To my displaced toddler, who I failed for a minute

by Janelle Hanchett

Before the baby came, I was sure I would be okay in making sure you stayed feeling special and important, and I was sure you would be okay, because you’ve always been okay. You’re just kind of an “okay” type of kid. Independent. Doin’ alright.

When you were 3 months old it became clear to me that you didn’t want to be touched while you slept. I bought a cosleeper for the first time, and then a crib, just when I was sure I would never need a crib with any kid of mine (since the first two were used as toy holders). You stretched your arms out and settled in and seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. I like to sleep without being touched, too, kid. I get it.

And then Arlo came and you were almost 4. You seemed okay. You seemed to like him alright, though occasionally you bopped him on the head or gave him a healthy nibble, like any toddler questioning the newcomer. When people asked how you were doing with the baby we said you “loved him aggressively.” Ava said “She hugs with great fervor.” That kid’s funny.

I knew it would pass. It always does. But it didn’t, and things got weird.


When he was 3 and 4 or 5 months old I realized I could barely handle your presence anymore. Everything I said, “No!” Everything, defiance. Everything, rage. Everything, tears, tantrums.

“Get dressed, Georgia, for school.”


I had to ask once, twice, three times. I try all the tactics in the books. You simply do not move. You ignore my voice completely. When you finally go, you’re dragging your feet, literally. You’re walking sideways. You’re walking backwards and glaring at me, as slowly as you can possibly move. I realize Arlo is going to grow up to become a 4-year-old and I consider sailing myself off the Golden Gate.

I’m trying to shower, nurse the baby, get ready for the day. Make lunches. I’m so tired. I need you to just get dressed. When I get into your room 10 minutes later you are not dressed. You’re playing with your toys. 15 minutes of nonsense and you are STILL NOT DRESSED. 30 minutes. 45. One hour.

Endless. Relentless. Every thing I say to you, you argue. You fight. You refuse.

I don’t want to talk to you. I don’t want to be near you. Sometimes I yell at you and then I wonder what kind of fucking parent yells at a 4-year-old. I tell people you are so difficult. I tell people I don’t know what’s gotten into you.

I’m not an idiot. I know you’ve been displaced, but I cuddle you when I can and work at your school and I try, kid, I try. I’m so tired. I have nothing else. And Jesus fucking Christ you make yourself so difficult.

My ego butts up against yours. I’m in a power struggle with a damn toddler. I want to win. When did I become this pathetic? I feel like a zombie. I get up and do it again.

I look at you one day and realize I haven’t felt much affection for you in at least a week. You have become a chore. You have become a kid that bothers me, makes my life difficult. The feeling repulses me.


And I miss you terribly. I see your face and hear your little voice and I miss my little pal. I realize it’s me. I realize you missIMG_7354 me. I realize you are my little toddling friend and every time we’re together there’s a baby now, and one day when Ava came home from school you asked “Will you play with me, Ava?” and she said “Yes” and you were overjoyed and I heard you playing and being happy and central to your big sister’s life. But then I put the baby in there with you two so I could get some things done, and I heard Ava immediately ignoring you to play with the baby, dote on the baby.

I saw. I saw it all. I felt your pain right then. I felt your little crushed eyes and heart as each celebrated coo fell out of his mouth. And every word of attention and praise to him, from the sister who used to pour it onto you.

I saw, and I knew. I decided you would be the center of it for me, now, for as long as it took. The baby gets what he needs. He’s in damn near constant physical contact. Plus we have 2am.

I looked at you one day and for some reason called you “Cricket.” I called you Cricket and it was my special name for you. You laughed and laughed. You said “Am I your cricket?”

You’re my cricket.

I call you to me now 5, 6 8 times a day. Fuck the laundry, the dishes. I pass off the baby to others to hold you. “Come here, Cricket. Give me cuddles. Sit on my lap.” We play games we’ve always played. I hold your head against my chest. I stroke your face and kiss your forehead over and over. I tell you stories from when you were a baby, a toddler. We talk and laugh and I say “I love you so big.” Because that’s what you used to say. “You are my best.” You said that too.

