How to do preschool with one child and no stuff

This is a guest post from Erin Wetzel. She is a artist who lives in Tacoma WA and homeschools her daughter. You can connect with her on Instagram @ekwetzel.

One of the joys of not sending my daughter to preschool is that we are together constantly, bugging each other to death.

Because I work at home, I have to figure out how to get stuff done with Phoebe in the house. We can’t afford a nanny. So it’s just me, my kid, and a mountain of tasks to do. Every. Single. Day.

This is where The Stuff comes in in handy. I distract Phoebe with her toys or her iPad or, when I absolutely couldn’t be interrupted, a movie.

And after a while, The Stuff piled up. It became a clusterfuck, with used-to-be-tidy bins of carefully selected toys overflowing under the constant stream of birthday presents and Happy Meal toys packages and Very Special Artwork That She’d Cry Over If I Threw It Away. (I’ve tried clearing things out when she’s asleep but she notices. And she’s heartbroken. Every. Single. Time.)

Then one day went especially bad: I was stressed. We fought. We reconciled. And then we fought a few more times. I wanted to scream at her. Instead, I sat in my room, fuming, trying to calm down, giving her time to do the same.

When I went to find her, she was sitting on her bed, glued to a game on her iPad. She wouldn’t look up at me. She wouldn’t respond to me. When I tried to turn her iPad over, she screamed at me and tore it out of my hands.

I’d had enough.

I didn’t say anything—I just took action. I started gathering together her toys and carrying them in boxes and bags to the garage.

At first, Phoebe screamed and clawed and punched me. I spoke firmly, telling her we could talk if she would calm down. I kept working. I told her she could help or watch. After a lot of slammed doors and bargaining and tears, she decided to join me and we tossed the last of her toys into giant garbage bags and left them in the garage.

Then we sat on her bed and talked about how people are more important than things. And after a few minutes, she told me that she misses me and just wants to spend time with me. I was cut to the heart.

The Stuff stayed in the garage all week. We played together, making our own toys out of everyday things, and soon she resumed playing alone in her room, her imagination alive, turning anything into a plaything.

For so long, I thought she needed all this Stuff, I thought I needed the Stuff, but it turns out the Stuff is just a crutch. What we needed was each other.

Now, a month later, we’ve reintroduced a few toys (maybe one tenth of what she had before). But when I have a work day, these days, she’s excited. She leans over my artwork, asking how I do things, studying my techniques. She sits beside me, working on her own art as I complete my commissions. And I sometimes pause to help her, guiding her hand or showing her how to create a certain effect.

This Monday, after we worked all day, I was laying on the bed, exhausted. She came in, laid next to me, and we talked.

“Thank you for letting me get so much work done today, Phoebe. I really appreciate it.”

“I love you Mama.”

“I love you, too, baby. Did you have a good day?”

“Yeah! I did!”

“What was so good about it?”

“I got to spend time with Mommy!”


60 replies
  1. Jenn Gold
    Jenn Gold says:

    I get the whole mommy and me time and homeschooling a preschooler doesnt have to be extravagant. But, the tantrums and fighting are unacceptable to me. It communicates that tantrums get attention and results and that mom’s work is at the mercy of child’s permission. I think this is not a good set up. Not my kettle of fish. I believe in connection and even attachment parenting with mutual respect,

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      When you say that tantrums are unacceptable, what does that mean?

      Obviously you aren’t getting rid of your kids when they throw a tantrum, but I don’t see how you have that much control over someone else’s emotions.

      • Jenn Gold
        Jenn Gold says:

        A tantrum is not an emotion. It’s an outburst with no self control. Kids are learning how to control emotions or at least should be. I dont believe kids should grow thinking that this is how emotions should be expressed. It’s almost lie blackmail the way this author described her scenario.

        And no, I dont have oontrol over my kids’ behavior but I do have to teach them self-regulation.

        I’m not American so I may have a different point of view from others though I interact with many. Nowadays I see people having outbursts and everybody else is expected to just accept this as normal after they spew whatever without restraint. Learnt and condoned behavior. IMO

        • Cáit
          Cáit says:

          I find international parenting comparisons interesting because that was how I became a mom.
          I’m American but had never parented in the states until recently.
          About tantrums, the big difference I noticed between the states and Flanders was in the moms. In America, toddlers tantrum and run and moms run after them yelling. In Belgium, the toddlers tantrum and run and the moms run after them– in complete silence!
          I always did it the American way. Must be learned behavior long before motherhood.

        • Susan
          Susan says:

          My opinion on this may change as my now 2yo gets older, but when my 2yo has a tantrum, I don’t interpret it as manipulation. Instead, I see it as him having a hard time. My parenting decisions are not influenced by whether or not he tantrums. I offer him compassion while he decompresses/tantrums while being consistent with boundaries.

          As far as older kids having tantrums, I’m slow to judge. A friend of mine has a child on the spectrum and strangers are so quick to judge his behavior. He’s not being manipulative and his parents aren’t bad parents. He’s just feeling what he feels, when he feels it and doing his best to adapt to a world that’s quick to judge what they don’t understand.

  2. jessica
    jessica says:

    This is really manipulative and controlling.

