The word “fuck” is not one you will see me use often on this blog, but in this case there’s really no other that quite does the topic justice, because lately pretty much everything Connor does seems like a gigantic Fuck You, Mom. I don’t think it’s a result of adjusting to a new baby; I think this is just the phase he’s in right now. And I don’t like it.
Let me pause to say that I hesitate to write this for fear it’s going to be taken as a post, accessible online for all eternity, saying I don’t like my child. But I’m pretty damn sure most parents go through this sort of phase with their kids sooner or later, so let’s just acknowledge that we all love our kids and get on with the rant, shall we?
Four is not a fun age. Two wasn’t bad, and in fact, while we had our challenges, there are many things about two-year-olds (or mine, at least) that I thought were just awesome. At the time, everyone told me three was worse, and while three had its own challenges it really wasn’t awful either. But four. Oh dear lord. Some days I want to lock him in the basement.
Connor has always been very much his own person. We learned early on that if he wanted something he would do everything in his three-foot-tall power to get it. And if he didn’t want it? You’d better have been prepared to have it thrown back at you. Something about this attitude must have worked for him, because as a four-year-old this is now very much his MO.
I’ve thought a lot about our interactions with him and whether we need to be taking a different approach. And honestly, sometimes we do. Some of his behaviour is because he’s bored, and some is because we don’t give him enough time with something, or enough warning that it’s time to stop something, or enough autonomy. And some of it is because he’s hungry. Or tired. Those issues are all theoretically easy to fix and, at times, practically impossible.
I will admit to not having done a lot of reading about parenting philosophy. I don’t have the attention span and I find too much “should”ing counterproductive. But a large part of it is due to having come across so much advice that I just don’t find useful.
Proponents of “gentle parenting” seem to be everywhere these days. I get the concept, and a lot of it I agree with, though the amount of condescension in much of it leaves me blinking in disbelief. (This gentle parenting article is especially annoying. The first three paragraphs, which assume that some people either completely ignore or rudely yell at their children, make me really quite cranky. If there’s a gentle parent out there who has never lost her patience with her child I would like to meet her and find out what medication she’s on.) But some much-touted gentle parenting practices are downright farcical when attempted on a child like mine.
The classic “give him a choice” approach is a perfect example. This is how it tends to go in my house [not an actual conversation, but the typical outcome of many real ones nonetheless]:
“Would you like soup or a sandwich for lunch?”
“I want a hog dog.”
“We’re not having hot dogs today. You have a choice of either soup or a sandwich.”
“I want a hot dog.”
“That’s not one of your choices.”
From here his response goes one of two ways:
A: “Well, that’s what I’m having.” [Feet stomping, pout big enough for a bird to land on.]
B: Meltdown that makes Chernobyl look tame.
Giving him a choice is not a parenting or communication strategy that works.
I still try. It’s not as though, having been unsuccessful with this approach, I instead turn to dictatorial parenting. I try to determine what he actually needs (as opposed to what he says he wants). I work hard to summon my patience from the reserve tanks when my (admittedly limited) supply has run out. I try to remember that he’s only four.
But, oy. Four. I do love my child, and most of the time I really like him too. But to Four I really have only one thing to say: