Saturday, March 26, 2011

Baby to Big Boy Blues, Part 2

For Part 1, go here.

Friday morning our son woke up early. Early enough that his father was still home to get him out of his crib. Or try to anyway. As soon as he entered the bedroom he was greeted with this all-too-familiar cry: NOOOO! ONLY MOMMY! ONLY MOMMY!

So my husband left the room dejected and I got him from his crib, and already nobody's particularly happy.

We've been dealing with this ONLY MOMMY! ONLY MOMMY! thing on and off for quite some time now and we've taken different tacks, none of which have been especially effective. I tell my husband not to wear his heart on his sleeve, not to show our boy so blatantly what power he holds over his father's emotions by issuing his ONLY MOMMY (usually accompanied by I DON'T YIKE HIM!) proclamations. My husband is about as capable of disguising his emotions as the toddler himself though, so that hasn't worked. We've flatly insisted that his dad do some things for or with him and resolutely followed through, which is somewhat effective, but when my husband is so hurt and angry that following through means a household full of fighting and two crabby males for the remainder of our time together it's very difficult to sit it out and then sit with the fallout. I do a lot of setting the stage, soothing, reinforcing the positive, re-framing the issues. For both of them, frankly. Usually I don't mind it. I've been smoothing the rough edges of my husband's emotions for over a decade. He does equivalent things for me in other areas, and I'm just as big of a baby in my own ways, so we deserve each other. My son is two; I expect it. Sometimes, though, it's exhausting.

And sometimes the easiest thing is to do it myself from the outset. If I offer to do it early enough we avoid the rejection and everybody's happy. It's not the best long-term technique, but I don't think it's the worst thing either. The only approaches I've taken that I feel bad about are using bribery and guilt. Once I said to my son: I'll take you for a walk outside if you're nice to Daddy, and another time I pulled him aside after an incident and laid it on pretty thick about how bad he made his father feel, and didn't he want to say sorry? The guilt worked; the bribery didn't. But I didn't feel good about either one, and haven't used them again.

So it wasn't a good start to the last day of a difficult week. My husband left for work and I continued to prepare and pack for the day while my daughter slept upstairs. Her sleeping was the last bit of luck I had on my side, and I needed it to get everything done. If she woke up crying, it was all over. So when I had to run up there to grab a sweater I told my son he could follow me only if he was extra-extra-quiet so as not to wake his sister. I dashed up the stairs, looked quickly for my sweater, and couldn't find it. Then I thought maybe I knew where it was, in a different closet downstairs (we're midway through a closet rearrange which, especially when combined with the paucity of clothing choices that both fasten around my fatter-than-ever waist and look professional enough for work, make dressing each morning a fraught endeavor), so I sailed back down the staircase moving in fast-forward speed to try and find it.

It was at this point that my son decided he absolutely needed my help to walk back down the stairs, a task that he's more than capable of completing independently. I was already all the way at the bottom of the stairs before he began to whine. I stopped, looked up at him, and calmly said: You can walk down the stairs by yourself, bubby. I need to go get my sweater right now. Hold on to the railing, and you will be fine.

He was standing mere feet from his sister's bassinet. He opened his mouth and began to scream at the top of his lungs. This is new. Just this week he began the screaming. He does it when he's not getting his way. The screaming is the primary reason we're using time out. He was standing at the top of the staircase that we use as the time out space. In order to escort him there, I would have to walk back up the stairs and, you guessed it, help him down. Exactly what he wanted in the first place. I walked away, and looked in the downstairs closet for my sweater, which wasn't there either. I returned to the bottom of the staircase, where he was still screaming as loud as he could. And I lost it.

How dare you! I hissed at him, How dare you!? We talked about being quiet! We talked about how your sister is sleeping, and now you are screaming! About walking down the stairs by yourself, which you are perfectly capable of doing! I will not help you! I am angry with you right now! I am very angry with you!

I walked away again, full of righteous fury, but later, when I got to work, I cried. I cried because I lost my temper, which I almost never do. And I cried because it isn't entirely his fault that he expects my help with tasks he's capable of completing on his own. It's my fault too. And it's not fair to hold his hand one day and lose my mind the next at the same request. So I cried in my office until my colleague came in, shared some stories about her own kids, an older boy and younger girl with a similar dynamic, and reminded me that the occasional yelling never killed anyone.

And here's the thing. After I walked away? He stopped crying, walked down the stairs on his own, found me and said: I'm all better now, Mommy. Yes I CAN walk down all by mine-self!

So while screaming (on either of our parts) might not be the best way to get there, it's clear that he is capable, and that we'll have to seek other paths to get him to do things without ONLY MOMMY all the time. I never found my sweater and felt way too fat all day at work with the only replacement I could find at the last minute. But my daughter? She slept through the whole thing!

1 comment:

  1. You are balancing so many things and are doing a wonderful job. Toddlers have these swings as a matter of course. We still can rarely get ours to go down the stairs on his own. As for the parental preference thing, I try to keep in mind a wise suggestion I once received from someone. She says they will do what her daughter wants (ie. give her the parent she wants) when it's possible/convenient for all involved. But when it's not, they tell her so matter-of-factly and ignore the yells. They try to teach her that there are individual wants/needs and family wants/needs and these have to be balanced. I think it's a good goal, but not always easy to implement. Hopefully things will return to a routine soon and he'll calm down. So sorry that you are facing extra stress in the meantime!