    You were stressed, you took it out on your daughter, you put her in time out, then when you were feeling better and she was hurt and scared you threw all of her toys (figuratively) away? You state at the beginning that is the quickest way to emotionally hurt her. So now you use that knowledge as a weapon when you arent getting the response from her that you want due to an innappropriate outburst towards her (due to your own life stresses caused by your personal circumstances that have nothing to do with he r) on your part.

    The stuff thing is ridiculous. Of course its wrong to distract a child from connection and attention. She’s a person. The stuff has very little to do with it.

    So now things are ok because she is doing what you want to do??

    I think this highlights an important message: the environment you set up for your child is the one in which they will respond and behave in. If the child is having issues in the context it is not the child with the problem, it is the adult and their behavior and environment they set up for the child.

    I wish more parents would stop blaming the children. They aren’t the problem.


    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      My youngest daughter, who will be 4 next month, is my wild, crazy, free-spirited child. It is impossible to control or manipulate her. Everything is on her timetable, when she is ready.

      I can’t describe how frustrated I get sometimes, I want to yell and take it out on her and make her more compliant. My older girls are so easy. I understand going to my room to calm down, but I don’t understand assuming that a child has had enough time.

      I don’t manipulate or force, I can’t do it. It goes against everything I stand for. We discuss things when she is ready, I am not a dictator who demands she listens to me when I say so. We talk a lot about being nice, using words instead of hitting, and my older kids help out too. I’m trying to create a more peaceful and collaborative environment yet it definitely isn’t a parenting thing for me, I have been consistent with each child in my parenting style.

      I really think that my young little wild one will do great things in life. She is the kid that every parent loves and wants to take home with them. She is always off making a new parent friend when we are at swimming. She is fearless and determined. So many wonderful qualities to love, and I realized recently I have been given a wonderful challenge in life to raise this little human to be awesome. She has a lot going for her. I don’t want to change that into something that pleases me more.

      Looking for more connectedness in the future.

      • mh
        mh says:

        Well said

        My son, at ages 2-3, would lose his temper and strip naked

        This was a new one for me… An angry little naked
        Person. It always happened when we were running late or out in public. I remember him naked on a street corner, red-faced, stamping because the motorcycle we had passed there last time we went for a walk was no longer parked there.

        Angry, ridiculous, and adorable.

        It’s difficult to teach and model self control in the face of naked stamping rage. But, we love him and he’s worth it. Kids need to know when they are out of control, that mom and dad aren’t going to be raging back at them.

        Good on you for letting your wild one be herself.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Haha! That’s awesome!

          I admit I get easily embarrassed by my wild ones antics. I don’t like the attention, and she seeks attention from strangers every day. It puts me in the awkward position of having to come up with small talk.

    • Sophie
      Sophie says:

      I wonder if, in general, you feel unheard when you address someone.
      I can only imagine what goes on in “real life” if you feel the need to be so harsh when posting online.
      You are entitled to your opinion of course but I can only imagine how few people must be interested in really listening to you.
      You have used the terms “manipulative” and “controlling” and “ridiculous” and “ugh”.
      Would you be willing to consider that they may apply to you?
      I hope your journey bring peace into your life.

      • Pirate Jo
        Pirate Jo says:

        Actually Sophie, there is nothing whatsoever wrong with jessica. I felt the same way she did when I read this story, and there is nothing wrong with me, either. I just felt sorry for this helpless, powerless kid who is stuck at home all day with an incompetent and somewhat unhinged mother.

        Mom throws a tantrum because she doesn’t get the response she wants from her kid, starts throwing away all the kid’s toys, and only relents when the kid comes crawling to her displaying the emotional response Mom wants to see. That’s parental anger out of control, and not a great example of a kid who should be homeschooled. Now Mom is patting herself on the back.

        Ugh, indeed.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Pirate Jo,

          I don’t know Erin in person, but we follow each other on Instagram and I feel like I know her pretty well. She is an excellent mother and will do great at homeschooling or unschooling her kids. I agree that this post probably isn’t the best reflection of that, but Erin is intelligent enough to take advice from more experienced moms and she knows that there is always room for improvement.

          There are many ways to become connected to our kids without manipulation, threats, withholding love, or removing personal belongings. We all make mistakes as parents and do things we wish we could take back.

          In the future, I would recommend waiting to connect with the child until she is ready. Her daughter is old enough to understand these conversations now. Talk about the situation, see if there is a way to fix it and make it better together through collaboration. Let her know you love her no matter how she acts. See what changes they both can make to see if that will improve the relationship. There is lots of love in that house!

          • Erin
            Erin says:

            First let me say: when writing this for Penelope, I knew there would be criticism. I welcome that because, if we aren’t honest about what is going on, how will we ever learn the truth about ourselves or how to be better parents?! So…even though I’m generally a “sensitive” person (especially as an INFP), I expect a certain degree of debate in this space. ^_^ And that is a good thing. Because, for the most part, people are respectful. And when someone joins the conversation, it shows they care.

            Having said that, let me talk a little more about The Day The Toys Went Away.

            For the sake of a readable article, I did not get into every back-and-forth I had with my daughter that day. Yes. I demanded her attention before she wanted to give it to me. Maybe that’s awful. But I also backed off several times before then (ex: knocked on her door and asked if I could come in, left when there was no answer, came back, came back again, eventually came in anyways, sat on her bed and tried to talk, left the room to give her space, came back and tried to get ANY response from her). The key for me that day was not that she needed space. It was that she wasn’t even communicating that she needed space. She was 100% completely putting up walls and ignoring me. And this after a morning filled with disobedience, tantrums and general misbehavior.

