Balancing Needs When Baby Trumps Mama

Posted on Apr 13, 2010 in Featured, Parenting | 20 comments

Welcome to the April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting advice!

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama. This month we’re writing letters to ask our readers for help with a current parenting issue. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


Strive for Balance in Personal and Family Life

It is easier to be emotionally responsive when you feel in balance. Create a support network, set realistic goals, put people before things, and don’t be afraid to say “no”. Recognize individual needs within the family and meet them to the greatest extent possible without compromising your physical and emotional health. Be creative, have fun with parenting, and take time to care for yourself.

~ 8th Principle of Attachment Parenting, Attachment Parenting International.

Sometimes I think this oft-overlooked 8th principle is the most important principle of the Attachment Parenting philosophy. Sometimes I think that it’s the part that makes all the other principles possible. However, for me, it is also the hardest principle to implement. And I don’t think I’m alone. It seems that striving for balance and finding time for self-care are on the minds of most parents in some shape or form.

There are a lot of sites out there rife with advice on how to do this. Jen Louden of Comfort Queen talks about renewal, comfort and making time for yourself, with coaching geared specifically for women. Sarah Juliusson from Mama Renew gives tips and offers workshops for mothers. Renee Trudeau wrote a book called The Mother’s Guide to Self-Renewal. Advice varies from lighting candles to attending week long child-free retreats. There should be something there for everyone. And in many ways, there is.

However, dear reader, what does one do when trying to honour our own needs pits us against our children?

I recently read Raising Your Spirited Child: A Guide for Parents Whose Child Is More Intense, Sensitive, Perceptive, by Mary Kurcinka. The book outlines the different ways that a child can be spirited and has scales for rating your child on the various aspects. There is also a section where you rate yourself. I was reading the book because I suspected that my powerhouse of a four year old was spirited and he did come out mildly spirited based on our appraisals. What surprised me was that in some ways I am spirited as well (I think Kurcinka would term me spunky). And here’s the kicker: Rain and I are spirited in opposite ways (for the most part). He rated low on the things that I scored highly on and I rated low on the things he scored highly on.

An example would be that Rain is fairly exuberant (for those familiar with Kurcinka’s book, you will recognize my attempt to use a positive label) and I am sensitive. Rain rates highly for energy; he is always wiggling, always on the move, always making noise. He can’t talk; he yells. He loves to bang on drums. I scored low on energy. I have always been quiet. As I child I preferred to read, colour or draw rather than join in on a team sport for instance. It drives me crazy that my husband shakes his leg or drums his fingers when relaxing on the couch. I tend to be still. I rate high however, on sensitivity. I am a far pickier eater than anyone in my family, I am always cold and I find noise extremely stressful.

I am often reminded during the course of my day that excessive noise is used as a method of torture and as a means to end hostage situations. I have also been known to joke that having kids is like having a bowling alley installed in your brain. When our house gets especially noisy, I feel myself tensing up and my reactions to otherwise innocuous behaviour become harsh and grouchy. I react like someone being attacked. I counter-strike.

I understand that kids have lots of energy. I understand that kids are noisy. Kids whoop. Kids holler. Kids run in the house. Kids jump for joy. Kids laugh loudly and hysterically. Some of that I love. Some of it I do my best to tolerate. I try to be patient, to not be the mom who is always nagging, “slow down,” “stop yelling,” and “can you please stop pounding on that drum?” But especially after a long day, especially after another night of waking 3-4 times to nurse my toddler, I feel the tension building, I feel the anxiety and I end up snapping at my poor joyous, whooping boy.

In homage to the wondrous 8th principal of Attachment Parenting, I have tried to honour my need for a little quiet, a little space. I have tried to respect that I am a better mother when I’m not trying to tolerate more noise than I am actually capable of tolerating. I have to respect who I am as an individual within the mother/child dyad and in this case, it isn’t just a generational thing, it is also a personality mismatch.

I have explained to Rain that I find noise very stressful and that sometimes, it makes me react as though I am angry when in fact I am not angry at all, and especially I’m not angry at him. I’ve explained that I feel sad and ashamed when I react this way and that we can work together to avoid that. I have told him that he’s more than welcome to play the drum in his own room, or go outside to run circles screaming in the yard, but that I need him to respect that I need a bit of space and a bit of quiet.

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have limits for children or for them to understand what kinds of behaviours are acceptable indoors or in crowded spaces. I think it’s both good and necessary that Rain learn ways to moderate his behaviour for other people sometimes, that he learn respect and empathy for other people’s boundaries and needs.

