Why Do I Have a Harder Time with my Child than Anyone Else?

Why Do I Have a Harder Time with my Child than Anyone Else?

I have a question about teachers that I have been asking myself for the past 18 years, twice a day (at gan drop-off and pick-up).

My question is this: how is it possible that an afternoon spent with 2 of my children leaves me feeling steamrollered. Yet those same children’s teachers somehow manage to spend 7 (or more) hours straight with 35 of them, day after day? And still manage, by the end, to be walking on their own two feet, and often with a smile on their faces?

If you’ve asked yourself this same question, and (like me) have developed somewhat of a teacher inferiority complex, then I want to share an explanation to this mystery that I just discovered.

Based on their research of 500 families, psychologists at Washington University discovered that children act 80% worse when their mothers are around. Across the board, children were more likely to yell, act wild, whine, and display extreme behavior when mommy was on duty. And their behavior improved by 80% when daddy, grandma, a teacher (or anybody else in the world, for that matter) was with them.

In the study, 100% of the children age 10 and under followed instructions given in a regular speaking voice by people who were not their mothers. Mothers, by contrast, had to yell to be listened to by their children. Even 99.9% of babies as young as 8 months old would start whimpering, dirtying their diapers, or find another way to draw their mother’s attention when she entered the room.

So if you seem to have a harder time with your child than anyone else around, just know it’s not because you’re a bad mom. It’s just because you’re a mom, period.


  1. I recently discussed this concept with my husband not too long ago because it always seemed that I had such a hard time with my girls than he did and he mentioned that it all goes back to the curse given to Chava. Interesting. Hopefully all of our daily struggles will lead to a major tikun.

  2. I wonder this all the time. SO, at least it’s normal. But why?

    • Here’s the explanations for this I saw (in Nashim magazine, where I saw the study)–1. our offspring have a need for complete attention from their mother. 2. children don’t feel a need to improve their behavior when parents are around. Their love provides a bubble within which they feel they can act how they wish. For everyone else, they put on a show.

  3. I am not surprised to read this study, but I disagree that it is ‘normal,’ any more than gossiping or cheating is normal. These things happen when we don’t make a concerted effort to act differently.’ In my opinion, a mother not being listened to is a bell ringing that something in the mother/child relationship needs to be adjusted. I’m not trying to sound holier than thou – I certainly am not the perfect mother. But being a mother is a career (really a vocation) and like any other career, we need to work hard at it. We shouldn’t settle for poor results because that is common. The results of the study don’t need to apply to us.

    • Agreed, Susan. I was thinking, “It is what they have learned to do.” There is something in behavioral psych 101 called “payoff.” Of course we can’t be perfect, but we should think about how a kid knows our trigger points. Is that they way we want them to reach us? At the same time, I think it is all a matter of degree. There is normal and there is ridiculous/extreme/unacceptable. Sherri is on to something major, too. Very true points. I think those behaviors actually come from feeling trust at a very high level for your parent/Mom. I once learned that if you meet a child who is a model angel at home and out of the spotlight, that is a huge red flag. That kid may not trust his parents’ responses enough to be natural and whiny and let it all out.

  4. I once read in a book about child behavior that every person has a higher(?) self and a baby self. We reveal the baby self to those that we are closest to. For example a child “keeping it together” in school all day with the teacher then having a meltdown when they get home. Even as adults we have a certain way we interact with our parents (letting our guard down more or venting) that we wouldn’t normally have with just anybody. This is because of a comfort level and closeness. It doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be worked on, but it also isn’t (necessarily) a sign of something bad.

  5. Chagit Zelcer

    The SHEFER APPROACH maintains that the exsistential need of the child to connect to their moms is what motivates his behavior. It can manifest itself as negative attention-getting behavior or positively as cooperation. Modern Western culture accepts the negative behavior and to a certain extent even expects it rather than expects the child to cooperate (ie sleep throught the night, eat properly, take a bath, etc.). The paradox is that when the child doesn’t cooperate mom starts trying to figure out where SHE went wrong. (Unfortunatly JewishMOMS are pros at the guilt cycle…)
    This research backs the concept that the child will do anything to connect to mom, whereas the teacher (in the case you brought up)doesn’t ‘merit’ the ‘effort’. What’s left is to figure out how we expect them to connect? Negatively or by cooperation?

  6. I personally think this is one of the best brachot that I as a mum has. My children feel so close to me and so free in the home that they can act how they want and I will love them and care for them unconditionally. This is what I want from my children to know their Image allows them to say no! Shout, get angry and although it does matter and it can make me crazy. This home is their natural environment and this is their place they know they feel at home.

    Much love and appreciation.

  7. I think this is so we can see our roles as shapers of our children’s ruchaniyut and middot. They let their behavior deteriorate, and we can use that to see how we can show them how to channel their feelings productively and positively, and work through their emotions without hurting everyone around them.

  8. First I am hearing about any of this research but it strikes me as so, so true!!! I will try to remember it’s a good sign when my kids have total meltdowns promptly upon being picked up from gan/school.

  9. As a mother and grandmother, I have learned the following:When kids act up for their mothers, there are two important things to recognize.
    !) You need to separate the delivery from the message. What are they trying to tell you? Are they hungry, tired, overwhelmed, frightened, etc?
    2)They are begging you to create safe boundaries to their behavior. They feel insecure and unloved if you don’t take charge in a firm, confident, caring way.
    Never take kid’s misbehavior personally.

    • Well said, Mina. Easier said than done! I find it so challenging… Especially when mommy’s also tired, overwhelmed, or frustrated! I guess I’m not an expert at this vocation yet. Tips are welcome 😉

  10. I can relate to this study and results 100 percent!! I just mentioned this to a friend today, before I read this article. I totally agree!!!

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