Parenting Fail: When I Don’t Like My Kid Very Much

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I am not the mom just standing behind the kid thinking, “Oh that’s rather mean. Lalalala.”

There are times I simply don’t like my three-year-old.

Fellow parents of three-year-olds may be gasping in mock surprise.

However, I really thought I could avoid this feeling. Child psychologists say that toddlers can tap into some of our deepest insecurities. Or as Chris jauntily sang to me the other day, “Toddlers are emotionally abusive.”

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Weddings, Threenagers, and Grace

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The bride walked down the aisle, a flowered headband in her short, black hair. As everyone watched expectantly, I shhhhed my yammering three-year-old son. While the readers recited statements from the couple’s grandmothers, I struggled to hold him on my lap. As a member of the wedding party read a passage by astronomer Carl Sagan, I finally hauled my kid down the aisle. The two of us spent the rest of my friends’ wedding in the back of the building. I alternated between trying to catch bits of the ceremony, grabbing him as he sprinted out the door, and whispering to him about how disappointed I was. It was a pretty low moment in my parenting career.

It wasn’t supposed to go like this.

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The Saga of Transitioning from a Crib to a Toddler Bed

The Saga of Transitioning from a Crib to a Toddler Bed
Most three-year-olds are not still in cribs, having transitioned to toddler beds long ago. But in this case, Sprout is not “most kids.” He’s never tried to climb out of his crib, uneasy with scrambling down where there isn’t obvious hand and foot-holds. Because there was no great need, we put off the transition as long as possible. But with his third birthday passed, a potty-training blitz coming up, and preschool approaching, we figured it was time. It was only slightly more chaotic than we expected.

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Things My Older Son Does as a Big Brother that are both Adorable and Annoying

Things My Older Son Does as a Big Brother that ar Adorable and Annoying

Nope, these aren’t my kids. I don’t like sharing photos of them, so stock random boys it is!

Returning to work, one of the first questions people ask is, “How is [Sprout] doing?” And my answer is consistently, “He really loves his brother. But he’s a bit aggressively affectionate.” While I’m grateful that he adores his brother, sometimes the ways he shows it aren’t very appropriate. Oddly, even though we’re freaking out, Little Bird hardly ever seems to mind.

Here are a few of the things he does that are sometimes adorable, sometimes a Very Bad Idea and most often, both.

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The Pain of Not Being the Favorite Parent

The Pain of Being the Less Favored Parent-2

“I want daddy.”

My breath catches in my throat. “Really? You don’t want me to give you a bath?” My voice cracks.

“No, I want Daddy for bath. Daddy, give mommy [Little Bird],” my older son insists.

Sigh. “I’ll give him his bath,” my husband acquiesces and hands me the baby.

I watch as my almost three year old ambles over to the bathroom, where I usually need to drag him. I’ve always been the one to put him to bed, only relinquishing it to my husband on the rare occasion I’m out of the house. My husband follows him, pulling my son’s monster towel out of the closet on the way.

I didn’t expect it to be like this.

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On Valuing My Work as a Mom

On Giving Myself Credit as a Mom

Feeding and taking care of my child is an important, essential job. I need to keep reminding myself of this.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine asked how I could keep up the blog with a newborn. That answer was relatively easy; I write on the phone while nursing. But the question he didn’t ask – why I’m keeping up the blog – struck me. There are pat answers involving maintaining my audience and SEO, but if it came down to it, I would ignore them. No, the reason I’ve kept writing is because it feels like important work.

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This Too Shall Pass

This Too Shall Pass

Our little family is in a rough patch.

The sleep deprivation from being up for 30 minutes or (usually) more several times a night is starting to deeply affect me. Last night, there was barely an hour between when I would put Little Bird down and when he would start crying again. While I was running on adrenaline and optimism immediately after he was born, that’s faded. In the middle of the night, I’ve occasionally dozed off, awakening to the fear that I could have dropped him. While I blew through a couple of books in the beginning, I’m now too exhausted to do anything but check my social media over and over again in a soul sucking spiral. In the morning, I wake up with a sinus headache and a serious fog that I never really shake. I’ve had an on again, off again fever over the past two days.

