The Hard Heart of Parenting

My body tenses. Teeth clench. Heart hardens.

I don’t hurt him. I don’t yell. Yet, my heart hardens with frustration.

My agenda to clothe my two-year-old collides with his interest in remaining naked. He wants to play with his trucks on the bedroom floor; I have a morning adventure planned. After several attempts to wrestle him into some clothes, he runs out of the room crying “No!”

My son says “Stop!” and “No!” frequently these days. He even asserts his will while mimicking favored construction trucks.

“Beep, beep, beep!” he says. Usually he does this while putting his hands on my legs and pushing me backward.

This morning I miss his “Beep, beep, beep!” which always makes me smile. I imagine it would translate to something like: “Back up Mom. Give me some space. Who needs clothes? Can’t you see I’m really enjoying this moment of being naked? I have no interest in your morning agenda. Let’s play trucks!”

This morning, instead of construction sounds, he shouts and cries. I feel my body tense. I feel my frustration. I remember to breathe. I remember my intention to soften into empathy.

I walk into the front room where my little naked boy cries in anger. My heart’s hardness melts as soon as I kneel down to connect at eye level. His face is blotchy, his eyes red, his nose runny. He is bawling. He is angry. Yet, I stay present. I sit on the floor.

“You are mad at mommy right now. That’s OK. I love you. I’ll be here when you want a hug.”

He yells again and runs into the kitchen.

“Take a deep breath,” I tell myself as tears filled my eyes.

Grief resides in the dark waters of the hardened heart. As I make room for my sadness, a gentle space of compassion opens. This space is wide enough to include all of the feelings swirling around, and through, both of us.

I sit on the floor and patiently remain present for him. I watch strong emotions move through his two-year-old self.

Yes, he will feel angry. He will feel sad. This is part of life’s flow. How do I respond to the energy of his anger and sadness? Will I try to make him laugh and distract him? Will I respond with my own anger? Do I take it personally? Can I breathe and gently hold space for his pain?

I can choose to soften around these hard edges. I can choose to breathe in gentleness. In this choice, I feel the freedom that comes from releasing the patterns of generations.

For certainly, the hard heart is passed on, inherited. Years before I decided to become a mother, I was committed to transform the negative aspects of my childhood. It took a great deal of therapy, meditation, dance, yoga, and travel to soften the scared and angry parts of my heart. Motherhood takes this process to entirely new levels. May I be grateful for this extraordinary opportunity to put into practice all that I’ve worked hard to uncover about the truth of love.

A minute or two pass. My son comes back to me. He reaches for me. I hold him. I feel the tension within — and between — both of us release. He looks at me and I wipe tears from his face.

“Outside?” He points to the door. Can we go outside?

I smile. “Yes, we can go outside. Let’s get dressed and go for a walk.” He nods and hugs me again.

I release my morning agenda as he welcomes my help in getting dressed. I take a deep breath. A few minutes later, we walk hand in hand into the sunlight.

Author: Amy Wright Glenn

Amy Wright Glenn, MA, Teachers College at Columbia University. Amy is a birth doula, Kripalu Yoga instructor, hospital chaplain and scholar of comparative religion and philosophy. Her first book, "Birth, Breath, and Death---Meditations on Motherhood, Chaplaincy, and Life as a Doula," was released in March 2013. More information is available at Amy's website,

5 thoughts on “The Hard Heart of Parenting”

  1. Beautifully written, Amy. We can all identify with these tense moments where we battle with being reactive. Calling on ourselves to manage our emotions in order to bring peace can be difficult. I took something else away from this as well; considering how difficult it can be for an adult to manage and chose the best way to handle these moments, we can imagine how difficult it is for a small child to do the same. I think our parenting cutural norm needs to give children a break regarding tantrums. We can show them support and empathy when they are emotionally at a breaking point. Too many times are children are held to a higher standard than we can obtain ourselves. It’s like we see ourselves and our weaknesses in them. Learning to love ourselves should therefor help us love our kids in a more empathic way. Thanks again, Amy.
    -Ashley Nebeker
    API, Fresno

    1. Ashley – that sounds really right: “…children are held to a higher standard than we can obtain ourselves. It’s like we see ourselves and our weaknesses in them.” If anyone treated me like we treat our children – forcing me to do what they wanted, when they wanted, all day long – I certainly wouldn’t handle it well. But because any resistance on their part is an inconvenience for me, I am intolerant instead of empathetic. And it’s also easier to try to force them to be mature than to try to force myself to be mature.

  2. This is a beautifully written, heartfelt article. The entire article is filled with respect both for yourself and your child. Simply beautiful…Thank you. I am going to share it on my FB page EssenceofChildCaring.

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