Yet, I have also raised an attached boy. We have a close relationship. We nursed and co-slept until he was three. With some exceptions I have spent most of his life at home with him, deciding not to return to my prior work after my maternity leave. We also spent the first three years of Rain’s life living in 300 square feet. He is used to being right beside me most of the day and often, most of the night. His reaction when I request that he play in his room or in the yard is to begin crying that he is lonely and to scream that I “can’t have space.” He refuses to play in his room, refuses to play outside unless I join him.

It seems we have another mismatch. His need to be close trumping my need for a little quiet. We have some ways of coping: I’m trying to get more sleep, Rain takes a break every afternoon for Quiet Time, we try to get outside to burn energy. Yet, the bowling alley in my brain persists and I’m beginning to lose hope that it might just be a phase.

I turn to you now, hoping that your founts of wisdom can shed some light on the practical, the how-tos of that 8th principle, “Strive for balance in personal and family life.” What do you do when your need to care for yourself rubs up uncomfortably against your child’s needs?


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be updated by the end of the day April 13 with all the carnival links.)


  1. I wish I could help. It sounds like you have the situation accurately analysed and perhaps you are right that this is something that is not suddenly going to change. I’m sure plenty of people have told you that one day your son will be out all the time and you will fondly remember the days when he always wanted to be close to you.

    PS I had to smile at you title since “trump” was used in our household as another word for “poo”. Brings a whole new meaning to a child “trumping” its mama!
    .-= Cave Mother´s last blog ..When To Wait to Nurse =-.

  2. I wish I could help you, but I feel like I’m “somewhat” in the same boat, but my son isn’t even a year old yet! All I can do is say that you are one amazing mommy, and the fact that you are being so attentive to your child’s needs, even when you feel like you’re going to lose it, really says a lot about you. You’re doing great- don’t feel bad about spending time nurturing yourself every now and then.
    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Natural Parenting Carnival – Help! =-.

  3. We have similar personalities in our home. We’re both “highly sensitive people” but we have different ways of decompressing (loudly vs quietly). I commend you on seeing his desire to be noisy and rambunctious as a “need”. 🙂

    We live in a VERY tiny space right now (a 22 ft RV) so what we did in a home is somewhat different than what we do now. But ultimately, we do everything within our power to create a win/win situation.

    Sometimes that means Zeb will use headphones for noisy video games or movies or I’ll listen to my own music with headphones (music is usually my saving grace). In the past it meant calling a friend willing to step in and help by arranging a playdate or sleepover. Sometimes my husband will see our needs colliding and take over – they’ll go for a bike ride, play outside or play a game together while I take a moment or five to myself. And sometimes it means I muster up that last ounce of energy and be the mom my child needs me to be.

    I’m always careful to not negate either of our needs, or put one above the other. That doesn’t mean I’m perfect at it (especially lately). I’ve had plenty moments where I told him I’m not at my best and please give me a moment, or where I needed to ask his forgiveness for having a total meltdown. I’m glad that he sees me as human though.
    .-= ~Tara´s last blog ..At Hill Shade =-.

  4. You and I sound very similar. I wonder this a lot, too, not just in regard to children. My husband, for instance, has a need to talk through all his thoughts out loud, whereas I need space to think them all quietly. This comes up most frequently in the car — I crave the time to just ride/drive and daydream, and he wants to chat. I feel churlish telling him to be quiet so I can think — there’s really no way to say that that comes across as socially acceptable and polite. I’ve come to the (sad) conclusion that quiet-loving people always lose up against noise-loving people!

    Despite that, I’m hoping, and you can hope along with me, that eventually our children will grow to understand our need for space — that it’s not a reflection against them — and will maybe grow to need their own. I don’t know at what age this happens, however! As for the larger philosophical question of whose needs win, I do usually come down on the side of the child winning. But it’s not easy, and sometimes it backfires.
    .-= Lauren @ Hobo Mama´s last blog ..April Carnival of Natural Parenting: Parenting advice =-.
    Twitter: Hobo_Mama

  5. That book sounds wonderful! I am going to have to read it.

    And my son is the same way. LOUD, LOUD, LOUD! So we have set aside quiet times of the day. First, when we are in the car (which is never more than a few minutes at a time) we have quiet/thinking time. I put on some classical music, and if he must ask me a question he has to whisper. Sometimes I think he thinks this is a game becasue I find he asks the most random questions just so he can whisper. And second since our nap is slowly fading away I turned that into quiet time. He has to sit and look at books for about 15 minutes by himself. We do this twice a day. It took a few weeks to get used to this, but now he really enjoys it. And I find that those quiet moments really prepare me for the crazy ones. Those few minutes to have quiet time is very important. Hope that helps a little!
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..Extra Curves =-.

