Thursday, November 20, 2008

taming a terrible toddler, or more from granny annie

a few weeks ago, my daughter katie and i were discussing the increasing emergence of the Real Person inside baby jake. he looks at me differently, mom, she said. it's like there's a person in there, isn't it, i replied. yeah, she said. and he definitely has ideas of his own.

i remember i said once to my kids' own pediatrician of my daughter, meg, when she was about the same age as baby jake, she seems to be developing a mind of her own. you weren't surprised, were you? returned doctor carey, a wise children's doctor in the vein of norman rockwell.

and well, yeah, i was. meg was in many ways the most easily understood and malleable of my children - at least for me - because she was the one i felt immediately to be most like me. we were of such like minds that it was almost too easy to anticipate her needs, her wants, her wishes, and so, with meg, not only did i feel bound at the hip (or the boob), but mind-melded, too.

alas, even meg eventually disobeyed. the fact that she was my third child prevented me from taking it personally, and by that time, i had grown somewhat adept, or maybe it was only numb, at dealing with terrible toddlers.

and so, in the interests of posterity - and since a Gentle Reader asked - here's what raising four children taught me about how to manage toddlers.

i remember the first time katie, my oldest, looked back at me with what was only defiance in her eyes, and i recognized myself, at 13. (since i was only 20 when katie was born, it was easy for me to remember how i felt at 13.) i better get a handle on this now, i thought, because whoever that is looking back at me is coming back at 13.. bigger.

i won't bore you with the ruminations and realizations that led me to understand that my goal as a parent was to put myself out of a job, and that my "job" was the creation of a mostly-functional adult, one capable of meeting responsibilities, creating a family and experiencing pleasure in life. and since this was what my child wanted as well, i assumed, we were on the same page. so the ability to sleep through the night, for example, without waking mommy at an ungodly hour without a bad dream or being sick as an excuse, became the mastery of a lifeskill, not a battle of wills.

thus it became possible to frame the behavior i wanted into something the child instinctively wanted as well. this is not to say we didn't have occasional tantrums or tears or that sometimes a toddler's NOW superceded her or his ability to imagine THEN. but even the most rambunctious and willful of my children - my son, in case you're wondering, to whom i attribute nearly all of my white hair - intuitively understood an appeal from one Adult to Another.

in the case of a child who wanted to wake up earlier than i did, which was all my children, i would acknowledge that if she or he awoke at an ungodly hour, that could well be something beyond the child's conscious control. and so, i wouldn't try to control that aspect of the issue. what i would control is what that child could or could not do upon awakening, and particularly, i would begin by explaining my own need to sleep. "when you are a big girl," i would begin, "you will need to sleep straight through the night for (insert number of hours i need)- just like mommy. therefore, it's really important you allow mommy to get her rest, because a tired mommy is no fun. i understand you just wake up. therefore, since mommy needs her sleep and you need to wake up, let's figure out how you can wake up and take care of yourself like a big girl without needing to disturb mommy."

by three, my kids were all capable of getting up, amusing themselves and feeding themselves a simple snack (like dry cheerios) for at least an hour before i woke up. jamie - my son - was capable at five of pouring milk and thus fixing a simple breakfast for his younger sister, so on the weekends, i could sleep in even later.

the approach that i needed to put myself out of a job gave me an anchor or a framework within which to function or to fall back on, so to speak, while i watched many other parents flail around me. high school was and is the most interesting by far - i can't quite believe that the kids who did the ballsy - pardon the pun - striptease at the farmington pep rally face any kind of censure. so far, this approach seems to have worked reasonably well. at 28 and 23, my two oldest are indeed people who shoulder their responsibilities, seem capable of creating functional relationships, and take pleasure - generally - in life, and aside from the normal angst associated with growing up... the others are well on their way.

and furthermore, the war must end. blessed be.


Martha said...

Thought provoking, insightful post. It certainly is humbling and inspiring to see our little humans blossom and achieve so much more than I ever will.
Praying for peace alongside you, Martha

Iva said...

I so wish i could find a way to implement (sp?) your advice. I find it very hard to take other peoples advice for my 4 year old and 2 year old. #1 the 4 year old is autistic and nothing normal seems to apply, but also I am afraid I treat him too speacially and i can never tell the diff between the 4 year old and the autistic child. #2 Since mama only knows how to raise an autistic child, the 2 year old is probably getting away with way too much and i have no clue where to fix that.

Actually that said, i have been meaning to ask you for advice, is there a better way to contact you?

annie kelleher said...

iva - you can always reach me at my email address -!

Kathy said...

I often battle with parents (including my husband's father) who want to control their children, grandchildren, and anyone else who will sit still from birth to death. Then there are the parents who go before their children with a broom so the path is clear and easy. What do you learn from an easy path?
To Iva: Bless you. I hope you can find a good support group. I know a woman who has done a great job with her autistic son, but she pretty much had to get a Masters in Special Ed in order to find the way. He works at a Target distribution center and earns a really good living. She teaches and continues to help others like her. I hope you find someone like her.

Summer said...

Oh my! Have you read my drama with my son??? I need all the advice and help I can get!