Quiet Thoughts on Parenting.

By: Jen Shoop

*Image above via the ultra-gorgeous TyLynn Nguyen.

It has been loud in our home for the past few weeks between the holidays, mini’s extended school break, and especially the unnerving set of toddler tantrums we have been muscling our way through, one of which left Mr. Magpie carrying a kicking and screaming near-four-year-old down six blocks of Central Park West, little fists pummeling and all. I called my brother the other night to unload: “We are in it. I don’t what we’re doing wrong!” After puzzling over possible sources of her tiny and unfurling fury (leading suspects: intense schedule changes owing to holidays/zoom school/in-person school and a delayed jealousy of her now-active and now-communicating younger brother who is suddenly capable of participating in many of the activities to which she alone used to lay claim), my brother, ever the sane and compassionate soul he is, concluded: “Ah, Jen. You’re great parents. You’re not doing anything wrong. You’ll get through this.” I had to focus for a moment on Tilly, idly sniffing at dubious street detritus, at the scruff on her neck and the blue gingham of her collar, to re-center myself. I felt my shoulders relax from a month-long hunch.

Oh, the wild emotional fracas of parenting! Of trying your hardest and yet windmilling out of control on an unsuspecting Sunday evening after a meticulously planned day, in advance of which I sat on the edge of my bed staring out into the white of a January dawn and marshaled all the positive and motivating thoughts I could muster. Things like: “Love your way through it” and “you can do this” and “She does not know how to control her emotions — she needs my help regulating them.” But somewhere around 4 p.m., after making my way through several meltdowns and skirmishes with a practiced calm, she stared straight at me as she pelted little balls of play-doh at the ceiling, at her brother, at the wall, at the carpet in direct defiance of my carefully-worded reminders that “play-doh stays on the table, please.” Writing this out now, I think to myself: “Good God, Jen, just let her play. You should have let it go.” But you know — you know! — when you have been delicately snow-shoeing your way through the day, careful to avoid her triggers, aiming to tamp down on the commands and just let her be, and suddenly your foot gets stuck in an unexpectedly deep drift of snow and —

Oh! I can just feel my teeth grinding in frustration. I took the play-doh from her. “Well, the play-doh goes away now,” I said matter-of-factly, prying it out of her hands, placing it and all of its accessories into the bin and clicking the lid shut with a satisfying snap snap snap snap on all four sides, as she barreled into hysterics, snatching at my dress.

Oh, the outrage! The sobs! The protestations that “I won’t do ANYTHING ANYMORE”! The little red face and little red eyes puffy with tears. Then the just-as-sudden denouement, the click-off, the quiet, as her eyes traced the outlines of the displaced dog figurines that she had been hunting for earlier hiding under her bed, distractions in shadow.

“There they are, mama,” she said, with excitement, wiping her eyes with the back of her hand. “Mama, look!” Crouching down, retrieving them. The intensity of the previous five minutes nothing but a cloud quickly retreating behind us.

And what to do then but embrace the mercurialness? To squat at her side and tinker with toys, to brush the hair out of her eyes (but not insist on re-tying her hair — no, no, that would be too much and too precarious at this moment), to sigh inwardly, to study that perfect little face and peer into those expressive little eyes and wonder at what is going on inside and what measure of it belongs to my own skill as a parent.

Mr. Magpie and I put our heads together at night, strategizing, hypothesizing, commiserating, forgiving one another for the not-sins that feel like them. “It felt horrible carrying her home like that,” he says, and I remind him that he is a good dad, and that we will get through this, parroting back my brother’s more seasoned wisdom as a father to two with children two years older than our own.

Just to say —

Sitting here with you mamas who are in it right now, whether grappling with sleep regressions or breastfeeding woes or tantrums or sibling rivalries or recalcitrances or parenting troubles of any kind.

Sitting here, thinking quiet thoughts, reminding you that you are doing your best.


+An aubade to parenting.

+I hope I’m this kind of parent.