            I give my daughter a LOT of freedom and room to voice her wants/needs and respect, but I also expect to be treated the same in return.

            When I asked her if she needed more time, if she had said, “I need time.” I would have given her time. But she did not.

            So. I made a call.

            And the fact that she responded with physical violence cemented my resolve. (side note, for context: we do not spank/hit our kid)

            I have to confess: the whole time I was gathering the toys I felt like The Meanest And Worst Mommy Ever. I hated it. I hated taking her stuff away. It was not fun.

            But, even though my actions were harsh, I was not cruel about it. I talked calmly to her. When she hit and kicked me, I did not scream at her. I told her that we could talk if she would calm down. I also told her we were not throwing away the toys, just putting them in the garage (a place she already understands as a storage area).

            When she calmed down at the end, she asked to keep some things that were “not toys” like her photos and letters from friends. And we kept those in the room.

            I believe in compromise. I believe in teaching my daughter she DOES have a voice and that she DOES have control over her environment. My goal is not to manipulate her for results. My goal is not “a well behaved child.”

            But what I saw in her that morning was a huge amount of materialism that was getting in the way of us connecting or communicating, and I was tired of being treated poorly by my 4 year old.

            The key for me is: even though I did a crazy intense thing, I did it in the kindest way possible. I wasn’t shaming her. I wasn’t blaming her for what I was doing. I perceived that The Stuff was in the way, so I removed it so we had nothing to hide behind and could face the heart of the matter.

            It could have gone totally differently. I could have been a total bitch about it. I am not surprised that people are appalled that I did this in the first place. And I feel it’s important to note here: I’m not saying what what I did was right or good or that anyone else should do it because even *I* felt so many reservations about it EVEN WHILE I WAS DOING IT.

            And, I think, that is why I was so surprised and cut to the heart by my conversation with Phoebe afterwards. The toys were technically “her toys,” but *I* had also been materialistic…I had also used them to placate or distract her during moments when I wanted a break, and that was wrong of me. I was incredibly humbled by that.

            I’ve learned a lot from the experience. Now it’s 3+ months later (it takes awhile for my blog posts to publish sometimes lol). We never threw out the toys; we just rotate them in smaller numbers now.

            But the biggest difference is that both of us learned about each other, what each other’s needs are, and how to communicate with each other about the balance of space and togetherness that we need.

            And I think that any parent who is working from home, without a Nanny, while homeschooling (ie: any parent who is with their kids full-time and has a lot of additional responsibilities) is going to have to figure out how to find balance so that parent and child don’t annihilate each other through mutually assured destruction. Boundaries and communication are so vital for both parent and child to learn. Being around each other all the time forces us to face our issues and learn how to fight respectfully.

            I know I will never make all the right choices as a parent. But I also know I will always love my daughter more than I love myself. And, instead of wasting energy pretending to be perfect, I’m just going to do my best to learn and move forward and be as authentic and gentle as possible.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            Big hug Erin! After I read this post I *knew* there had to be more to the story than what was written, because it doesn’t match the person that I have come to know. It did come off a bit the way jessica framed it, and it seemed like it was this other person writing it.

            And you are right! Unschooling doesn’t mean that we become doormats for our kids. We *all* have very challenging days especially in these younger age ranges, I make mistakes all the time. I really don’t know anyone who can claim to be perfect, I just know what I aspire to be like and that challenges me to be better every day.

            My youngest daughter is so extremely challenging for me, she is also destructive. Certain boundaries are absolutely necessary for example, she is fearless and runs in parking lots, she just bolts like a racehorse, so for her safety we still mostly have her in a stroller.

            p.s. I was wondering how old this one was because I thought that Phoebe was homeschooling now!

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


        It can’t be a good thing to shut down a conversation. One can disagree with the points, but that doesn’t mean that the points aren’t valid.

  3. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    Having too much stuff, makes *my* life more difficult. We have accumulated way too many toys over nine years and with three kids and holidays and birthdays…it is just too much stuff now!

    When my spouse and I get time, we plan to pare it down to just a few things for each kid and then we will keep the rest in the garage to rotate through the year or else we will donate them.

    I’m constantly cleaning up toys all day and the house still has toys everywhere by the end of the day. I’m going to keep all the books and games and art stuff, but I need a little sanity back.

    • mh
      mh says:

      My kids went to camp this year and I cleared 20% of the books off their bookcases. Three big trash bags.

      Some things they just outgrow. Some things they never will. It’s tricky.

      We live, by choice, in a smallish house. And we have an over abundance of stuff , too. It gets a little easier for them to release stuff as they get older. A little.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        That sounds nice. My kids have outgrown many of their things but I have kept most of it even after a purging last year, either thinking the youngest may want to use/play with the items or my spouse and I being in denial over them really being finished with them.

        This leads to having too many things for the youngest to truly receive any benefit from them, and lots of the items getting broken by her destructive nature when we could have donated them when they were in good condition.

        It is nice seeing that their interest in things change as they get older, now they care more about creating and learning about new things as well as experiencing life through planned and unplanned activities.