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The Agony and the Ecstasy of the Third Trimester

Note: I started this essay before Little Bird was born, but thought I’d finish it off even though the third trimester is now thoroughly over! Content note: pregnancy loss / miscarriage, pregnancy complications

The Agony and Ecstasy of the Third Trimester

The most dreaded era of pregnancy: the third trimester. But even though it could be a slog at times, my third trimester was also the best part of my whole pregnancy.

Of course, I dealt with a variety of physical discomfort. From retaining enough fluid that my wedding ring hadn’t fit for months to the baby being in possibly the least comfortable positions possible, it was damn painful. I think he enjoyed sitting on my kidneys and doing upside down push-ups on my hip bones. The Braxton hicks contractions – oh, the Braxton Hicks! The “irritable uterus,” where it gets ineffably hard for long periods at a time, made its return. The lack of sleep was a killer, especially the fact that I woke up every time I tried to turn over.

But despite all that, my mental and emotional health was much more solid than it was any other time in my pregnancy.

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The Bedtime Toddler Blues

Sleep has never come easily for my son. As a newborn, he wouldn’t sleep during the day unless he was held. The moment just before his body touched the crib, his eyes would flutter open and he’d start crying. (“Sleep when the baby sleeps,” my ass.) He was seven months old the first time he slept through the night and over a year by the time he did so consistently. And that was only after a couple of traumatic evenings for all involved. In toddlerhood, he often sings and talks to his animals for a full hour before drifting off. But lately, there’s been a significant shift for the worse.

Toddler Bedtime Blues

None of this is particularly unexpected, considering my family history. Both Chris and I are night owls, as is my mom and his dad. I had night terrors as a kid, my mom had childhood nighttime seizures, and my dad sleepwalked until he was in his mid-20s. While it would be surprising if Sprout didn’t have any sleep issues, it doesn’t make them less exasperating.

In the last year, we thought we had made peace with his sleep schedule. Sure, he stayed up way past his 8:30 bedtime, but considering he wakes up past 7 pm and still takes naps, he got plenty of sleep. As he’s a bit of an introvert, it seemed like that time provided him the private, wind-down space he needed. It’s not like we had a way to force him to fall asleep anyway.

But in the last few weeks, our structure has gone to hell. The first thing to go was our bedtime routine. Normally, it goes: finish dinner, take bath, jump on our bed, get into PJs, read books, brush teeth, have a short conversation about the day, and say goodnight. Each part provides a balance between the boring bits (washing, brushing teeth) and the fun ones (jumping on our bed, reading).

While the routine has a lot of transitions, they only recently became an issue. Sprout has managed to found ways to extend and delay every one of them. From sitting in the tub long after the water has been drained to sprinting away every chance he gets, our bedtime routine has gone from 45 minutes to over an hour. Sometimes his delaying even starts before dinner, when he puts up a giant fuss about washing his hands. Shifting between activities has become increasingly difficult, but if we skip any of them – even allowing him to turn off the lights – there’s a melt-down as well.

The earlier the resistance starts, the more likely there is to be a snowball effect. Just when I think I’ve gotten him all chill, he remembers a grave injustice from 10 minutes earlier and gets upset all over again. All of my tricks from Happiest Toddler on the Block that used to work, like repeating what he’s upset about or promising it in fantasy, just piss him off more. There’s a constant sense of “What the hell is going to upset him this time and how do we deal with it?”

Tonight was a perfect example. Sprout was smiles and giggles until we wanted him to actually do his five jumps on the bed. (We would be fine with skipping them, but he would not.) We got to jump three when he randomly spit up some stomach crud. Chris turned our Green Bay Packers blanket over so that he didn’t jump in vomit, which meant the “Big G” was backwards. This was completely and utterly unacceptable to Sprout. He started crying and refused to jump. Both suggesting he’d do his final jump or skip jumps altogether elicited screams from him.