+Parenting advice I love.

+Are you a proponent of slow parenting?

+It’s her job to run through the puddles and my job to worry about the time.

+Love this gingham dress ($35!)

+A super chic side-table at a great price.

+Cute recent children’s finds…
















+15 must-have newborn items. (Read the comments, too! A goldmine!)

+If you’re running dry on indoor activities for busy little ones (I have been…), I have been revisiting this roundup and adding a couple of new finds to my cart:





+A propos of my recent post on what to read right now, a reader sent me this book, which apparently Ann Patchett has given to countless people and everyone has the same astonished, impressed reaction. Immediately added to my reading list.

+Another muted green item I’m having a hard time not buying. What is it with me and sage/mint/dusty green at the moment? Love!

+Crazy chic sunhat.

+This fleece is not even in a color palette I EVER wear, but I am obsessed with it. And I also cannot stop thinking about this performance turtleneck in tie dye

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34 thoughts on “Quiet Thoughts on Parenting.

  1. Oh Jen!!! I am right there with you. I have a very strong-willed 3 year old who makes her opinions known in no uncertain terms.

    I once got really snappy at my daughter (I think I was also stressed out myself that particular time) and I just felt horrible about it. That night I was putting her to bed and I noticed that she seemed to be in deep thought. I asked her what she was thinking, and she said, “you used an angry voice today.” Ugh it just broke my heart! Right then I tried to do some repairs and explain why I used my angry voice and reassure her that I always love her no matter what. I also told her that next time I feel angry I will count to 10 and take some deep breaths (which is what I usually try to model for her when she’s angry, but for some reason couldn’t do it myself at that time when I was angry, ugh!). I was wreaked with mom guilt for days.

    I so appreciate what you said — “love your way through it.” That is so powerful! I find positive mantras in general to be so helpful. I won’t lie, I have definitely snapped (as in the example above!) but I’ve been working on physically distancing myself to regroup for a few minutes and calm myself down with positive statements (that I say to myself silently) — so that I can be responsive rather than reactive. A few I especially like are “my child’s dysregulation is an invitation to connect” (admittedly very hard to practice but a great reminder) and “I am bigger than my child’s big emotions” and “connect before correct.” My daughter is waaaay more receptive when I connect with her first and validate/verbalize what she might be feeling, and often she’ll just cry it out while I hold her on my lap. Then we are better able to talk about why I had to set a limit/boundary once we’ve connected and she’s calm. I think I heard this from a parenting podcast: “when they’re in the throes of a tantrum, it is NOT the time for limit setting or delivery of justice” because their brains simply aren’t in that mode of logical thinking when the emotions have taken over.

    I so appreciate what Renee said about HALT — I used to do this with myself too and of course it makes sense that our children have similar triggers as well! And it’s such a great reminder too about caring for ourselves as parents (though I know how “cliched” self-care sounds nowadays, there’s definitely truth to it).

    You are doing such a great job, Jen! I’m sure your little ones feel your tremendous love for them throughout these challenges!

    1. Oh! One more thing re: positive self-talk/mantras. I found these gems from this website, Dr. Becky At Home. Thought I’d share in case it helps anybody!

      “You are a good kid having a hard time. I see your goodness under your struggles.”

      “I am a good parent having a hard time. I see my goodness under my struggles.”

      Big virtual hugs to all parents/caregivers! We can do this!

      1. Hi Mia — Love these quotes!! I have found myself almost compulsively driven to remind Emory that she is “a good girl” even when she is acting out / being disciplined. It just flies out of my mouth — I think because for me, growing up, there was nothing (!!) worse than getting in trouble and grappling with the feeling of being “bad.” I feel like it would have made such a lasting impression on me if I had been told “you’re a good girl! I love you! However, this behavior is not permitted/appropriate/etc.”