As soon as the affection pours I can’t stop. I want to inhale you the way I inhale my baby. It feels good to find you again. I don’t care if this “works,” I only want you to know, know what you are to me.

I read you a pile or two of books. I never miss our “morning snuggles.” For the first couple months I did it for a minute out of obligation, because I felt guilty, because the exhaustion pounded my head and face and eyes and I just could not. Well I thought I could not. It turns out that the only thing I “can not” is lose you. I will not cut it short. I hold you there as long as you want to stay.

I hold you here as long as you want to stay.

I wanted to blame you. I wanted to blame you for being just wild or “bad” and I played that for awhile but when it didn’t work (at all) I had to look elsewhere. I had to look within. I was tired and miserable and saw you as just one more thing to do, to deal with, and you knew it, because kids know these things. I didn’t want it to be on me. I didn’t want to see that I was fucking up.


They say it isn’t your mistakes that will kill you. It’s justifying them.

I failed you for a minute there. A couple months. I imagine I’ll do it again. I look for ways to stop failing my kids. Get up, fail again. Get up.

I won’t apologize. Fuck apologies. Change.

Get up. Morning snuggles. First.

Fail again.


Yesterday I realized you’re usually pretty happy now to do the things I ask. You drew a picture of me, presented it proudly. You said “It’s not done,” and went back to the table. You added Arlo. Neither of us had necks.

“This is you and Arlo!” You said it with a grin. A big red human-like figure with a small red one.

You say “please” again rather than demands things at random. You don’t throw tantrums after making insane requests nobody can fill (“I want a DONUT FOR BREAKFAST!!!”). You listen again, mostly. You do what needs to be done, pretty much. You want to help. You’re still pretty crazy, but you’re Georgie, and you’re 4. But you aren’t out of control and we aren’t lost anymore.

You said “Arlo can be your cricket too.”

I said no way. You said yes. Insisted. I said I’d think about it.


It wasn’t what you said. It wasn’t the way you rested your head against my chest. It was the way you ran away, looked back, and grinned. It was the way you knew I was there. It was the way you were unconcerned. Your lack of worry. The abandon and joy in your eyes.

It was the way you ran away that I knew you were back.

I yelled “I love you Georgia!” Just in case.

You told me to call you cricket.

I said okay, and smiled down at the nursing baby.





New Sponsor:


If I had a dime for every time I said “F this Playdate.” I’m kidding. I don’t have playdates with people I don’t like. I learned my lesson. I’m bright like that.

You know what else I don’t do? Listen to podcasts that suck.

Thankfully, some don’t. Like Laurel and Jenny’s “F this Playdate,” which is based on their love of humor and wit and wicked smart banter on topics like “sex, frustrations with being married so young and not sleeping around, existential dread and euphoria, post-partum depression, deep crazy love for children, menstruation cycle ups and downs, post birth vaginas, domestic boredom, being defined by your man, the drudgery of child rearing, the work of marriage, the coziness of marriage, not doing what we don’t wanna do, and any damn thing we want to talk about.”

No sanctimonious bullshit here. Laurel and Jenny “play with the boundaries and expectations of females in a world of polite playdate chit chat and smiling pretty for the camera.” But they also aren’t afraid to talk about the deep shit, and the insane love we feel for the little bastards, errr I meant “kids.” Surely I meant “kids.”MAYA

Um okay but here’s the thing: Most recently they had actress Maya Rudolph (yes the one in Bridesmaids) on their show, and she’s fucking brilliant and hilarious. Maya Rudolph. She’s like my famous-person spirit animal. I mean, other than Bill Murray, obvs. If it weren’t highly illegal and if I weren’t too busy, I’d stalk the shit outta that woman.

Listen. Love. Now.

56 Comments | Posted in Sometimes, I'm all deep and shit..... | December 1, 2014
  • Sara Howard

    Beautiful! I need to remember this. This is one of your best, and that says a lot.

  • Jo

    You’ve done it again- nail squarely on head. I am off to put number 4 (4 months) down and get number 3 (6) off iPad and snuggle up for stories. Thank you xx

  • Shelley Garcia

    Beautiful!! You have done a great job and I appreciate you throwing yourself out there to benefit others. It is only through failure that we learn and change that we grow!!

