I read a really interesting blog post about communicating with toddlers this morning, and it hit me. Parenting a ten-year old isn’t so different from parenting a three-year old. Sure there are the obvious differences: a ten-year old is more capable of reason, doesn’t poop in his pants, and can often articulate what he is feeling. But the nuts and bolts of it are pretty much the same.
Last night was tough. I look back and try to figure out where the night went sour, but I can’t pinpoint the moment. What I know is that the day was good, then just as suddenly, BB was pissed off and yelling. Hubby and I did our best to just let him feel his feelings, to ignore the scowls and growls, and to continue on with our evening. We did a great job of not yelling, of not punishing, of trying to be supportive of whatever it was that BB was going through. At first.
“At first” isn’t really a fair description. We held it together for a really long time. Long enough for us to eat dinner. Long enough for us to start cleaning up, long enough for us to discover that BB had thrown half of his green beans on the floor, long enough to get the dishes going and half done.
Talking to him and ignoring him weren’t helping, so we told him he could just take a shower and go to bed early if he couldn’t calm himself down. Yeah. That worked. He locked himself in the bathroom and refused to open the door. Maybe I should have just let it go at that. Maybe I should have continued ignoring the situation, but I didn’t. I felt myself unraveling. The last time he locked himself in the bathroom was a nightmare. We tried using that little key that comes with indoor doorknobs, but he held on to the lock on the other side. So we ended up with a very broken doorknob that he couldn’t open from the inside. We had to break in through the bathroom window and remove the ruined doorknob.
Visions of broken doorknobs ran through my head like some cheesy montage from an 80’s movie. I unraveled a lot faster and and I started to yell at him. I threatened him, I told him to grow up and stop acting like a little toddler. Words flew out of my mouth and I couldn’t seem to stop them. He finally opened the door and I was able to convince him to take a shower. I left the bathroom and went to get a drink of water. When I turned back around, I heard water splashing on the floor. BB thought it’d be funny to shower with the curtain open just to make a mess. A mess in the bathroom that he and I had spent half an hour cleaning earlier in the day.
Dinner: on the floor.
Bathroom door: locked
Bathroom floor: soaked
Mom: a yelling, screaming, scary maniac.
I was not pretty. I threatened to take away his Legos. I told him he had to mop both the kitchen and the bathroom in the morning. I told him I don’t know why the hell he was acting like a toddler instead of a ten-year-old. I told him I was disappointed in his behavior and I told him it made me sad that I worked so hard to cook a great dinner and he just ruined the whole thing. I told him it made me sad that he seemed to care more about his Legos than he did about me.
Yeah. I laid the guilt on pretty thick, and I couldn’t figure out how to shut myself up.
In the end he went to bed and cried himself to sleep. He said I was right. He loves his stuff more than he loves me or his dad. He decided he needed to get rid of most of his toys, Legos included, so he could appreciate family more.
That’s not where I thought the night would go. I tried to fix it. I held him while he cried. I listened to him dramatically proclaim that he needed to yard sale or donate his legos and other toys. I apologized for screaming and threatening to take his stuff, and I assured him that I love him and that it’s not necessary to dump his things. I handed him tissues and told him not to make any decisions about getting rid of stuff until the morning. I tucked him in and kissed him and told him again that I love him. And I shut the door on my still sobbing child.
When he was two or three, I would have never told him to grow up. When he was two or three, I would have never told him that he cares about stuff more than he cares about us. I would never have handled things the way I did. Sometimes I forget that ten is still so young. He’s just a kid. A kid with two very stressed out parents and a cat who’s been dead for less than a week.
We had a great talk this morning and I think we’re okay. He no longer wants to get rid of his stuff and he is willing to mop the kitchen and bathroom floors. I am looking forward to starting over, this time with better communication.
Neither of us knows what was going on with him last night, but what I know is that he’s just as entitled to have a rotten evening as I am. And as his mother, if he can’t communicate what’s going on inside his head, then it’s my job to love and support him while he’s sorting through his shit.
My boy is ten, but sometimes I need to remember that ten is a helluva lot closer to three than it is to thirty.