    2. Mia – I read all of these comments last night and am just now responding to them in turn but I just wanted to say how much they stuck with me. First, you are so NOT alone in being “snappy” or eliciting such tough pronouncements from little ones. I am right there with you — and with the guilt and agony that follows! One thing my Mom has told me in moments where I’ve just totally lost my patience and said the wrong thing or done the wrong thing: “Well, you’ll never do that again.” It’s true. Not that I won’t ever snap or heave a huge sigh in frustration, but I have been able to excise/not-repeat certain phrases/actions that really felt unpleasant on their way out or that resulted in hurt feelings. It’s all learning…and we are human! Humans make mistakes!

      I also really REALLY agree with the point that once you’re in tantrum mode or on its precipice, offering choices or setting boundaries is basically pointless. It’s like, “OK, we’re here. Now I just need to get through this massive moment of emotion and then we can deal with the administration of justice after.”


  2. Oh I felt this! My daughter, who is now 7, was a very spirited toddler who threw huge tantrums, both at home and in public. She grew out of it and is now delightful. This too shall pass.

    1. Thank you, Kristy, for sharing this experience!!! So hard to know what’s temporary, what’s long-haul, etc..! xx

    2. That is so reassuring, Kristy! Sometimes when I’m in a phase it just feels SO LONG and I wonder if there is ever going to be an end in sight (well, until the next challenge, at least!). Thank you for sharing!

  3. I have enjoyed reading your work for a couple of years, but this post led me to comment for the first time. You may be interested to know I’m a fellow Visi grad ‘90 and DC native and far more recently a mom to 4 kiddos ages 18 to 8. Over the years, slowing down, focusing on fewer activities, and prioritizing sleep and healthy eating have carried us through the haze of parenting. I’m often reminded of phrases like “long days, short years” or “put a crab in water” (meaning find a bath/pool/sink full of suds/shower for that fussy child, pronto — still works for teenagers!) or doing a mental check for HALT (are they hungry, angry, lonely or tired?) so I can attempt to fix an underlying issue. But when my husband and I felt like we needed a more informed approach for overall parenting, we came across the Adlerian theory supported by many parenting experts, such as Lansbury, and most especially in books by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Also we took a few parenting classes on this approach to parenting because it involved some tweaks to the way we spoke to our children with focused respect and natural consequences. You may be interested to explore the short and extremely helpful videos by the teacher Lisa Corcoran on parenting She is very well known here in the Philadelphia suburbs. On another note entirely, I always get a kick out of your posts when you describe Visitation. Those gorgeous sisters helped mold me into the woman I am. I am so very grateful to have attended Visitation, and my closest friends are from those high school years. And finally – Go Gold!

    1. Hi Renee! Welcome to the comments section and thank you for both your readership and for chiming in today. So grateful to you for sharing these resources. I’ve amassed an incredible arsenal of tools just reading this comments section and have lined up a lot of reading for the future. I especially like the “crab in water” and HALT concepts — brilliant. Will for sure be applying these immediately.

      Thank you again!


  4. I love the Magpie community so much- Jen, to read your words and then the many comments by moms who so identify and empathize with the situation is really wonderful. Parenting in the pandemic has been so isolating and lonely for so many of us, it just feels great to know we aren’t going through this alone, and that this too shall pass.

    We have the exact same thing in our house, a fierce, stubborn, almost 4 year old with serious jealousy towards her 16 month old sister who gets big cheers and laughs for her walking and words. Without a doubt, the total lack of routine plus the Zoom school has led to some of the worst behavior we’ve ever seen. It’s not just your child being tossed over her dad’s shoulder and dragged down the street, I promise!!

