I don’t mind getting advice on child raising. Hey, I even ask for it from parents I admire and trust. So I’m soliciting it from you folks.
But first, more about my mother-in-law. More context. Part of what made me so angry is that she does not say anything good or positive about me. This in itself does not make me mad; I’m pretty thick-skinned in that way—I don’t need a ton of affirmation from people I’m not close to. But when she finally makes a comment, it’s usually negative. And this is despite a conscious effort on my part to compliment her often, since she clearly does need it and since it’s not my reflex to pay compliments in general. (Have I said lately that you guys are terrific? Well, you are!) Another thing that made me angry is that my husband was never allowed to suggest to her that her way of parenting is anything but gold medal-worthy. When his younger brother was having serious problems in high school, for instance, and my husband tried to suggest different ways to approach him, she dissolved into hysterics, sobbing, “I’m the worst mother in the world! I never do anything right! You hate me!” etc. And the things she did after she and my husband’s father got divorced were pretty awful. She meets most of the criteria for Histrionic Personality Disorder (you should see how she dresses, Oh-My-God); my husband’s thought when he first read that description was, “Hey! They’ve met Mom!” He, bless his mensch-y soul, learned pretty early that you should not take her personally in any way, and this makes my life oh so much easier. I just shouldn’t fall into the trap myself.
Enough about her. Here’s the deal with my kid. I realize it could sound like sensory integration disorder from some of the descriptions I’ve given, but that definitely does not fit him. He’s neither over or under-sensitive to anything, doesn’t seek or avoid stimulation, doesn’t swing or spin any more than average, isn’t more or less active than average, is well coordinated, will walk on any surfaces, likes a lot of different food (except vegetables), and is no more impulsive or distractible than the average three-year-old. He toilet-trained himself for the most part. And eye contact—he is the king of eye contact. I haven’t read much on the issue (and some of the descriptions sound a little like horoscopes, I must say), but no, it doesn’t resonate. We’ve talked in depth with several very talented people at his daycare, too, and they had no concerns at all in this area.
My kid is, however, a handful, and more of a handful for me than for other people. My kid is intense and willful. The things that people typically say about him are: “He really knows what he wants.” “He’s so serious!” If HB wants to do something, he REALLY wants to. There’s no particular pattern to what he wants; this morning’s examples were to leave the sand ON his shoes, to watch his father clean up the cat poop, and to have me play baseball with him; last night it was to eat candy before dinner, to hang the new shower curtain himself, to take a shower and not a bath, not to brush his teeth, etc. All normal stuff for his age. The only difference between him and other kids is how fiercely he insists and how mad he gets when thwarted. He threw a tantrum in the car the last time my parents visited because he decided that we should stop at green lights and go at red lights, and was OUTRAGED that we wouldn’t comply. He’s not much of a biter or a hitter, but he yells and cries a LOT. (TH and I almost never yell, by the way.)
The problem with car rides has never been getting him into the seat; it’s that after ten minutes or so, he wants to be doing something else, and no amount of distraction will convince him otherwise. It’s gotten better and better the more interested he’s become in watching the world go by, but there’s always the risk that he’ll, say, spot a train and then want to see another one.
As for sleep: aside from the period when he couldn’t breathe (he’s completely over that now, by the way), he’s quite a good sleeper; he’s just a night owl, and doesn’t sleep a lot. He naps for about an hour and a half each afternoon (and it is impossible to prevent him from doing so—we’ve experimented on the weekends, in the hopes of an earlier bedtime). He has a nighttime routine—bath, milk, stories, bed—and doesn’t need to be patted/rocked/sung to sleep, but does want me with him. If he is put to bed at eight, he doesn’t protest, he just tosses and turns and talks and requests politely to get up. If he is put to bed at nine-thirty, he usually goes to sleep. He wakes up at seven, usually on his own. He is not to any outward appearances overtired at night; he is in fact at his most pleasant from eight to nine-thirty. He doesn’t even yawn.
Our approach has been to try and accommodate him within the bounds of health and safety and politeness. Trying to harm someone else results in a timeout. Please and thank you are strictly enforced, even with Mama and Daddy. No TV except for DVDs (so as to avoid commercials), and fairly little of that. No candy for dinner, the car seat stays buckled, teeth get brushed, hands are washed, all that stuff. But we let him stay in his our bed at night, he can run around naked if he wants, and we try to indulge most requests for us to play with him.
The toughest part for me is that he’s so very attached to me. He would love it if I would carry him everywhere (and I do carry him a LOT. It has done wonders for my upper body strength—you should see my arms: I’ve got guns). He’d like to be able to pat and stroke and blow raspberries on me all day and all night. It’s tempting to say that this is because I work a lot. This is probably why I didn’t wean him for so long and it’s definitely why we never made him cry it out at night and let him sleep in our bed. But putting more time in with him doesn’t really change him. He’s exactly as clingy and demanding on the seventh day of a vacation as he is on a Monday night. No matter what, I get the brunt of the intensity and rage, and when he’s really on a roll, it’s no fun.
It’s gotten easier, for sure. He can now be reasoned with; if I can explain to his satisfaction why I want him to do something, there’s a fair chance he’ll agree. He’s also gotten more interested in doing things for himself, thank heavens. And I can tell that I’ll enjoy him even more as he gets older. Last night I showed him how a toilet works, which was pretty cool. I feel like if I can make it through the next couple of years, it will be mostly a blast to be his mother.
So … any advice?