We finally carried him off the bed, where the angst continued on the changing table for several more minutes. I requested Chris intervene, hoping a change of scenery would help. It didn’t, although I avoided getting kicked hard in my pregnant belly while trying to put a diaper and pajamas on a flailing toddler. The rest of the evening alternated between him loudly expressing his displeasure, saying “I want a hug,” and sitting on my lap with his face in my shoulder. At 9 PM, I placed him in his crib, where I left after 10 minutes of urging him to lie down. Of course, this set off a new round of crying.

After running that obstacle course, all I want to do for the rest of the night is collapse on the couch. Lately, I’ve really wished that came with a glass of wine, but pregnancy has limited my indulgences to chocolate, ice cream, and decaf tea.

Previously, we were safe once he was calm in his crib. But now the resistance has extended far past his official bedtime. Recently, he’s taken to yelling “Mommy mommy mommy” from behind his closed door, sometimes for good reasons (like because he pooped) and sometimes for bad or pointless ones (like telling me “[Sprout] likes basketball” or asking me to tuck him in when he’s chosen to stand up). S

Sometimes it’s between the two. The other night, I went in after his “Mommy, mommy, mommy” suddenly became more intense. I found a bed full of ice cubes and the top to his water cup on the floor. “It’s broken,” he pointed out. I blinked, noticed that his toys were all at the other end of the bed, and asked, “Did you do this on purpose?” He responded, “No. Yes. Took top off and dumped all over.” At least he was honest!

If I was a stay-at-home mom, these bedtime issues would just be the crummy topping on the challenges of being home all day. But at least I would have the rest of the day – when he’s usually good-natured – to look back on.

Instead, this struggle becomes the majority of my weekday interactions with him. I have a fairly long commute, so I’m home at 6:15 PM at the earliest. That gives me maybe 45 minutes of playtime, dinner, and then the constant balancing act of bedtime. I don’t want to give in – and am often incapable of doing what he wants – but I hate both of us being miserable during what should be special time together.

So it just makes me feel like a crappy parent. Because of my commute, we can’t put him to bed earlier without sacrificing time together. Even though I honestly don’t think it’s over-tiredness, I still worry that it’s my fault somehow.

It’s especially frustrating because it reinforces all my worries about having a second kid. I guess it’s good that he’s still willing to stay in his crib and not climbing out, but it makes me even more concerned that he’ll start climbing out at the worst possible time. Furthermore, I’m already anxious about not having enough of my emotional energy to go around and then Sprout finds a way to drain it further. Because he was such a fussy sleeper, I worry that he’s going to wake up his brother and then his brother will start crying and then Sprout will start crying and then no one will ever get any sleep ever again.

I know like all things Kid, that this is a phase. I just really hope that it passes sooner rather than later.

Any suggestions for making bedtime go smoother?

Reflections on a New Year: Looking Backwards to 2015

Trigger Warning: Pregnancy loss / miscarriage

Quite frankly, 2015 sucked. Nationally, the U.S. suffered from a series of mass shootingsracial-based violenceentire cities having their water supplies poisoned; the hottest year on record; and a racist, sexist bully leading in the polls for a major political party. Personally, I dealt with the trauma of having a miscarriage, followed by the added stress of restrictions on my next pregnancy, my church community going through a difficult transition, and a number of promising professional opportunities falling through. It was a year of crushed expectations, metaphorical doors slammed in faces. It would be easy to say “Good riddance” and not think about it again. But I’m not doing that, for a simple reason – I love to learn, and there are no better circumstances to learn from than terrible ones.

I didn’t feel this way in the beginning of December. At that point, I felt like my life had a tremendous number of moving pieces I was trying to keep in sync, all of which were exhausting and none of which I had any control over. Even though I was always doing too much, yet it never felt like enough. I wasn’t a good enough mother, co-worker, activist, wife, daughter, writer. I longed to have peace and satisfaction.