    One thing that has worked for us– if I manage to get my daughter out of the apartment between 8 and 9am before “school” starts, it makes a gigantic difference in her mood for the rest of the day. Over the break, a few mornings we walked for a special breakfast just the two of us at our favorite spot (still Breads!!) and it both got some energy out and got her spirits up. I keep telling myself that one day this will all be a distant/funny memory for us to look back on!! Until then, we just keep hanging in there…

    1. Hi Gina! Oh gosh, I could squeeze you through the frame of my screen for this note. It feels so reassuring to know other moms are going through the exact same thing! I mean, it sounds like we are having the same EXACT stand-offs! Same inputs, some struggles. The tip on getting outside before school is a GREAT one. I love the idea of a special breakfast. Going to see how I can pull that off. On school days, I do notice that even just the commute to school can transform her attitude. Lots to see, lots to talk about, lots of silliness, lots of opportunities to run, or play “I spy,” etc. (She’s been into searching for letters lately, which I love.)

      Thank you for this suggestion!


  5. Thank you for sharing this! I only have a 14 month old now (and one on the way) and it’s so helpful to hear honest accounts from mothers of older children. I’m wondering, have you found any books/resources helpful for navigating this phase? Or is it more of a “the only way to learn is by doing” type thing? I’m particularly curious bc I listened to a Brené Brown interview on Russell Brand’s podcast, which was great, and largely not about parenting, but at the end, Brené was a huge advocate for using “choice theory” in parenting. A new to me concept, which seems to hinge a lot on giving children clear choices (you can choose to stop hitting your sister or you can choose to go to your room) therefore, the parent isn’t SENDING the kid to his room, it’s his CHOICE. Hmmm. Idk; it sounds intriguing, but then again, I do think sometimes these theories are appealing, well, exclusively in theory. Haha! Just curious if you have any thoughts there 🙂 To be clear: Sounds like you guys are doing great as is!! We are in it together!

    1. Hi Joyce! Oh yes — choices BIG TIME in our house. And then it becomes a question of how many choices is too many choices — like, do I need to let her pick which coat every morning or only on the mornings she seems to need a little more autonomy? Our Montessori school has provided us with some excellent parenting resources and two of the big takeaways for me across nearly a year and a half of that programming that seem to resonate with our own instincts / perceptions of our daughter are a) providing structure and setting clear expectations and b) offering choices within that framework. It works generally well, I think. That said, it only works if I am consistent and proactive in it. Like, if mini’s already upset and I’m telling her “ok, do you want to put on your pants by yourself or do you want me to help you?”, it’s not going to magically resolve the issue. If we’re already at the point of tantrum, no number of choices seems to help. If I’ve given her loads of options in advance, and have given her plenty of time, etc, etc, it does seem to help — but that’s not always the reality of the world, where we need to get to school on time, or Mimi’s story time, or home from the playground when my son is freezing and hungry.

      As a related aside, mini especially appreciates having a sense for what we are doing the next day — she is upset by changes in schedule, even things like a parent picking her up when she is expecting her nanny, or vice versa. We have recently discovered that hanging a wall calendar with little stickers that designate things like “play date,” “doctor’s visit,” etc help A LOT, and every night we have her cross off the day and talk about what’s happening the next day, or several. This is a little off the point, but more generally an indication that providing structure and then offering as much autonomy within that seems to be reassuring to her, likely because it gives her a sense of control. My sister recommended some of the parenting material from Rachel Bailey and Janet Lansbury, and the bits I’ve read/listened to draw on similar points. Rachel Bailey specifically talks about the fact that tantrums often stem from a child’s sense of a loss of control, and that proactively giving them opportunities to make decisions/have autonomy can help.

      To be honest, I find parenting materials alternately helpful and disempowering. Sometimes they make me feel a bit less alone, more armed with ideas and language and the like, but other times, I find it to be too much noise, and I find myself overthinking every little conversation, expression, flail, etc. I prefer to absorb in small doses when I feel mentally equipped to accept it. At the end of the day, I also find that a big piece of parenting for me is watching and listening as calmly as I can, then discussing with Mr. Magpie and testing some options. So far, the only thing that seems to work in the moments of BIG feelings for mini, for example, is giving her a bit of space and then loving her through it. Giving her quiet, then, when she seems to have calmed a bit, asking “Do you need a hug?” And she nearly always says yes, and we just hug and don’t say anything until she has breathed it all out.

