The taking-it-personally vortex

One of my biggest challenges as a parent is trying to find ways not to take it personally when my child blames me for his unhappiness. Sometimes, it’s easier than others. For example, when I  hear, “You’re so mean!”, it’s easy for me me to remember that this is all part of the parenting mix. It’s harder when he does things like vigorously reject my home-cooked food.

I don’t know whether “You’re so mean” rolls off my back because I’ve heard it so many times lately (whenever my son doesn’t get what he wants), and thus am getting used to it but somehow, I’ve been able lately to keep a calm heart in the face of “You’re so mean”,  and offer up empathy guesses into feelings and needs:

“Ah–are you saying you’re angry because you’re not getting what you want?”


Whew. That I can hang with! And it also helps take the edge off his upset. In fact, whenever I can remember to tune in deeply to my son, and help him feel heard and understood, his anger dissipates, and least a bit.

I think if I could remember each and every time I hear something personal, to tune into the feelings and needs underneath, I’d probably be a lot more peaceful.

As it is, what comes up for me sometimes is, well, taking it personally. And then fighting accordingly. This is especially easy to do when I get called a name. For a period of weeks, when my son was unhappy, he’d shout, “Stink!”, which I think was meant to be a noun, as in, You are a “stink,” an unpleasantly-scented thing…like a piece of poop for example.

Often, my feelings get hurt when my son calls me names, especially if it’s a really “mean” tone of voice. When I can be vulnerable and say “Ouch,” I’ve even heard “I don’t care!” sometimes in response. I find that once I start to take something personally, it becomes hard to climb out of that vortex. Similarly, if I can remember to tune into what he’s really feeling and needing, that one step creates a sort of ladder up and out of the taking-it-personally vortex (TIPV).

I think in those moments I am really needing appreciation and support for how hard it is to be a parent, in particular since my divorce, and how vulnerable I can feel, even when things are going well.  I might be smiling, but I’m still am an inch away from the TIPV.

Sometimes, during down times, I have experimented with saying to my son, “It’s hard to do everything myself–I would really like some cooperation.” Even if he chooses not to do what I want during that moment, I feel better about the quality of our connection. I often find that if I wait a few minutes, he jumps up and starts to help of his own accord, rather than if I try to make him do something on my timetable.

The hardest thing for me is when he rejects or gets demanding around food. Maybe it’s being a Jewish mother, but for me, food is love, and when I don’t receive the gratitude I crave, it feels like a sock in the gut, and I’m down in bowels of the vortex.


Maybe next time I’ll go all out and exaggerate that feeling and see what happens, instead of proclaiming loudly, “ALL I want to hear is THANK YOU!” while silently cursing the irony of being a gourmet chef with a son who eats only seven food items, five of them white.

At least if it I still go down the TIPV, I’ll have a nice dinner to nurse while I sulk.

What about you, do you ever have to deal with getting sucked into the TIPV? If so, what are some ways you handle it, or might like to handle it?




oops...addendum to above comment which got posted before editing by accident...

Then when they test you again, you can remind them what happened the last time they tested you. "What happens when you hit your sister?" You can be proactive when you are about to enter a "danger zone" (eg. shopping, restaurant, etc) Before you enter, ask your children to name a rule of conduct in the zone: hands off, inside voices, we are here to buy (blank) and nothing else. What happens if we break a rule? We leave. I have left grocery stores with a basket of food in the middle of the aisle. I have left restaurants with our food in take out containers. Kids remember this and avoid a repeat performance.


The greatest parent trap is wanting to be friends with your kids, wanting them to like you. If they are unhappy with a rule you have which is reasonable and limit-setting, then you are doing your job. They are like the raptors in Jurassic Park and you are the electric fence. They will test every inch of your boundaries until they feel safe. Children who don't know where the line is are confused when they cross it and consequences occur without warning. This is why empty threats are so useless. You must be willing and able to follow through. You only have to do it once for them to believe you. Then when you are tested again, you can When they attack you personally, they are really giving you a compliment. "I feel safe enough to express my displeasure without risking the loss of your love. I know you will accept me no matter what. Please help me find a way to express myself without being hurtful."


The TIPV is a trap, that despite my efforts to avoid entanglement, that snares me more often than I'd like.

I'm a single, adoptive parent to two boys, ages 5 and 2. There isn't another parent out there for my kids. I'm it and often, I find it overwhelming simple to accomplish our everyday routine.

I'm definitely part of the problem! When I am firm, I am afraid my sons can't feel my compassion and that they will become hardened people. When I show my compassion, they are on me (verbally, whining, unwilling, etc.) like a fly on a stinky pile!

I'm guessing that my firm, yet compassionate communication and actions are the best and yet, I don't feel as connected to my boys as I'd like.

Anyway, I have not answers, but a whole lot of compassion!