  • Azure Rempfer

    That was perfect. I will bookmark and come back to this many times I’m sure. Thank you for your honesty.

  • Ann

    I wish I would’ve had this to read 7 years ago. Why did I wonder for a moment over age 4 being SO HARD.

  • Kirstie

    Wow that was amazing! And my older two are brats and annoying and shouty and argue from dawn till dusk, but holy crap that made me give them giant hugs (until they squealed that they couldn’t breathe!). Love your work.

  • Kelly

    I’m literally in tears as I read this. Thank you.

  • Maggie F

    I went through this with my son. He is 23 now. I wish I had had your wisdom and insight then. He is #3 of 4 kids and he acted just like your Georgia did. I wish I had known… we had a rough year. Now I know it was me,not him. He certainly has none of that in him now, he is an amazing young man. But that year between 4-5 I felt just like you write about. So sad. Wish I had been less tired and more aware.

    Thanks for your writing.

  • Corinne Knight

    Why do I read EVERY SINGLE POST when I know \i will cry! Thanks Momma. You are doing great!

  • Alyson

    Crying. I nearly got it right 13 years ago but maybe not quite. Fail. Change. At 16 it’s still not too late. This was so good – you hit a spot I guess I circled around…more power to you and Georgie…a bit more to you though Dude, that gorgeous girl is going to keep you on your toes! Xx

  • Lacey

    I am in tears (at work) while I read this, as I am going through this exact scenario now. So comforting to know I am not the only one with these feelings and these tough-to-admit thoughts. I remember one weekend where my 4 yr old was actually being pleasant and I had feelings of nostalgia and said “there you are, there’s my precious child again”. But it was only for a small moment until all hell broke loose again. I began reading Taming the Spirited Child, but really I know, he just needs me, as much as I need him. Still trying to find the balance with a new baby in the house, but he seems to be coming around. Funny to think I stumbled upon this new post because I was getting ready to unsubscribe. But clearly, I subscribed to this in the first place with good reason and will now be an avid follower!

  • Debra

    This made me cry; I see myself and my son in it so much.

  • Kateri Von Steal

    You are a beautiful writer. Your honesty and your dancing sentences, is exactly what this mom needed today.

    You know I’ve been coming around your blog for, what is it, 3 years now? Has it been longer? Lord knows…

    But, your posts always seem to pop up on my feed when I need them.

    🙂 And I am so thankful for you sharing these words.

    I only have my one.
    And I still forget to snuggle… I still micromanage him… I still fight his ego (which looks a lot like my ego)….
    Yesterday was hard for us – – – – really hard.

    But, today, I have this. And for that, I thank you.

  • Meg Meyers

    Thank you for this, Janelle. It’s like you were in my life, my head. My daughter is doing the same things Georgie was doing. It’s not her, I need to change me. So, from my heart,thank you for waking me up.

  • angela

    I wish I would have read this 10yrs ago! I’m new here and I have to tell you I love your style!!! I thought I was alone. My boys are young teens now and I failed miserable! Oh, I told myself I was doing the best I could (I’ve been chronically ill and single since they were 1&3) they were the only reason I got out of bed most days. But I could have done better. A couple years ago with advice from a therapist to do little things, she said when I was complaining about my kids wanting every expensive thing all their friends have “when they’re older they won’t remember what you bought,all they will cherish is the time you spent, that’s all they really want”. I left crying and went home and told the kids we’re going to library to get books and Im gonna read to you. They both looked at me like I was nuts and one of them said ” we know how to read, don’t ya think that’s something you should have been doing 5yrs ago?” Ouch!!! That’s both my boys telling it like it is. I guess what I’m trying to say is do it now before it’s to late.


    This was our weekend with our 6 yr old…baby has been sick so I was so wrapped up in him that I just kept sending 6 yr old to his room… He started acting out …couldn’t figure out why. Then I realized that I had not even sat in the same room with him except for meals yesterday… Poor kid. So before bed I played with his hair read to him and played rock,paper scissors his favorite new game. The light in his eyes returned and he went to bed with no fuss. I love the honesty in your writing. Thank you for it

  • Madelief

    This one pulled at my heart strings. Because I’ve failed my kids before too. And I’ve felt this pain of not knowing my children, not knowing how to like them for moments. And then that moment when I realize it’s me. Thank you for articulating how I feel. Thank you for being brave. You rock!