      AH! So much to say, so much to think through. I’m sure this has not clarified anything at all, but there it is!


    2. Thank you for your thoughtful response!! Yes, striking the “choice” balance seems like such an art. I think where I struggle is (sometimes) they don’t really have a choice. We are getting in the car now, etc. Ha! Also, there IS such thing as too many choices. “The Tyranny of Choice.” When I worked in healthcare software our CEO always talked about it — people don’t want 5 ways to do the thing, they want 1 easy way. [Aside: I always thought “The Tyranny of Joyce” would be a funny blog name. :)]

      I so appreciate the list of resources. I’ve listened to some Magda Gerber who is a fan of RIE and I believe Janet Lansbury is kind of her contemporary predecessor so I think I’ll check her out!

      But I’m right there with you with sometimes parenting books feeling completely disheartening, too. I suppose it comes down to using that power of discernment!

      Thank you again, for creating an open space to have this discussion!

      p.s. I see Renee mention HALT — that tool has been helpful for ME on a personal level. [It might originate from AA? Unsure.] I usually add an extra “T” – Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired or Thirsty. For example, when I find myself mentally swirling and thinking what I need is a whole new life (ha!) maybe I actually need….a glass of water.

      1. So true on using HALT for myself! I have been thinking of the framework ever since Renee mentioned it!!

        I fully support a Tyranny of Joyce blog!!


    3. Totally agree with offering choices! I’ve read similar things — offering toddlers/young children choices gives them a sense of control and autonomy over their lives — and this is a big part of their learning/development at this age. And isn’t that what we all want even as adults anyway? I tend to use this strategy quite often, and I limit it to just 2 choices (as she’s only 3 years old). That example you gave Jen works for us too — “do you want to do it by yourself or do you want me to help you?” and “do you want to do it in 2 minutes or 3 minutes?” — kind of sneaky, but she at least gets a choice in the matter!

      I can relate to your feelings about parenting resources, Jen. I tend to rely on books/podcasts/videos/research and I will admit that there are some that lead me to feel more guilt (which of course is not their intention) — but sometimes the way they’re presented makes me feel that if I don’t do it a certain way then I feel inadequate. In the end I do need to trust my intuition and my unique connection and bond with my daughter. I will say however that one resource that I’ve really appreciated is the work of Dr. Jazmine McCoy (@themompsychologist on IG and YouTube). She offers a lot of practical tips on positive parenting while keeping it REAL and authentic, being cognizant of the many stresses parents are under during COVID and all the current events, and emphasizing progress over perfection.

      And somewhat relatedly — on HALT including “Thirsty” — one of Dr. Jazmine’s tips when feeling angry or triggered as a parent is a big cold glass of water! We do feel anger physiologically (e.g., cheeks or head getting flushed/heated up) and the cold temperature of the water in our system (or even splashed on the face) is such a good way to reset! She calls it “bringing ourselves back to baseline.” It sounds like such a simple idea but it has worked for me.

      1. So many great tips and comments in here, too, Mia — love the “bringing it back to baseline” comment. That will definitely stick with me, both in taking care of myself AND helping mini through bumpy patches.


  6. Oh my gosh, my son is almost 6 and my daughter will be 4.5 years old next month. The triggers may change (slightly), but we still find ourselves moving in and out of this phase quite often. I was reflecting on it this morning after a particularly rough start to the day and it occurred to me our children haven’t truly interacted with others since we visited family at the end of September last year. My son is doing kindergarten virtually and we made the decision to keep our daughter home from preschool this year. While I remain steadfast in those decisions for our family, I was reminded what a difficult period this is for all of us. So much time together, which I cherish, but also SO.MUCH.TIME. Thank you for this post and reminding me how many of us are in it!

