know, but as parents we do know one thing: Our babies cries (as much as we don't want to hear them all the time) really are something special.

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Sometimes it can feel like you never get a minute to even finish a thought—let alone a to-do list. When your day is packed with caretaking, your own needs get pushed back. So when you finally get to lie down at the end of the day, all those thoughts are waiting for you. While we haven't figured out the secret to keeping you from over-analyzing every.single.thing. (sorry, mama!), we do believe you must carve out time for you. Because that rest is just as important—and you've certainly earned it.

XO,

#TeamMotherly

PS: We spoke to Jessica Alba and she gave us the lowdown on why she stopped breastfeeding, and Nordstrom is having their anniversary sale until August 5th. Here's everything we want!

My Instagram feed has been full of pictures of friends that their kids to the beach. I get it, I like the beach a lot. But the forest and the mountains are my real loves.

The way the damp leaves smell in the morning. The peace of walking underneath a canopy of trees. The sound of firewood crackling at night. Sigh, heaven.

I also grew up camping with my family and have done some intense hiking, backpacking and search and rescue. So it's kind of in my blood—I wear my frostbite scars with honor.

So I couldn't wait to get my future kids out into nature (minus the frostbite). I had visions of us hiking to a stream, swimming and splashing all day, then cooking a big meal over a campfire as we sing songs and laugh.

Then, I actually became a parent. Of three kids, actually, all of whom are still very young… and a dog… and a husband who doesn't really like camping.

Despite the realization that it wouldn't be exactly as I planned, this summer we finally decided to take our first camping trip as a family.

Here is what I learned:

1. Set the bar low

I had to remind myself over and over again that this trip would not live up to my expectations. I know this sounds like a bummer way to start a trip, but it really helped. I have the tendency to over-plan and get really (really) excited about things. This is not a bad quality, but it can lend itself to disappointment when things don't go as hoped. I didn't want us to leave the trip feeling like it was a failure in any way.

This trip was a success, and a big moment for our family, no matter how it turned out.

Instead of forcing activities or memories, I forced myself to just… be. Not expecting the trip to be magical opened us up to appreciate the unexpected moments of magic as they occurred naturally, without being forced.

This got harder, of course, when our car got stuck in the mud (true story), and we had to wait three hours for AAA to arrive. But when our kids talk about the camping trip now they still squeal with delight as they recount the story of the tow truck coming. You're welcome (I guess)?

2. We made it really easy

I put my camping ego aside, and we took a lot of shortcuts on this first trip. We didn't stay in a tent but rented a barebones cabin instead. For dinner, we ordered a pizza. And we let the kids play on our phones for a little bit in the evening.

Those things didn't make for a truly authentic experience, but goodness, they really helped. I have started to realize that there is no shame in making things easy, especially when you have little kids. And they didn't know any different. As far as they are concerned, we hiked the Appalachian Trail and gathered all our own food from the earth.

This was a lazy camping trip, for sure—and that was exactly what we needed.

3. I over-prepped for safety so I could calm down

I have hiked and camped in the White Mountains of New Hampshire in February—this was not that. At any given moment on our trip, an ambulance could have easily reached us, and we were only a few minutes away from a hospital at any point. But it made me feel much better to know that we were safe and ready for anything that should happen.

We bought a first aid kit, a survival kit, too many flashlights and bottled water. I was really big on everyone wearing good footwear and teaching them how to walk carefully on uneven terrain.

We also used the opportunity to teach about other areas, like water safety. Rita Goldberg of the British Swim School recommends "[teaching kids] to avoid water hazards and to not approach a fountain, river, pool or lake without an adult's supervision and permission."

We also incorporated their "Water Watcher" program, which assigns a "badge of responsibility" to one adult at all times, who maintains a constant watch over the kids while they are near water.

These easy steps, that we decided on ahead of time, made me feel much more relaxed, and therefore better able to enjoy our time.

This trip took some emotional adjustments on my part. It wasn't glamorous, or particularly exciting. But that was exactly what it needed to be. Emily Glover wrote that "by getting away from the distractions of home and focusing on each other...we're reminded of what really matters."

We found that in the woods—together.

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