        Once I get the time to actually pare it down to a few things that I know Alyssa will really care about, I know things will become more manageable and she will get to enjoy smaller quantities at a time.

  4. Shawna
    Shawna says:

    I love this post! What a great reminder that life isn’t about stuff, it’s about relationship. My children are older (9 and 11) but they still really just crave that one on one attention with me. I homeschool them and sometimes I just take for granted that they are with me all day and I feel like that is enough, but I can be ‘with’ them all day and still not be present and engaged with them and that is really what’s important to them. Maybe I need to pare down some of our stuff. You got me thinking…

    • Kate
      Kate says:

      I think this really it for me- and I think it’s nothing new at all for the kinda conscious-parenting thoughtful people that probably manly home educate anyway.. Stuff is what gets in the way, connection and respectful communication is what children breathe- need- grow from.

  5. Maria
    Maria says:

    This post is full of real parental struggle and honest desire. I admire your story. It can be so difficult to handle things the way we truly want to when being a parent comes along with dizzying voices of shoulds, should nots, self doubt, needs, demands, etc. I hear that you love your daughter greatly.

  6. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I don’t know how people missed the whole “the situation turned around when we aimed for connection” part!!!

    Little girlfriend here was acting out her deep desire to connect with her mom and not knowing how to handle the situation. Mom was stressed about being a mom and raising her child while at the same time taking care of responsibilities.

    What in the world you guys!? Doesn’t anyone think it’s a breath of fresh air when someone actually tells it like it is in real life rather than the photoshopped version of “look what a perfect life we always have LOOK AT IT!!!” that everyone posts in instagram?

    Personally, the way this post speaks to me is that:
    1) you need TIME to workout the kinks in the relationships and to foundational work. Kids don’t open up (people in general) on command. They may learn what is polite and expected of them but they won’t learn about themselves and why they were acting so rotten. They won’t learn how to express the underlying cause.

    2)It takes time and practice to discover passion and to create skill. These two peas in a pod are doing that.

    3) the child is learning the importance of work and mastery by watching her mom, not another adult, be a professional and business-woman. The hard work of life is being modeled right in front of the kid, rather than being done away from the kid.

    I didn’t realize the pressure to conform until my firstborn turned 3 and then everyone expected us to sign him up for preschool. If this is the beginning….I can now see what we got ahead of us.

    • Kate
      Kate says:

      Your Instagram comment made me laugh! Yes exactly- jeez if we lose touch what real life is actually like (making mistakes and learning from them?) then that’ll be partly why! Look at my pretty life and pretty kids doing a pretty thing! :-))

  7. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    I love the picture. It’s not just stuff or no stuff. It’s inside or out!
    Fresh air changes everything.

  8. Erin
    Erin says:

    Thank you everyone for all your lovely comments. ^_^ It is so good to have a place to come and just let it all hang out and encourage each other. Or challenge each other. Or whatever.

    Isn’t that what “community” is all about?!?!

    — Erin

    • Melissa
      Melissa says:

      I loved this post! I got all teary-eyed at the end. It is so, so, so refreshing to read about a parent dealing with the frustrations of raising kids, especially with the unnatural isolation that most middle-class American families find themselves in.

      I’m looking forward to loving my baby, but I am worried about not finding the patience in every. single. moment. I think I will be better able to relax in the moment knowing that connection and bonding is possible even after conflict, so THANK YOU for sharing your honest story.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        Aw, I love this comment Melissa! I’m confused by what you mean about unnatural isolation for middle-class American families though. Do you mean homeschooling families?

        • Kate
          Kate says:

          I’m thinking she may mean isolation in the sense that families are fairly separated these days generally and there tends not to be aunties, grandparents and cousins around to spread the load… ?

  9. Cáit
    Cáit says:

    As a mom of boys I find the discussions on ‘communication’ ‘connecting’ ‘space’ fascinating and totally unfamiliar.
    For my sons it was all about space to go berserk and how to do that while living as humans in an apartment and the sheer physical exhaustion from boy caring. I loved mom gatherings to hear strange stories about emotional confrontations with preschool girls. Boys just want to break stuff.

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:


      My youngest little girl likes breaking stuff too. She leaps off furniture. She bangs on the piano. She plays catch inside the house. She always has a cape on. She runs and tumbles everywhere and has the bruises up and down her legs to show for it. It’s insane, I can’t find anyone who can relate.

      • Cáit
        Cáit says:

        I knew a little girl like that too. She was so pretty and petite and…bang bang smash!
        Lots of other moms can kind of condescend about it “ooh a spirited child” “kinesthetic learner” (you know they mean jock) but I love it because it’s so different from me.
        I have to say though, when moms of preschool girls would sob about their daughters saying “I hate you” all I could think was “wow your daughter is a genius. My son doesn’t yet posess enough eq to say that. ”
        It’s amazing how we become a certain kind of mom based on our children and not the other way around!

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Ha! That sounds like my kid.

          Wow! I can’t understand that either. None of my 3 girls ever told me they hated me as preschoolers!!! Actually, they still haven’t. I don’t think it’s because I’m that great or anything, curious!