    1. Hi Erica! Thank you so much for writing this, for reminding me that we are IN IT together, and for reassuring me that many families go through this with children at this age. It’s such a good point that this year has had some unique stresses. I’m now wondering, for example, if perhaps some of the meltdowns of this week were engendered by some of the stress I’ve been carrying around this past week, too. It was a lot last week to oversee Zoom school for a few days, get her COVID-tested for return to school, get everyone back in a school schedule, return myself to working after taking a week-long holiday (as much as I could given Zoom school!), and then of course try to wrap my head around the disturbing news in D.C. Yuck! Not a good week for us, now I think about it, and it’s not perhaps so surprising that she has been a bit bigger and louder with her emotions, too. (I also wanted to tantrum a few days there…)

      Anyhow, thanks for weighing in, for sitting with me here, my friend. Sending you love.


  7. Ah how I love all of this! I feel it in my bones! I can conjure these moments and the feelings ahhh! My three and half year old middle child is HIGHLY spirited. His feelings are big and unlike my oldest he really cannot be redirected, he cannot be bribed he must simply let it OUT. My 8 month old has also been teething and not sleeping well so goodness I’m in it too! The silver lining is that our preschool finally reopened this week hooray!! I comfort myself in that his strong will I believe will serve him well once we get on the other side of toddlerhood!

    1. Hi Brooke — This is so interesting to me, as you have the vantage/perspective of mothering multiple children and your understanding of your middle son’s unique needs is so moving to me. It makes me realize that the best thing I can do is continue to just listen to her, work through it with her, let her be herself.

      Anyway, solidarity!!! Hang in there! Can’t imagine going through these tantrums AND sleep regressions!!! You got this!


    2. Thank you! It is truly interesting to observe how incredibly different each of my children are! I ponder this constantly. Even now I’ve begun to recall how very different my middle son was as a baby! My other two look like me (middle doesn’t at all!) and are rather calm and easy going like myself. Often I just find the huge outbursts make no sense to me but—-I imagine god knew I needed a child like him! I agree with so many of the mothers chiming in, I find myself inspired when I take the time to listen to Janet Lansbury and others. There is much to learn from these spirited little ones!

      1. Oh yes – so fascinating how different siblings are! A serious reminder that it’s all a balance of nurture and nature…


  8. Just sending hugs and calm vibes! My heart goes out to all parents during this pandemic and especially those of little ones with big feelings (so…all 2-4 year olds? ha!)

  9. I hear this! The lead-up to four was tough for us as well, and a bunch of our friends from preschool are going through the same difficult phase. B just turned four a few days ago and things seem to have leveled out a bit…for now! Hang in there!

    1. Hi Courtney! Thank you for this note! My brother said the same thing, too — this age is really tough, but things seem to calm down a bit after the fourth birthday…thanks for this optimistic reminder 🙂


  10. Oh Jen, you have a “strong willed girl.” I recognize the signs since my daughter was similar. As frustrating as it feels right now, know that her personality is preparing her to do wonderful things. She will be a woman who MAKES things happen and will not sit idly by and watch. But hugs for the next years.

    1. I love this, Sandy! Thank you for the note. Incidentally, Mr. Magpie was also strong-willed as a child (actually, still is!) and I love the man he has become 🙂 xx

  11. Solidarity! We have a newly minted 3 year old daughter with BIG feelings & a 4 month old son in the height of sleep regression. So yes, we are IN IT. Also – highly recommend the Instagram account “Big Little Feelings” for all things on this topic!

    1. Thank you, Allison! So welcome and appreciate the solidarity. Will check out the Instagram account! Thank you! xx

  12. Oh goodness, BLESS! Their little feelings are actually BIG feelings, especially in these days that often feel like whiplash. May I encourage you to hold these days loosely with an open heart? It’s such a fine line, knowing they need discipline and boundaries, but also knowing they most need your love. Sending you encouragement and grace for the hard days!
    xo H

    1. Yes — that is right. They are ENORMOUS feelings coming out of a little body. Thank you for this note!! Loosely and with an open heart is a good charge for me. xx

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