Getting Annoyed At The Sound Of A Crying Child Is Normal
Show of hands for all of the parents who have flipped their kids off behind their backs? Or made seriously childish angry-faces at them? Or who have muttered under their breaths, just go to sleep you little asshole! Anyone? Psychiatry Resident Physician at Yale University, Dr. Arjune Rama, wrote a Motherlode blog for the New York Times Friday, in which he talks about his own parental anger and makes me feel a lot better about my occasional feelings of anxiety.
Considering that infants and toddlers scream despite having been fed, changed, walked around, bounced, hugged and kissed, I am amazed by how rarely parents talk about just how furious our young ones can make us. I think about it frequently — during the day. At night, I am too consumed by that anger. I am busy wildly contemplating global child poverty, or marveling at our daughter’s fortune to have been born into a family that desperately loves her and wants to provide her with everything. I hear myself thinking: “How dare she treat us this way? Does she know how lucky she is?”
I have the opposite problem. At night, I am too tired to be consumed by frustration, so I just try to go with the flow. But during the day, it truly can be the most nerve-wracking thing in the world to not be able to calm an unhappy child. I think on the whole I handle it pretty well, but every once in a while there can be perfect storm of frustration that really tries my patience.
The thing is, we all deal with day-to-day frustrations, whether we have kids or not. But if you don’t have kids, imagine adding a screaming toddler to the background noise of an already annoying day. Your boss sends you a passive-aggressive email, your husband is being an asshole, your basement is flooding and your toddler is screaming because he doesn’t like the carrots you just gave him. Sesame Street really needs to do and episode on perspective. I guess toddlers can’t really be expected to have that.
Perhaps surprisingly, I believe that this anger is directed much less at our daughter than at myself. In these 4 a.m. confrontations I experience feelings of aggression in direct proportion to my perception of personal failure at the most important job of my life. In those moments I feel as if my love is not enough or that if I were stronger or smarter, she would not be crying. Unlike the easier compartmentalization of my patients’ hostility, I find it much harder to compartmentalize my daughter’s behavior as being simply a function of her stage of development.
See, even someone whose job it is to deal with someone’s mental state can be overcome with frustration when dealing with an upset child. Next time you find yourself in a situation like this just take a breath, relax, and remember it happens to the best of us.