          But now that I have older kids, there are some issues with perfectionism that arise and sometimes I hear phrases like “I hate myself” or “I hate my life” and it catches me off guard. I’m not exactly the most emotional person I know, I’m probably the least emotional mom that I know. So I don’t really know how to respond in those situations. “Like, really? You *hate* your life?” Those are the sarcastic thoughts I keep to myself.

          • Pinto
            Pinto says:

            I work really hard to not say those exact phrases myself (and I’m a grown woman). I don’t hate myself or my life, but I impulsively say those things when I feel ashamed, shame or embarrassed. I’m also a perfectionist and control freak. I’m doing my best to not say that at all, but especially not to say in front of my child. Because it’s absolutely not true.

      • Bostonian
        Bostonian says:

        YMKAS, your girl sounds a lot like mine. This week, it’s pink flamingo wings, and she is flying everywhere. She will launch herself into the air from six feet up the stairs so her brother or I can catch her. She’s much more of a challenge than my son was at that age. She is a little tornado.

        My son is gentle, quiet, polite, compassionate, and careful. He has literally never broken a dish, glass, or toy. “Boys will be boys” does not apply to him in the least. My girl is, yes, a “spirited child” (good book, by the way). She can be a real hoot, but she’s also exhausting in a way my son never was.

        Like your girl, she’s got bruises and scratches all up and down her legs, which my son never did. You know how some kids wear out the knees of their pants? Not him, her. Yeah, she’s a “kinaesthetic learner,” or as we say it here, “wicked sporty.” One of her coaches bumped her up to play soccer with kids a year older than her. I wish I could get two hours a day of sports in for her, because it calms her down a little.

        And yeah, she possesses an amazing amount of eq, as evidenced not just by her ability to make friends with every single kid she meets at the playground but her ability to figure out how to rattle me. She has backed off on the meanness lately, thank goodness.

        And just one more thing, as a parent of both a boy and a girl I have to say that girl clothes are way better. Boys’ shorts are terrible until they’re older. The girls’ jeans that are just cut-down versions of womens’ jeans are also terrible, but they’re not all you get. Girls’ leggings and skorts are both more functional and comfortable. I’m so glad I don’t have to dress her like I did him.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          It sounds like our girls are very similar. I have so many conflicting thoughts surrounding this. Like this one, for some reason I think that it is wonderful that you have a daughter like that, and when it comes to me I don’t think it is so wonderful. Heh. It is so extremely challenging and it sounds like you get that. Tornado is appropriate. Sporty, athletic, kinesthetic, yep yep yep. Had to get rid of the indoor trampoline because…well, I’m sure you can understand why. It wasn’t an exercise vehicle for her and more like a launch pad + Tile Floors…too stressful for me.

      • Erin
        Erin says:

        Cáit + YMKAS –

        I love this convo. Lol. It just reminds me of how helpful understanding personality type can be, even in our kids!

        For instance, when I figured out Phoebe’s personality (ISFP aka “the artsit”) that helped me really understand how to meet her needs better and communicate with her more effectively.

        (I’m an INFP, for the record.)

        For her, sitting with me and making art is The Best Thing Ever. And it was a huge breakthrough for me to stop trying to segregate “work time” apart from “mama time.” When I allowed myself to trust my daughter enough to be a part of my work time, there were so many emotional and relational rewards waiting for me that I had been unwilling to consider beforehand.

        I had to readjust my perspective on reality. I want the one who really had to change. This experience was a breakthrough. And, no matter how the change happened, I’m so grateful to be on this side of it.

        — Erin

      • Kate
        Kate says:

        Just as an aside- I’ve read, in Waldorf-y anthroposophical type books about the usefulness of weight bearing games and activities for those flying- with physical- energy type kind or phases of kid’s – I have found it to be true in my limited experience- like giving them HEAVY things to play with and carry or push around- the 3kilo bags I get out flour in are useful for this here- especially as there is a set of them (they come in fives when I order them) they line them up and put hats in them and put them in their dolly pram.
        Just threw that in – you might wanna read about it. Or not! ;-)

  10. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Artist mom, working-from-home + homeschooling, has really stressful day & loses the plot. Decides to blame inanimate objects and goes with easy, short-term fix [dump stuff] rather than tough, long-term one [working on emotional regulation]. Adaptable preschooler, comes to terms with living with an artiste, quickly learns to do and say the right things. Problem solved, peace restored. They all live happily ever after. (Except the stuff which continues to have a bad rep in the community).

  11. AB
    AB says:

    We all have challenging moments with our kids. Hang in there.

    But I have to ask, why is a nanny (if you could afford one) an acceptable option, but preschool not? I’m sure there are crunchy-granola play-based preschools in Tacoma where you could send your kid a few hours a week, for a fraction of the cost of a nanny.

    Is the thinking that ANY preschool is an institution, even if it’s all play and just a few hours a week?

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      AB –

      Money solves a lot of problems.

      A lot of people who have money (ie more money than us) + dual incomes + still want to homeschool use a Nanny to help make that happen. Or they hire housekeeping. Or they eat out.

      We can’t afford those options, but I still need to work to help my family.

      I *could* go to work outside the home & put my daughter in preschool. A lot of people in our financial situation do this. It’s just not the choice me & my husband made.

      Of course, any choice we make has its own struggles, and figuring out how to balance homemaking with my kid’s needs with my work needs with my own personal sanity is my struggle. It’s the path I chose.