  • Sarah

    Crying here. This is my life right now, I have a 10 week old and two older boys and my 4 year old is driving me crazy. Thanks for the perspective. I love love love your blog 🙂

  • Fury

    Thank you so much for this! We just had a baby and I am feeling it from both our 5 year old and 3 year old. Sometimes it is impossible to want to be around them when I am just so. So. So. Tired. As a creative entrepreneur and parent to 4, I get busy…and I forget that they are all amazing little people who deserve to not feel overshadowed or ignored. I wrote a blog about connecting with my kids while maintaining a solid work day and creating art. It is so important to remember that they are just littles learning how to be human. I am so happy to hear other parents shouting that out to the world as well. <3
    Here is a link to my blog about being a business owner and creative with children-
    Peace and light.

  • erintheamazon

    Thanks. I just snuggled the 4 yr old daughter for a solid ten minutes and told her how much i loved her. I asked if it was hard when the baby came and she silently nodded. I asked if it’s hard now, she said “no, you’ve gotten better.” I died. I will do better.

    I then emailed this to two good friends who are both due with babe #3 and both have 4 yr old daughters who are going to have hard times.

    Thanks again, I’m changing everything i can about how i approach my older. She needs me too and I’ve failed her.

  • heather

    Urghh, this just struck a nerve with me. I have been yelling at my 5 year old all weekend as he has been “acting up”. He is mean to his little brother (2) all the time and I feel the same intolerant thoughts towards him. But this had made me realize I need to try harder to be there for him. thank you!

  • LaToya

    You had my nose doing that funny tickle thing right before tearing up. I snatched them back though.

    I absolutely love this and I understand. I think all moms of multiples do!

  • Yvonne HILL

    Me 2 crying, me 2 feeling like all of you , i just love your blog!!! We r mothers we r not perfect and r kids r not either.

  • Sarah Mercado

    I needed this more then ever today! Feeling like the shittiest mother on the planet and this made me feel better. Thank you! Oh, and you’re amazing. Keep it up!

  • sarah

    This was very timely for me. It definitely changed the course of my day today. Think of how many kids had a better day because of you!

  • Dana

    Yes! Oh my god, the idea of perfection (as in me, not my kids) is like this dangling carrot that I need to chop off. Not going to happen! Ever. So much better is your theory of try, do better, then Fail. Try again. Of course! Brilliant, thank you a thousand times. Georgie is lucky to have you, as are all your kiddos.

  • Rose

    I will say it again, I so wish I had you to read when my kids were little. Still apropos now, but would have helped me realized I was not crazy and maybe been a better mom then. Love your writing. Love!! I need to save all your stuff and show it to my kids if I ever become a grandmother!!

  • Sam Pereira

    Oh my God! So spot on. Sometimes when my daughter is being a little bitch I actually remember to pay attention and I realise it’s me she’s reacting to. My mood really does decide how the day will play out for the most part. I often forget. But I try to remember.

  • Joelle

    As I embark on my journey towards number 2, this is exactly what I am afraid of (that and about 1000 other things). What a great way to deal with this issue and reminder to all of us.

  • Sherry

    Sobbing. Beautiful. Damn girl.

  • Karen

    Needed to read this tonight. It has been less than 2 weeks, since I witnessed the sweet, playful, compassionate boy I had been too angry with to see.Extended family visiting and the preparation for Thanksgiving shifted my focus. Today Boy #2 (1 of 4 boys) and I were both asses to each other. Tomorrow he will be my center. Tomorrow we will start the day with hugs, regardless of any bitterness. I will see the awesome boy he is, I will not give in. Thank you!

  • Tina

    This one was beautiful. My older son, I think, went through something similar when my younger son was born. Once he was waiting for me to finish feeding his brother (he was 2, his brother just a few weeks old) in order to get him something to drink, I think, or maybe to cuddle. So he just walked over, pat his brother on his diapered bottom, and said, “Okay, Eric, you done now. It’s my turn.”