  6. I was having similar problems until very recently. Kieran never wanted me to have ANY alone time. The kid was almost literally attached to my hip at all times. I am so happy that I made him feel secure enough in me to start venturing off on his own – I now have had multiple trips to the coffee shop alone while Kieran and papa played at home – I am starting to feel like a human being!
    Do you have anyone who would give you an hour once a week or so? Even an hour has calming effects for me. One hour/wk may seem like a nightmare to a mother who works outside the home, but I have a feeling you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
    Also, it may be too much developmentally at this point for him to understand/respect your need for quiet – but hopefully by modeling your respect for his needs (to bounce, to make noise, to be rowdy), he will learn to respect you sooner rather than later. Until then, I really hope you get some time to yourself (or find something that will refresh your soul!).
    .-= Dionna @ Code Name: Mama´s last blog ..How We Came to Unschooling =-.
    Twitter: CodeNameMama

  7. You and I are the same… I have 2 loud kids now, they’re very energetic and full of life. Although I still need my space and that means some silent time. The other day I was watching my healthy and happy kids playing and realized I finally liked the chaos they put in my life…
    .-= CurlyMonkey´s last blog ..I don’t love you Mama! =-.
    Twitter: curlymonkey_

  8. I know what you mean! I’m someone who highly values quiet. And my daughter has recently developed two volumes. Loud and louder.

    In order to ensure some quiet time I tend to take her on the trampoline in the afternoon for about half an hour (I get some exercise too) and then sit her down on the couch to watch a dvd while I make dinner/stare into space/do my own thing.

    If you can organise to have time outside of the house it can do wonders. The fact that I go into work on Mondays means I really appreciate my time at home for the rest of the week.
    .-= Zoey @ Good Goog´s last blog ..The Real Toddler =-.
    Twitter: zoeyspeak

  9. I don’t have a great answer on this one, but I can really relate. I often think my hardest parenting moments are ones like this, when my needs are in conflict with my daughter’s. Like when I’ve spent 45 minutes trying to get her to sleep, and she still needs me but I want to be anywhere but there. And then I end up yelling, “Just go to SLEEP!” even though I know that’s the least effective way to respond right then.

    Sometimes calling on my husband helps. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes giving myself a 30-second break helps, sometimes it just makes things worse. Sometimes setting a time limit for myself works – like, I will lie here for 10 more minutes and then I will get a drink of water. Often, if I stop fighting it things settle down long before my time limit is over. But really, for me, it’s situational. I haven’t found a good solution that works all the time.
    .-= Amber´s last blog ..One Unhelpful Doctor =-.
    Twitter: AmberStrocel

  10. Ooh, this is tricky. Someone once said to me to remember that there are two people in the relationship and that both people need to have their needs met. Of course we ensure our children’s needs are met more often than our own, but we DO have needs. And meeting our own needs is okay. How to do it? Get out of the house on your own or with friends on a regular basis. During the day set the kids up with an activity they can do without you and go read a book, catch up on your blogging, or whatever you need to feel like you.
    .-= Melodie´s last blog ..How Can I Avoid Beauty Obsession? =-.
    Twitter: bfmom

  11. One thing that helps me a lot is having my 3.5yr old go to a home daycare one day a week. It’s a cosy environment, she enjoys going to play with her friends and I get the chance to write/read/sit in silence while the baby naps instead of being “on” all day. I think both of us benefit from the balancing effect of that day – I want us to have an attached relationship but I think it’s also good for her to have relationships with other trusted adults outside our family. On Saturday mornings dad takes both girls out to swimming lessons and I get a morning of blissful silence.

    Before we found this home daycare I did a childcare swap with another mom who had a little boy the same age as my daughter. It was great, cost nothing and was a chance to go drink a coffee undisturbed once a week. aaaaah. 🙂

    It is good and valuable for kids to learn how to behave in different situations and to respect other people’s needs, but I think there’s a limit to what is reasonable to expect from kids. Finding another way to create the space and quiet you need, even a few hours a week, can go a long way towards finding balance.
    Twitter: TheParentVortex

  12. Are you sure I didn’t write this post LOL! We have the same ‘highly sensitive’ personalities – DD is LOUD and needs adoration, I Need space and time out.