      I’m not “against preschool”…I iust didn’t choose it.

      If we had lots of money, would I hire a nanny? I don’t know. Maybe I’d just stop working and live on less so that I could have less on my plate. But that’s a hypothetical discussion.

      :) I hope that helps to answer your question.

      — Erin

  12. Aquinas Heard
    Aquinas Heard says:

    Either Phoebe’s stuff is her stuff or it is not. Has it ever been stated to Phoebe explicitly that THE STUFF is her stuff? If it has, then taking her stuff is stealing. If someone was stealing my stuff, I would: scream, claw, and punch – at the very least.

    Given the actions on the part of Ms. Wetzel, the honest way to talk about THE STUFF in relation to her daughter would be: you can use this stuff but if I don’t like the behavior you are showing towards me then I will take back MY stuff, until you act/respond the way I want you to (or in the best case – the way I deserve).

    If Phoebe is actually attached to the stuff it could be because:
    1) She really (and understandably) thought the stuff belonged to her.
    2) She has the substituted the comfort she wants to get through interacting with her mom with the seeming comfort she must now get with the toys.

    Concerning this part: For so long, I thought she needed all this Stuff, I thought I needed the Stuff, but it turns out the Stuff is just a crutch. What we needed was each other.

    I don’t understand why Ms. Wetzel would think that her daughter needed stuff. By her own admission, in this blogpost, she showed she was giving her daughter THE STUFF to mollify (“distract”) her daughter. In those moments her daughter was explicitly SHOWING Ms. Wetzel that she wanted mommy. If Phoebe wanted only THE STUFF at those times, then she would have gone of her own volition to play with her (or is it Mom’s) stuff, and never would have gone to Mom. With me making this identification, I am not implying that whenever a child wants a parent’s attention they should get it. I’m just identifying what Phoebe’s actions clearly demonstrated.

    • Erin
      Erin says:

      Aquinas –

      I think you touch on a crucial point I was trying to make: parents and kids are both responsible for how we interact with each other. This day, the conflict I had with my daughter & the end results, they were convicting and humbling for me.

      These days, when Phoebe or I need space or togetherness, we’ve learned how to talk to each other about it and compromise. I ask her often, especially if she seems cranky, “what do you need.” And she tells me. Her “behavior” is not what’s important to me. I’m interested in her heart.

      The thing we do talk about a lot of the time is “taking care of each other.” For instance…if I’ve been meeting her needs for hours and need to sit down to rest, I’ll tell her. If she says, “But Mama, I need to do something with you!” I’ll ask her, “What have I been doing since I woke up?” She’ll list things off: “You made breakfast. You read me books. You helped me in my room.” And so I tell her, “Yes. I’ve been busy taking care of you. Right now I need to sit down and rest for a few minutes. And we can do something together after. Ok?” If she still feels insecure, we will negotiate on a timer, so that she knows, for a fact, after 15 minutes (or whatever) she will get what she needs from me.

      ^_^ My kid (an ISFP) is attached to me irrevocably and sometimes that is exhausting, but it has also opened me up and helped me to become kinder, stronger and more mature. At the end of the day, I want her to have the opportunity to become kinder, stronger and more mature, too. I want a healthy relationship. And, each day, we’re doing the best we can to get there.

      — Erin

      • Aquinas Heard
        Aquinas Heard says:


        I’m not sure what this means, “Her behavior is not what’s important to me.” Can you elaborate?

        Whenever I see something like this written, “I’m interested in her heart,” I am assuming this phrase means the emotional side of the child. Is that what you mean?

        If “taking care of each other,” is the specific phrase you are using with your daughter, I don’t agree with it. It is the parent’s job to take care of the child. It is not the responsibility of the child to take care of the parent (or even meet the parent’s needs). Children don’t even have to respect their parent in their specific role as a parent. Respect has to be earned – always. Now, children should be civil to their parents – provided the parents are civil to their child. There is a difference between demanding respect and expecting civility.

        In your elaboration on “taking care of each other”, I see your willingness to interact with Phoebe a decent amount during your work day. I would never expect a working from home parent to be an on-demand playmate for their child. However, if a child is acting out or “misbehaving” in this type of scenario, it is most likely because some of their needs are not being met. That’s the thing that has to be addressed. In this scenario, it is on the parent. The child had no choice in the make-up of this situation. The parent is at fault for the child “misbehaving” in this situation. The parent will have to figure out some way to change the scenario, where parent and child can be happy. I would definitely involve the child in trying to figure out things that could be changed so that they were both happy.

        Do you still think you have the right to take away ANY things that belong to Phoebe?
        In response to YMKAS, you wrote: I’d thought Phoebe’s attitude towards her things was the problem, but I was as much of the problem.

        I don’t know how else to interpret this statement other than you still think Phoebe’s attitude to THE STUFF was a problem. This is NOT a problem on Phoebe’s end. This was Phoebe comforting herself as a result of mom’s lack of attention. The problem was the set-up Phoebe was put in. Mom created the set-up, not Phoebe. Mom had the problem, not Phoebe.

        The way you set-up your sentence shows you still thinking you were both culpable and almost equally culpable. Is that your current assessment?