  • Ashley

    This post is exactly what I needed tonight after being convinced that i am THE biggest asshole in the whole world for going through it with my 3 year old and swearing that I’m gonna try harder AGAIN tomorrow..

  • Claire

    You fixed it (for now). It’s wonderful. 🙂 For me, with two months until no 2 arrives, I’m already getting frustrated with the “battle of wills” with my almost-4-y-o. This post reminds me that, in general, more good comes of giving MORE love/attention right when you feel like you want to withdraw it!

  • Katy

    Oh man, I love this. My almost 4 yr old is having her moments of late. But, when I can keep my own temper in check and give more more more love, she just glows. Words of affirmation are her love language. Spankings and time outs are not. And then I don’t feel like shit after an…episode. My late uncle, who was kinder than most anyone I’ve know, used to say “kinder, softer, gentler”. It yields results of the best kind. Good luck with your little one(s)! And keep writing!!!

  • Emily

    Ooh, I really needed to read this. I’ve been tenuously holding on to my relationships with both kids (22 months apart) and Ellery sounds like Georgia, and she’s usually just fine and so independent I don’t even know what to do for her when she needs something, because whatever it is, it’s not me. She is super hard, even when it’s just her, and I don’t think she feels too displaced because the kids are so close together, but there’s a fair amount of all this going on right now and I’m learning for the first time how to pay attention to two kids, much less how to give each one the attention they actually need and not just the shitty attention I know how to give them. We always joke about how she “loves Teddy so much, although sometimes she loves him too hard,” as evidenced by the other day when she came back from a sleepover at Grandma’s and said, “Teddy!!” and ran up to him, gave him a huge hug, and then bonked him on the top of his head with her fist for no discernible reason. I’m definitely going to save this post to read again from time to time.

  • Iliana Olmedo

    so true and full of the realities of life and love…am sharing with my girls cause it’s their turn now.

  • Maylene

    This was just so wonderful. Thank you.

  • Michelle

    It’s that magical moment when you look at them from just a slightly different angle and see what’s wrong. I was butting heads with my 17 year old and getting so frustrated then one day I looked at my kid and thought, “zie needs a hug”. Of course zie yelled that zie didn’t but I told zir I needed one and held on tight. Seconds later zir anger was gone… and zie’d been really damn angry.

    Just the right attention can make such an unbelievable difference.

  • Barbthecrazy

    Hey! I’m so happy for you. We all go to the school of trial and error. And if we are lucky, the successes outweigh the errors. It cheered me to see you say “Fuck the laundry, etc.” I swear I didn’t have a clean house (by my obsessive/compulsive standards), the laundry rarely made it out of the clean basket, but I loved and played with my kids. I have to thank my mom for making me learn that all of that can wait–kids need you now! You are doing IT right. Yes, you will screw up, but with your insight, your love will carry you over the humps. Stay honest–kids can spot bullshit EVERY time. (P.S. My kids are all over 30 now and they all still love me. And they never mention the slightly grubby house.)

  • Justine

    I needed this reminder to smack me in the face tonight. Today my 3.5 year old drove me crazy with her antics. Her baby brother is almost one. She was displaced and I need to make more time for snuggles and play. I need to lift her up rather than harp on her negative behavior. It is hard and tomorrow I will try to do better. Thank you.

  • Catherine

    I’ll probably come back to this post when we have another kid and our firstborn is being defiant, stubborn, angry, displaced. I’ll read your words and feel like I’m not alone for “losing” her. Thank you.

  • Jessica

    Thank you for this. I really needed to read this tonight. Thank you for being so real and raw, it is a lifesaver to have your posts to read.

  • Kate

    wow. It took me a year of hell with no#2 to figure out what you just figured out in 3 months. She was a nasty, anti-social piece of work and since she didn’t take anything out directly on no#3 (the baby), I couldn’t understand what her problem was. I just knew I was so so tired, clearly a terrible mother and I didn’t want to deal with her.

    Then I was at my wits end and actually attended a parenting workshop (I know! bah!) and the guy called Kim John Payne said “there’s no such thing as a disobedient child, only a disoriented one” and it rang so damn true! Any crap your kids are dishing out in behaviour is almost always because they are just lost, or displaced as you say. Freaked out by school, mean friends, new baby….that’s when they’ll be losers and piss you off. guaranteed. But that’s when they need you the most.

