Of Toddlers & Truth

“I like Dad better than you.”

Well, she said it. My fear had materialized in a single statement, and you know, the context of these things matter. I had thought she’d say it in the midst of a lecture, or when I was asking her to do a Not Fun thing that perhaps Ken doesn’t ask her to do. I had thought she’d say it whilst brushing her teeth.

She did not. She’d said it while I was giving her my all, while I was cross-legged on the dusty rose rug playing a Doc McStuffins memory game for the 88th time, a game that holds little satisfaction because the pieces are missing (Bernie’s cage, Bernie’s under-the-bed-lair, Bernie’s stomach) and few matches remain.

I did not react well. I dropped my cards and left the room, partly to collect myself but also partly, in all truthfulness, so she could feel my pain, so she could see that her words carry a deep weight that sometimes push others into a tide you didn’t intend.

And then I came back in and I shamed her.

That is a terrible thing to say to someone. I would never tell you that I like Dad better than you, would I? Dad would never tell you that he likes me better than you, would he? Do not ever say that to me. It hurts my feelings. You hurt my feelings.

After five minutes and five hundred tears, I knew what I’d done. Sure, I’d taught her remorse for her actions, consequences for her speech, but what else had I taught her?

I had taught her that this home is not an environment in which honest communication is valued. I had taught her that tiptoeing around my insecurities are more important than speaking her truth. That she should smile through a lie so I would not cry from the truth.

I had taught her that her words are not safe in my ears.

There is something to be said for respect, for balancing kindness and truth, for speaking from your heart in the gentlest way you can muster. But this takes time. This takes skill.

Toddlers have not been offered enough time to master this skill, and instead of teaching her how to tell the truth, I taught her not to tell it at all.

I had taught her that I would rather her be nice than be kind.

I want to be the best. I want to be the favorite parent, the one to which her eyes light up, the one in which she runs toward in a crowded room of a hundred people, a thousand people, a thousand more.

Who wouldn’t want that? A toddler’s adoration is the sweetest song.

And yet, last night, I was not the best.

I was also not the best I could be.

This morning, over eggs, I said my apology. My feelings were hurt by how you said it, and we’ll work on that. But you felt it, and you said something, and that’s a good thing. Honesty is always a good thing.

She listens. She eats. She pauses. Can I say another good thing? she asks, fork in hand.

Sure. I brace myself.

I like Doc McStuffins better than you AND Dad.

  • This resonates so much, thank you for being honest yourself and sharing how you didn’t get it quite right. Tuesday was my sons first day of preschool and at pick up he was the only child not running for his parent and threw a complete wing ding when I had to wrench him from his teachers arms to walk home. It stung and i wanted to react similarly to how you did. I was always that kid though, so independent, but I wanted him to miss me and he would have been perfectly happy staying there hours longer. They are our little mirrors and as he is getting older he is mirroring more of my own little fears and insecurities!

    • ahhhhhhh i can so relate to this, katharine!!!! independence is such a good, strong trait (i have it too!) but sooo hard to foster when it’s your own little. ;)

  • Love this so much. Dealing with much the same, although the truths hurt my husband, not me, and I’m the one trying to get my 4yo not to say them. It’s a fine line, indeed. I think the best part of your story is how you circled back around with an apology and a truth … and an encouragement for her to keep being truthful. Well done, mama.

  • Oh my goodness! I have been here. I remember the first time I heard my little love say “Mama, sometimes I don’t like you.” Heart shattered into a million tiny pieces, but I deserved it, it wasn’t my best Mama day. Onwards & upwards, live & learn & try better next time. xo

  • Oh my. That parenthood thing never let’s up! You certainly felt and handled a load full here ~ Someone once told me a child’s 3 year old self, will be like their teen self. So, I case in so many years, in her case you can replace the Doc McStuffins with (-insert current New Direction type cute boy band member)?
    ♡I believe you did beautifully when all was said and done. She’s a lucky baby ♡

  • The first time he said “I shoot you!” to me when he wasn’t getting his way I read him the riot act. I later realized he was “shooting” me with his Spidey webs, which he learned from a classmate, but still – no shooting. It’s difficult to remember sometimes, with my little man who talks so much and seems to follow so much adult stuff, that he’s still a baby and still learning. I there with you Erin, in the pits of figuring it all out. I bet Bee will continue to love you as much as Forrest will continue to love me. Hugs.

  • Isn’t it amazing how such a tiny person (whose opinions change hourly) can hurt us so much. I love the grace you gave the situation- and that you apologized to your toddler and corrected your original reaction when you really didn’t have too. You could have let it go and vowed to “do better next time”. You taught her a lot in that little moment! Way to go, Mama!

  • Thank you for this post! I have often regretted the way my words shame my children. Thank you for articulating exactly what this does to them and the beautiful way that apologies and honesty can bring restoration.

    • Thank you Lauren! It’s taking me a lot of practice to re-train my mind, but I’ve found that there is such grace in the apology alone. If it does nothing else for Bee, at least she’ll learn the importance of “I’m sorry.” :)

  • oh goodness erin, that last statement … children can sure keep us guessing :) my girl is 20 and i had those same moments many times, something coming out of my mouth because of my feelings, my ego, my pride and then apologies … i urge you to just keep listening to your heart and bite your tongue when something is said … i finally got to a point where i could say ‘why do you feel that’ and it allows some time for your girl to rethink what she said … my daughter has been so open with me … far more then i felt i could be with my mom … you are doing well … keep being honest and she will know she can confide in you and be able to say anything … in a very recent conversation i asked my girl what my strong points were … she said ‘you’re a good listener’ i nearly fell over … so just keep at it xx

  • We all have moments that we wish we would have handled a little bit differently. All children at her age say something like that because they’re constantly learning and re-structuring their likes and dislikes. I’m sure that she won’t remember that moment and the lesson is more for you than her. Give yourself a break mama, you’re doing great!


  • A toddler’s words can be so unintentionally painful. The first time my oldest said something like that I cried for hours. ::A big hug to you::

  • Oh my goodness. I had tears reading this because I’ve shamed my kids into feeling guilty far too often. It hurts when they hurt you. But that last statement cracked me up! =)

  • I feel you. Sometimes, my daughter doesn’t even have to say anything and I can see how she feels towards her dad and me. She calls me a mean mommy sometimes, but I’ve learned to accept it and make light of it when we can. I know my daughter loves me and kids who are lucky enough to have 2 parents at home, have two different sets of strengths coming at them, and they know what mom means to them and what dad does.

    Analog House

  • Big hugs to you, Erin, and much respect for how you handled this situation. I think that you were not perfect and let your daughter know your feelings was so precious and a great teaching moment for both of you (no one knows, honesty or kindness? speaking your truth or speaking your love? where’s balance?). Love her “another good thing” ;)

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