Dear Cee: About those tantrums and tears


Dear Cee,

We have had a lot of change in our lives lately. You have started day care, and I have started going to this strange place we call “work.” (I always wonder what you picture when I say I’m going there. I think you’d really like climbing the stairs in the 300-person lecture hall where I go to tell stories to sleepy college kids. You’ll have to check it out sometime.)

We had these nearly two years of spending almost every minute of every day together, living in our quiet, predictable rhythms. As an infant, you clung to me and had little interest in being close to other people, even Daddy at times. Our early attempts at leaving you with a babysitter were traumatic for everyone. You would cry and cry, refusing a bottle. I would sit at my desk, unable to concentrate on my work, and instead checking my phone for text messages from the babysitter. You let me know that you needed me. I accepted this and stayed close.

I was nervous about this change, but you love going to day care. You jump right in to play, often only pausing for a quick hug goodbye with me. And when I return to pick you up, you greet me with a grin and a hug, but then you go back to playing and it is often a struggle to tear you away. You embrace your new caregiver as if you have known her all your life.

I am so relieved to see that you are comfortable with this change. But it is also bittersweet for me, I admit. It is a LOT of letting go. In fact, you may have noticed that I have been hugging you an awful lot lately when we are together. That’s the only way I can ease myself into the reality of your growing up.

But also? It is magical to watch you become your own person.

You walk confidently and run joyously. You disagree passionately. Sometimes you are agreeable, but you’re passionate about that, too. You demand band-aids, piggy-back rides, and one more bedtime story. You try new words, first listening, and then testing them out. You pause, you reflect, you nod with understanding. You protest holding my hand as we cross the street. You pretend play – serving me dinner of plastic veggies and grinning as I nibble at them and complement your cooking.

And you still need me. You don’t show me this by clinging to me, like you did as an infant. You’re showing me this in the way you test me over and over. Cee, I won’t let you climb on the table. Cee, I asked you not to climb on the table. Get down, please. Cee, we don’t climb on the table. Again and again. You watch for my response, which comes as predicted. You get down. And then you try it again.

And then some small thing happens  – your band-aid comes off or I ask you to walk instead of being carried or I physically lift you off the table with a firm no. You fall apart. I try to reason and explain, but you are in a different place.

This is what I want to be sure you know today: It’s OK. You can test away, and when I tell you no, I’ll be here to hold you while you cry. I’ll try not to take it personally but rather as a compliment. You need me. Still.

Your day care provider tells me that you are even-keeled all day long – cooperative, uncomplaining, bouncing back from disappointment. Funny, because I feel like I hardly get to see that Cee anymore. Our time together now seems to be reserved for testing and tantrums. It seems that all the little bits of tension that you feel during the day break open for me, fast and strong.

Change is hard. It is stressful and scary. All of these new social interactions you and I are engaging in – they are draining. At least, that’s the way I feel. And those emotions build over time. In me, they sit and wait, often unnoticed. And then one day some small mishap comes along and the damn breaks. I may not know why I’m crying, but I know it feels good.

A few nights ago, after a long day for all of us, you wanted your socks, but not just any socks – the ones you had left in the car. And when we couldn’t find them in the car, you wanted to play in the car. And when I said that we needed to go inside and get dinner on the table – you fell apart, in a high drama way. Big tears. One of many tantrums triggered over the last couple of weeks.

I sat down on the floor and pulled you in close. You cried on my shoulder. After a few minutes, your tears were gone, but you kept whimpering in a way that many would dismiss as a fake cry.

I could tell you weren’t that upset anymore, but you weren’t ready to get up and move on yet. I thought about how sometimes when I cry, and the tears eventually dry up, sometimes I want to cry a little longer. It feels good, especially when someone you love is holding you. You want to squeeze out every last bit of emotion into the arms of someone willing to share it with you.

I want you to know that you can dump your sadness and stress on me anytime. You may not know where it is from. It doesn’t have to be because you’re in pain or afraid of something tangible. It can be from some unnamed emotion that you feel but have no words for. I’ll hold you close and share it with you.

That “fake” cry? Is it manipulative? Maybe it is, but that doesn’t make it wrong. I think that maybe what you’d like to say, but can’t yet, is “I need your attention right now, Mama. Your full attention, and for a little bit longer. I need you to hold me and listen for a while.” At least that’s what I hear, and that’s how I try to respond.

Even as you step into the world, little girl, so full of spunk and confidence – know that I am here for you when you need me.




30 thoughts on “Dear Cee: About those tantrums and tears

  1. Aww this made me tear up at the bus stop. I definitely know that feeling of just needing a good cry, and how much better and safer I feel when Mom or Dad are hugging me (even in my mid-twenties). Thank you!


  2. Great post Alice!!! I can totally relate with my relationship between myself and my 3yr old!! It’s great to hear your prospective!