  • Miranda

    Dammit, you are going to make me cry at work. You took the words out of my mouth. I have so much guilt about my changed relationship with my 5yo boy. And as I have realized what I feel like I missed/screwed up, he is starting that slow pull away from me. This is HARD!

  • N.

    Thank you so much for this. As I sit here crying and exhausted as my 2 week old naps in her swing, I think of how I have failed my older two since the baby came. There’s definitely going to be so extra stories and cuddles for them!

  • Leah

    You literally took *my* experience over the last 8 months and put it into words. Each one painstakingly true. Thank you for being candid, thank you for embracing *you*, most of all thank you for being brave enough to share. “AWESOME read!” was whimpered between tears and sniffles.

  • April

    This is squeezing my heart. I’m unexpectedly pregnant with my second, who is due two weeks before my first baby’s second birthday. I love my sweet boy so much and it breaks my heart to think I won’t be able to be there for him 100%. I didn’t want that for either of us, not so soon. I think the new baby will have to take second place as much as possible. I’ll have to remember to try.

  • J

    Ouch the guilt. Luckily I too figured this out with my kids, my daughter in particular, my oldest. It sadly took my longer than a few months. I still, and always will feel guilt over that, looking at her like a chore. She is older now, 10 years old, and I dote on her, and she soaks it up, and is such a good little friend and helper to me. I am sorry to her that I ever got it wrong. I was talking to her once and said “you know parents make mistakes too, if I ever make you feel bad just know I love you, always and no matter what.” What makes it worse is that I know I will screw up again, with all my kids time and time again, and they will make me a better person.

    Damn that guilt though, I can’t let it go, and sometimes it creeps up on me, and I go hug them all, and tell them I love them. Not that I was ever abusive or anything. I just have gone through stages of trying to whip them into shape. Time outs a million times, don’t you dare disrespect me, looking at them like something I needed to deal with, not really enjoying them. It pains me to think about it. I can say I was just trying to teach them how to be well behaved good kids, which I was, but I went about it all wrong, for awhile there, maybe a year or so? 🙁

  • Rachael

    Oh damnit. So, I only have the 1 kid. She’s two and she pushes my buttons like none other – but this really just brought me to tears. I am just so taken by this post. Thanks so much for the honesty and writing about the rough stuff. I love how you don’t shy away from it.

  • Ola

    I’m sobbing as I ready it with buggers running down my nose! Thanks a lot! Bit honestly, you’re so right! Thanks! I just got my almost 3 down for a nap with laying next to him while holding squirmy 3 months old! I am making my promise today too to see my older again! We’ll dress up the Christmas tree together once he wakes up!

  • Britney

    You’re awesome. I’m going through this with my 8-year-old, my firstborn I had a age 20, but things have been slowly getting better. I, too have noticed that it’s my fault. I’m very short tempered with her but I see that she looks up to me and really just wants my attention. I notice that she gets jealous of one of her younger brothers and can be very mean to him. Hopefully, with me giving her what she needs, over time, their relationship will improve.

  • Nichole

    This literally brought tears to my eyes. My son has been the only child for 8 years and I recently had twins (they’re 10 months). I looked through my phone the other day and realized in 10 months my oldest has all of 3 pictures in my phone while the twins have hundreds. It made me also realize how much of my attention he has to share now. When he asks me for “cuddles” i am always too tired or nursing. This article made me want to climb into his bed and hold him like I did for the 1st 8 years. I dont feel as guilty because i know I’m not alone and its not done purposely. Thank you

  • Anaya

    Beautiful! You are an amazing writer!

  • Zandra

    I’m not even a mother and I cried. What the heck?! Not even married. lol

  • Liz G

    Man this was real and written beautifully.. Brought tears to my eyes. 4 year olds are SO hard and after having a second and then pregnant again yes they become what feels like a chore bc nothing is ever pleasant or easy with them. I plan on changing that tomorrow first thing and loving up on my first baby so hard she doesn’t know what hit her!