by Arnebya Herndon
I try to remind myself that one right way to parent does not exist. Though I’d like it to always be “our” way, there are definitely times when it’s my way or it’s his way, and my way usually does not like my husband’s way.
We’ve been married for nine years and have three children: two girls ages 11 and 8, and the boy who is two. Parenting this boy has us questioning whether we’ll make it to marriage year number 10. OK, not really, but the boy is demanding. And feisty. And dramatic. He screams. He cries — a lot. He is a typical toddler. He’s stubborn and argumentative using that un-baby, not-quite-big-boy babble. You know, incoherent syllables punctuated with real words. He gets frustrated. He wants what he wants and he wants it now.
Let me back up. He is not a tantrum thrower, per se. He is not an out of control child who will make you regret running into Safeway for just two items, having to step over him at the doorway as he’s writhing on the floor screaming for chips. No, that’s not him. (He only screams for chips at home, thank you very much). He is usually simply just a disarming smile user (like when he goes to color on the wall and glances back to see if I’m watching, and then smiles because he knows he’s wrong).
When he does something blatantly unacceptable (like throw down the DVD we’ve said he cannot watch for the third time that day), we are in accordance in our discipline. When he screams to be taken out of his high chair and begins to forcibly scoot it across the dining room floor, spilling peas because we are taking too long to remove him, we are together in our discipline. When he wants to ride his bike and it is pouring rain and he pitches a fit landing him in a puddle, we are united in our discipline. Paragons of parenting perfection and togetherness, no? No.
Our girls were eight and six when the boy was born. That’s a long time to not deal with a toddler on a regular basis. Add to that that he is all outgoing boy compared to their docile girlishness, and you find me at odds with myself. On one hand, he needs to be taught proper behavior (it is achievable!). On the other hand, he is my baby, perhaps my last. And I tend to cater to him because of that.
Sometimes I give him a cookie after daddy has said no more. Sometimes I rub his back after he’s done something he had no business doing and daddy tells him so. And each time I do these things, I am ruining this boy’s perception of discipline. I am teaching him to come to mommy after he’s done something wrong and daddy has chided him. I am teaching him that mommy will make it all better, mommy will wipe the tears, mommy will nod in secret agreement that we’ll pop the corn daddy said he can’t have (once daddy leaves).
Oh, it sounds obvious that I would know what I was doing, what I was creating. But until recently I realized that he is fully aware that it’s OK if daddy sometimes says no, I’ll just go to Mommy. I didn’t fully get it. When he began to demand that I change him because he knows daddy will give him the “poop on the pot” speech, I finally got it. I know that there is nothing more detrimental to marriage and parenting than undermining your partner. Yet, this is exactly what I’ve been doing. Two recent events made me stop and think about our secret pact of him getting what he wants when daddy’s back is turned: one night of bath time and one of bedtime.
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When I give him a bath the boy smiles and laughs and splashes and plays. He is lotioned and dry and teeth brushed and happy, all while singing. When daddy bathes him there are screams and fits and sounds of struggle. The only song he is singing is “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.”
Bedtime usually goes smoothly. Until it doesn’t. This boy picks random days to simply refuse to go to bed. He screams and cries and swings a leg over the crib before realizing he’s too high up to make it down without his forehead meeting the hardwood. There are way too many tears and hiccups, too much snot, and expressions of “Please save me from the evil that is my bed.”
At bath time, I want to “help.” I want to go to him and let him know that I will give him a bath the correct way. The scream-less way. And then I remember: my way is just my way. At bedtime, Daddy lets him work through his emotions on his own. I tend to go to him. Repeatedly. Because he won’t stop calling me (duh!). He clings to me and says, “I go you bed, pease.” I fight the urge to simply remove him from his bed and place him into ours, cuddling and sniffing the folds of his neck.
Realizing that he probably only “wants” me because he’ll get his way is hard to take. It’s even harder to accept that I am the culprit; I’ve done this. The boy isn’t being hurt when he cries at daddy-run bath or bedtime. He’s expressing his displeasure at daddy’s routine being different from mine. He’ll live. And so I sit and do not intervene because I know that if I do it will send the message that mommy does it correctly and daddy need not apply.
The boy knows I am his sucker. And I know that he cannot be disciplined or taught properly if I tear down every effort my husband makes to teach him what is acceptable. Or, at the very least, teach him to just be normal enough to not leave the house with underwear on his head.
I don’t make new year resolutions. But if I had to resolve to trying to be better at one thing this year, making more of an effort to parent this boy in harmony would be it. Oh, and not succumbing to pretty brown eyes that beg through tears for just one more cup of juice.
Do you and your spouse work together in harmony on parenting matters or do you sometimes find yourself going rouge?
Arnebya Herndon is a technical writer in Washington, DC where she also lives. Mother of three and wife to the best husband she’s had so far, she’s a yoga practicing, sometimes foul language using, lover of all things made with avocado. She writes about living on the cusp of crazy at What Now And Why.