        When you say this part, “I want to feel safe and loved in return,” you are putting an unfair expectation on your child. Phoebe does not owe this to you, even with you loving her first. You have to earn Phoebe’s love. If you treat her fairly, you WILL earn her love.


  13. Erin
    Erin says:

    YMKAS –

    ^_^ One thing keeps rattling around in my brain, so I came back for one more comment.

    This is in response to what you wrote: “Big hug Erin! After I read this post I *knew* there had to be more to the story than what was written, because it doesn’t match the person that I have come to know. It did come off a bit the way jessica framed it, and it seemed like it was this other person writing it.”

    (I couldn’t reply directly, in the thread, so, here you go…).

    It’s sometimes tough, when editing my own writing, to know when to share more, and when the words themselves get in the way. I hate it when I read bloggers that are so worried about preemptively explaining and defending themselves that they smother the power of their message under a mountain of qualifications and explanations. No matter how I packaged it, at the end of the day I took her toys away and put them in storage and I knew that some people would hate me for that, no matter what my reasons or context or the way in which I did it.

    I own up to that. I don’t justify what I did. I just did it.

    I’d thought Phoebe’s attitude towards her things was the problem, but I was as much of the problem. That conviction is what is important to me. The realization that I was wrong is at the heart of my message.

    Conflict is part of relationships. And learning how to have healthy conflict is crucial for healthy relationships.

    I did not have a healthy relationship with my parents growing up (I’ll spare you the cliched details). Everything I have learned about forming healthy boundaries and communication are things I’ve had to learn on my own. I don’t want to make excuses. I just want to be a good parent who has a good relationship with her kid. I want my kid to want to be with me. I want her to feel safe and loved, and I want to feel safe and loved in return.

    — Erin

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      This is the thing I keep seeing- a lot of excuses (even though you are denying them up above).

      You want to give her something (love and safety) and you have the expectation that she will return what you give. That is not healthy. She doesn’t have to give you anything. You are her parent. You take care of her.

      ‘I do this, so you must do that.’ Is still a theme running through your posts.

      You need to let that go and just be there for her, truly. Preschool, nannies, etc while important, come secondary to these core issues.

      Instead of wanting, you can do: If you had emotional issues as a child you can seek out a therapist to help become aware of your present behavior versus using your daughter as practice and ‘winging it.’ This is a choice. So continuing to keep the status quo, will give you the status quo.

      Personally, I would suggest reevaluating the low income thing (as you said, this is a choice) so you can bring in income to attend therapy for your future relationship with your daughter. Short term sacrifices for long term rewards. You’re effectively keeping yourself in this situation by making your current choices. Which is, of course, easier.

      Yes you have to do the hard work this would require.

      No, your daughter doesn’t owe you anything.

      • Genevieve
        Genevieve says:


        For one, I know Erin personally and I’m hurt for her that you would criticize her parenting so harshly.

        But specifically I’m surprised by your claim that her requiring anything of Pheobe is wrong. How old is your oldest child, I’d like to know. Mine is nearing nine and I firmly insist that it would be irresponsible of me to neglect to instruct my daughter in her responsibilities within the relationship. It’s a terrible thought to imagine her receiving my love and not returning it. It’s terrible because it would be damaging to her heart. I do not insist that she please me or become like me (indeed she is frustrating different than me!) but I absolutely insist that she treat me kindly and respect me as I respect her. This is a life skill and it is my honor to teach it. We don’t want a generation of selfish people who only treat others well when it suits them.

        Perhaps I have misunderstood your intention though.

        • jessica
          jessica says:

          Erin wrote her own piece on this site. Erin shared what she felt was important to her narrative. I see what is important for the child within that narrative. I’m not here to give great parenting accolades to Erin, there are enough people that will do that as evidenced here and be fine with the status quo. I speak up when there are severe deficits stated and further neglect to rectify the true matters, as I pronounced above. I also gave a reasoned way to improve her situation and have greater outcomes for herself personally, and also most importantly, for her daughter. Sometimes it’s hard and upsetting to face, but it’s better to face it and deal with it than ignore it.

          I don’t agree that it’s harsh. She is saying she wants a great relationship with her daughter and that won’t come without herself doing her emotional work (separate from her daughter).

          People respond to how they are treated, I don’t believe it needs to be forced upon them that they have to respect a parent or someone else in an seemingly authoritative position.

          What you are describing is conditional- you treat me the way I treat you. Love is not conditional and is a matter of the heart. It can’t be controlled the way you are wishing.

  14. Elizabeth
    Elizabeth says:

    I just got married and am trying to get pregnant. I love reading the “Education” part of this blog, and Penelope has had a tremendous impact on how I hope to educate my kids. However, reading the comments, especially on guest blogs, can be frustrating and sometimes depressing.

    The thing I dread the most about being a new parent isn’t the lost sleep, or the irrevocably changed body, or the reality of having my heart walk outside my body for the rest of my life; it’s knowing that I will have to deal with nosy assholes who want to tell me how to parent. Every. Single. Day. This will be especially tiresome as a visible member of a small community.

    What a shame that by choosing to share her story, Erin – and everyone else who has ever shared anything – has to be subjected to those assholes telling her what a terrible mother/person she is!

    Parents are basically indentured servants for their children – they must be responsible for the physical and emotional well-being of this other person, even when that person is being a dick. But because parents love their kids so much, it’s an honor and a joy to be that servant. (Usually.)