    I find it easier as she gets older, MUCH easier because I can explain to her that I need my time out otherwise I’m grouchy and she totally gets that now. So put that message in now; it’s not a judgement or a way to make them feel guilty, but you’re empowering them with knowledge and showing them that it’s ok as an adult to ask for your needs to be met too. You’re also teaching them how to take care of themselves as they grow older.

    As they mature they will see for themselves that they get much more of what THEY need if you get what YOU need too. You’ll be more emotionally present, more energised and more FUN if you get your personal space. There’s nothing wrong with that; you just have different requirements to function at your optimum.

    Another thing; if DD needs to be loud; I ask her if she could go to her room to be loud or outside in the garden. Or I say that I’ll go upstairs until she’s finished being loud. Or I’ll turn up the music and we’ll dance together; it dissipates some energy and it’s something I CAN tolerate that is a loud thing to do!
    .-= Mrs Green @´s last blog ..Ride the Bike, Drive the Change! =-.
    Twitter: myzerowaste

  13. Really all I can do is try and carve out some “me” time every day which generally means being in the bedroom (alone if possible or with a sleeping baby). Thankfully my boyfriend will play with my 8yr old son (who is high energy) so that I can get 5min-1hour where I don’t have to be “ON” if that makes sense?
    .-= Sarah @ OneStarryNight´s last blog ..Wordless Wednesday: At the Chicago Botanic Garden =-.
    Twitter: starrymom

  14. I have this exact problem. Gracie is 5 and she has a tendency to get very loud, very quickly. I find that when I’m at my wit’s end or if I’ve already jumped that cliff and spoken more harshly than I intended, I will tell Gracie that, “Momma needs a time out. I have behaved/am about to behave badly and I need some space to find the way to react appropriately.” The first few times it really stunned her. She wondered if I would stand in the corner or what, so she just kind of silently sat in the room watching what I did.
    And while I don’t go stand in the corner like she expected I might, I did take the time to bask in the quiet and fill my mind with it as much as possible. It doesn’t always work for as long as I’d like it to, it does tend to serve its purpose for at least an hour or so.
    .-= Erin W. / Beatnik Momma´s last blog ..How Do You Deal? =-.

  15. Hard to say without being there…but I suspect he sees your requests that he play in his room or outside alone as “sending him away” which makes him need to feel more close to you.

    Do you do these at predictable times of day? So that it falls into a natural rhythm? Is there something he really likes to do? Is there someone else to whom he is closely attached who could spend some time with him?
    .-= Candace @ NaturallyEducational and @Mamanista´s last blog ..Yarn Easter Egg Ornament =-.
    Twitter: candaceapril

  16. I would say it’s tricky to find time for yourself. It’s so easy to put the needs of your child first. At least for me, I would much rather maker personal sacrifices to do what’s best for the boy rather than what I need. But, that doesn’t last long before you’re doing yourself a disservice, you need time for yourself, which is exactly what you are talking about with the 8th principle.

    I try to mostly just do things my son’s way during the day, and then thank god for bedtime! I can have some quieter more relaxing “me” type time. Even if that requires me to stay up a little later than I would prefer, it’s a requirement.
    .-= the Grumbles´s last blog ..the grumbles primer on pumping at work (part three, the final chapter) =-.
    Twitter: thegrumbles

    • Maybe this is a silly thing to say, and quite a bit after your post, but have you ever considered ear plugs? I am also very noise sensitive, but I usually, thankfully! have relatively quiet children. But if I am in a noisy environment I find it helps me keep calm if I have ear plugs, and it doesn’t at all mean that I can’t hear things. I can hear people talking just fine, but it reduces the level of everything to where it doesn’t make me cringe. You could think of them as reverse-hearing-aids. I’m trying to carefully say that it is *not* tuning out your son, just reducing his volume to the point where you can actually ‘hear’ him rather than tensing up and trying to block out the overwhelming ‘noise’.
      .-= Katherine´s last blog ..Gingerbread Marble Run =-.

      • I’m sorry, the previous was supposed to be a comment, not a reply to your comment.
        .-= Katherine´s last blog ..Gingerbread Marble Run =-.

      • I know what you mean. I wonder if that might work. Our house is small and it would be better than me just getting more and more anxious/agitated. Thanks for the suggestion.

  17. This piece is very heartwarming. It aided in the things I think about most in my everyday life. Inspiration has always been the best thing that keeps us going.


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