So I did two things that would have previously been anathema to me; I went to a therapist and joined a personal coaching group.

I had been thinking about the therapy since last year, when I had what I recognized after the fact as a panic attack at Disney. While I hadn’t experienced anything nearly so dramatic since then, Chris saw the toll that stress had been taking on me and encouraged me to talk to someone. I dragged my feet for months, taking weeks to answer emails that should have taken minutes. As a chronic over-achiever, I emotionally felt like getting help was weak, even though intellectually I knew that was bullshit. After all, I’m good at everything else – why can’t I fix myself? But I was too far inside my own head to know what was actually going on; I needed an outside perspective.

Fortunately, that’s exactly what I got with the therapist. Contrary to my Far Side-esque fears, she listened without judgment or even for the most part, recommendations. In fact, the most radical thing she told me was that what I was feeling was perfectly normal. My stress was understandable, considering the year I had been through. My feeling of never being or doing enough is common among folks who become invested in big causes, especially those associated with systematic injustices.

In other words, there was nothing wrong with me. Just hearing that was a relief. While I would want to get help if something was wrong, hearing that what I was feeling was justified (even if my coping mechanisms weren’t great) was so satisfying.

Following on this first dose of self-help, I signed up for Stratejoy’s Holiday Council. I had no idea what to expect, except that I felt drawn to it. In the past, I had dismissed this sort of thing as too touchy-feely or woo-woo. But my feeling of helplessness during the last year made me crave something to help me process it and move forward.

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My intuition was right – the Holiday Council was just the thing to fulfill that need. It consisted of three group phone calls, a workbook to fill out and exercises (like posting in the private Facebook group) to complete between the calls. Each of the three weeks had a different focus: the first on looking back during the year, the second on visioning for the coming year, and the third on concrete planning for 2016.

The first week inspired a deeper look at some of the realizations I had come to with the therapist. In particular, the challenge to post a photograph to Facebook that summarized the year brought surprising insights. While I had previously dwelt on the year’s disappointments, I also wanted to acknowledge the beautiful moments I spent with my family. In fact, it was often those joyous times, whether playing in the basement with Sprout or camping in the mountains, that buoyed me through the hard ones.

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Not the same photo, but also from Red Rocks.

I finally decided on a photo of Chris, Sprout and I at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, taken by my sister-in-law during our trip to Las Vegas. It was only days after I found out about my miscarriage, but I still have a genuine smile. On that trip, I experienced the freedom of being happy despite the surrounding circumstances. That lesson carried me throughout the year, teaching me how to function in spite of loss and disappointment. When I got pregnant again and then had complications, I found ways to revise our adventures around my restrictions instead of allowing my fears to control me. Sometimes that meant sitting on the ground at the Renaissance Faire because there were no seats available, but dirty pants were better than not going at all. Although I didn’t get a highly anticipated job, I coordinated a complex social media campaign while also launching a completely new website. Although I felt overwhelmed about the future of our church, I started chipping in so the congregation can run the services without a pastor. Reflecting back helped me realize how strong I had been, even when I felt helpless.

While just choosing the photo was a challenge, posting it to Facebook was even harder. It was the first time I had told anyone outside of my immediate family, my church pastor, and the therapist about the miscarriage. I held my breath as I hit post.

But even though I hadn’t been able to speak of it in more than a whisper before, sharing my story with this group removed the barriers I had been holding on to. It enabled me to confront my feelings and write the piece just published on the Good Mother Project. It drew it out of my head, reducing its power over me. Even though I had been haunted for months by those images, writing about the experience was like writing about something that happened to someone else. I wrote that piece on the way up to my parents for Christmas break and was able to talk to Chris and Sprout as I wrote, even occasionally laughing. I can’t say I’ve moved on completely – I don’t think I ever will – but the safe space the Holiday Council provided allowed me to process and then share my story.

I’m glad 2015 is over. But I’m also glad I took the time and energy to consider how it changed me and what that means going into 2016.