  3. I can relate to this BIG TIME. I have a 23 month old and a 7 month old and I work. The time I share with them isn’t always fun or their best behavior and I miss all the fun stuff. This blog made me teary eyed thinking about my girls. Your baby will look at this one day and read how much you loved her and enjoyed every minute. Thanks for sharing.


    • I guess we have to remember that the fun stuff isn’t always the most important (although it IS fun!)? And I’m so glad that Cee is having fun at day care. All of this would be so much harder for me if she wasn’t!


  4. You have such an amazing way with understanding your relationship with your daughter beyond the surface and such a beautiful ability to put it into words – for Cee and for inspiration for the rest of us. Thank you for sharing, and thank you for challenging me to be more patient and more understanding.


    • Thanks:) There are days when really struggle with this and I feel all out of patience, but trying to put her behavior in a positive perspective helps me handle it more compassionately. Also, having a few days per week apart from Cee DOES give me more patience with her when we’re together.


  5. That brought tears to my eyes. My daughter has grown out of tantrums now, but boy did we have a time with them. And my little boy has it all to come. Your letter is exactly what I’d like to say to them. So sweet and eloquent.


  6. Fantastic post! I think the testing really is an expression of love, in its own mysterious way. My mother says that kids this age are always going to reserve their most epic meltdowns for their parents, because they crave the reinforcement of both boundaries and unconditional love. It sounds like that’s exactly what Cee is up to! It may be funny to say, but I also really appreciate the way you write about little kids’ crying. I remember from your sleep series, your wise advice that we should not evaluate our parenting by the number of minutes our kids cry. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to remember that in the midst of my son’s wailing, when the devil on my shoulder keeps trying to tell me that I am failing at motherhood. Often, we need to really listen to them (hard as that is) instead of shutting them up or simply (but lovingly) “let them have their say,” as you do with Cee’s end-of-tantrum whimpers. Good luck going forward!


    • Your mom is a smart lady! And yeah, changing my attitude about crying has really made my job as a parent easier. I think toddlers really need to be heard more than anything, even if they’re not sure what they’re trying to say.


  7. So beautiful. I hope that when/if I’m blessed with little ones I can try to have the same understanding of them and what they really need. I love what I see in your relationship with your daughter through your blog.


  8. Alice, you are such an excellent mother whose cup always seems half full! I can relate this this post so much. When I fist started taking Nae to an at home day care she adjusted so well. She was a perfect angle while she was there. Never crying or fussing. Then as soon as I walked in the door to get her she fell apart. Crying, throwing fits, and acting out. The lady who watch her seemed shocked everyday. Saying that she had never seen her act this way. But for me I knew that it just meant that she was so comfortable wiht me that she could finally realise all the anxiety of the day and of the transition. Finally, it got better as the new routine actually became a routine. Cee is one lucky lady to have such a wonderful mama!! i LOVE YOU ♥


  9. This was really beautiful and I could relate in so many ways. My little guy (21 months) has been testing and having tantrums quite often but the funny thing is that I kinda feel like this is my favorite stage. Because of the combination of independence and growing communication but still the need to be held and be comforted, its kind of like the best of both worlds, if that makes any sense. When he was just a baby I had no idea what he wanted, I get it now.


    • That’s a great way to look at it. I do love watching Cee’s growing independence, and I like that she comes running back for comfort when she needs it. Her tantrums are relatively small, and she usually wants to be held, which is helpful. The testing, on the other hand, is often hard to be patient with.


  10. Pingback: Dear Cee: About those tantrums and tears | the Narrow Path

  11. Oh, how I can relate! I have been thinking a lot about just this recently….my son’s days at daycare this year, while not as many in number as last, have been long days (10, sometimes 11 hours). He is a champ and plays beautifully while at school, but falls apart the second we walk in the door. Saturday mornings post day-care can be pretty rough, as he’s still tired from the week. I agree that I think kids need to feel “safe” and at home to have those moments, and I also recognize how over-stimulating and physically and mentally exhausting daycare environments must be. I know that my 2nd graders are tired after a long week of school, so our toddlers definitely are. I have to admit, of course, that there is still one person that I can reliably lose it with – and that’s my mom. I guess it makes sense that my son is the same way too!


    • I read your letter to Cee and cried. Thanks for sharing this! I’m relieved to know my baby is testing me because he needs me. Like you, I’m missing my happy baby and wondered what happened to him. All these testings and tantrums are eating me up, I feel totally drained of energy and it makes me wondered how cld parenting be so easy for others but not me. Thanks for making me realised I’m not alone.


  12. Pingback: Reclaiming happy hour, toddler and all | Science of Mom

    • Thank you. I had to reread this post last night after a rough couple of days with Cee. It really helps me to be patient if I can put myself in her shoes and try to imagine how it all feels to her.


  13. This is so wonderful. Thankyou for putting exactly the way I feel into words. I try to do this with my son when he has his tantrums and meltdowns. I am giving this to my husband to read :-)


  14. Pingback: Almost Two, Strong-willed, and Sweet Through and Through | Science of Mom

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