    Jessica, do you really think that Erin would have loved her daughter any less if Phoebe had refused to grant her a 15-minute respite? Of course not. She has unconditional love for her daughter because she is not a sociopath. But, Erin probably would have LIKED her daughter less, at least in that moment. And, as her daughter is going to be in relationships for her entire life, any rational person can see that there’s value in teaching her how to consider the needs of others. Even though kids might not understand being considerate right away and will often disregard doing so in favor of learning other lessons, like boundaries, it’s still a lesson and a value that should be taught from a young age. Good for you for engaging your daughter in this way, Erin.

    • Aneta
      Aneta says:

      Are you serious? It’s a piece on a blog. Any person with a brain expects there will be negative comments when she posts her story. Erin said she welcomed criticism because it helped her to become a better parent.

      Life Pro Tip: if you don’t want people to question your parenting skills, stick to posting cute pictures of your future kid on FB and pat yourself on the back every time there’s a like.

      Also, you are fighting a straw man. Nobody is suggesting Erin doesn’t love her kid or that the kid shouldn’t learn other people also have needs. People (a.k.a. nosy assholes) are criticizing Erin because she wanted her kid to respond to a situation in a certain way. When that didn’t happen, she bullied the kid into compliance. Then Erin draws a rosy conclusion from the event, something about finally connecting with her daughter. Another possible conclusion is, the kid learned to say and do the right things to keep her mom happy and avoid being punished. People are pointing out it’s unhealthy.

    • Pirate Jo
      Pirate Jo says:

      Because no matter what someone says or does, we should all just stand around in a big circle-jerk providing fawning accolades, big group hugs, and pats on the back?

    • Aquinas Heard
      Aquinas Heard says:

      I’m assuming there must be some kind of “technical glitch” in the moderation of posts. Somehow the words, as*ho** and di*k, were able to get through within a post. If it’s not a technical glitch, I’d be interested in knowing how the moderator is determining when these words are allowed to be used in describing a commentator and a child (!). I remember a Julie trying to upload a post but she said it didn’t go through cause of some cuss words that were included. This must be a new policy, there is no way there is some favoritism going on, right?


      Oh the dread of having to debate someone on child/parent relationship issues on a child focused blog. The horror. A little advice on this. If you are out and about (offline) with your future child and someone says something you consider insulting regarding your parenting, you can easily tell them to mind their business, or if it’s more along the lines of your personality, mind your fu**ing business. Unless you think that is too big of demand of your “courage” to handle that huge situation.

      Contrary to your assertion, I don’t necessarily think Erin is an overall terrible mother. I do think she acted badly in this situation. Uh oh, judgement there. From her response to my comments to her blogpost, it seems like she still thinks her daughter was culpable in THE STUFF episode. I don’t know for sure if she still feels that way. That’s why I asked for clarification. And Erin, I don’t hate you for taking away your daughter’s toys. I think you did a wrong thing there and your relationship with you child will suffer for it. If this type of behavior continues your child will obviously suffer. I save my hate for people like the Ayatollah of Iran.

      Erin, back to courage.

      Rather than HIDE behind namecalling why don’t you address the people, directly by name, with whom you think are acting so horribly to Erin. Step up to the plate. Rather than feeling dread, I welcome debate. I know I can handle it – ALWAYS.

      As far as referring to children as potentially acting like di**s, remember we were talking about the behavior of a 5-6 year old (Phoebe). Is that really a word that comes to your mind when describing these little people? The author of the previous article, Intelligent Disobedience, on this blog came to some supposed insight applicable to kids after observing guide dogs. Sounds like he might be your cup of tea. As I commented on that post, I am suspicious when people use these type of words or analogies in describing and relating to children. The worst word that comes to my mind in similar situations where anger IS warranted from the parent is rascal. By the way, Phoebe was not a rascal in the above situation. Check your premises.


      • Aquinas Heard
        Aquinas Heard says:

        I mistakenly addressed Erin in most aspects of my post when it should have said Elizabeth. Apologies to Erin on that. I think with that in mind it should be clear in the few instances where I was referring to Erin as opposed to Elizabeth.

  15. Annie
    Annie says:

    Holy shit with the judgments. It’s a vignette. With a larger realization at the end. How about focusing on the realization?

    And what is with the double standard? Phoebe can treat her mother poorly, and should be allowed to do this… indefinitely? But Erin cannot react to being treated poorly — cannot show her daughter that when you ignore someone and treat them badly as she was doing to her mother, that the other person is going to have a reaction?

    What kind of bizarre lesson is that? It’s ok for kids to recognize authority — not to be beaten down in submission, but to recognize they don’t know it all, those who’ve come before them, especially those in whose care they are entrusted, know more than they do. It’s also ok to experience the emotion they elicit in parents, within reason. When my son is a jerk to me, I tell him I don’t want to play anymore… or that I’m feeling upset and don’t want to talk with him… etc. Just like a friend would. I don’t hit him or swear at him. But I treat him in an age appropriate way, as I would my husband or a friend.

    If I didn’t, I’d be creating a completely unrealistic bubble where he gets to ignore or yell or be rude and there are no ripples.

    But mostly, get off your high horses.

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