Sunday, May 18, 2008

From Baby To Young Child

Tonight G. asked to put the kids to bed by herself, for fear that if I came upstairs with them, I might actually fall asleep myself. She didn't want me to do that because she wants me to go back to work eventually so that I don't have to work much, if any, of tomorrow: my sabbath.

I had to email our real estate attorney, so I stayed downstairs to do that because it was a long, hard morning for various reasons, and I can't muster the energy or motivation to go back yet.

We still cuddle our kids to sleep. I believe letting babies "cry it out" is an emotionally damaging course (babies can't reason and can't keep time, after all), and the emotional needs that cuddling at bedtime once filled have not disappeared with age. Heck, I still like to cuddle with G. before we go to sleep.

Unfortunately, I think M. knows that I am here. I also think he is not as tired as he might be usually at this time because he took a longer nap. So he started the bedtime routine like a wild man: climbing around the bed and laughing hysterically and talking and shouting out (presumably to me): "Hello?! Hello down there!" K. of course enjoyed the loud, anti-bed riot and joined in. So then G. was upstairs handling two wild, rioting children under less than ideal circumstances.

I thought about just leaving, but it wouldn't likely make a difference unless I said something, which would get the kids even more stirred up. I considered going up to help, but I knew that would feed into future riots. M.'s at the age where he can manipulate (and I would like to stress that babies canNOT, no matter what your parenting books tell you...this is common knowledge in the world of child development). I know M. was trying to get me upstairs. He was trying to either push G. to the point where she'd call me up to help in desperation, or he was trying to get me sucked into a game.

So I sat downstairs listening to G. patiently spend a half hour or forty-five minutes trying to settle the kids calmy before finally she said in a stern, loud voice, "That is ENOUGH. Both of you stop it."

The kids did stop, but M. disolved into tears.

Here is where it gets tricky. M is not a baby. He just turned three, and despite some "delays," is quite capable as a three year old. He can manipulate. But children don't manipulate to make our lives hard. In fact, sometimes they manipulate to get their perceived needs met when they know they don't have a way to get their needs met otherwise. Like adults, children resort to manipulation often in response to feeling powerless.

On the weekends, my kids go long stretches without seeing me. Though I came home early today and we spent most of the afternoon together, I can't say my exhaustion was good for any of us. M wanted *me.* He felt a strong need to be close to me, and honestly, I don't blame him. Though he is no longer a baby, his sense of self is still closely tied to me as one of his mothers. Besides, even married adults who spend time apart frequently say they want to come home and spend time human beings, we often miss those people we are close to when they are away.

So, from my perspective, in an act of compassion, after M. had been crying with G. for over a half hour, I walked upstairs. G. heard me and called out, "Please don't come in." And I don't blame her. She is the stay-at-home parent and carries more of the parental responsibilities. She has to put the kids to bed without me on a not-so-infrequent basis. So to her, if he gets the message that he can get me to come to him by rioting or crying at bedtime, this could mean mayhem in days to come when I am not here at bedtime or at naptime.

But it is so hard to sit here and listen, knowing that despite the fact that this is manipulative, M. is trying to meet an emotional need. The transition from baby to young child is so much harder than people speak openly about in our society. The closest we come in polite society (aside from the knowing nod between parents of kids who are around the same age) is talking about the "terrible twos," but even that simplifies the struggles as a child's problem when in fact it is a complex emotional relationship in which the balance is completely out of whack. There is such little recognition of the emotional dance of parent and child.


Quinn said...

That is so hard when they do that,heartbreaking even. But it was the right thing not to go in there! We struggle with the same issues a lot of times.

Masasa said...

Thanks! It is so helpful to talk about this with other mamas. I know you get EXACTLY what I am talking about.