Wanted: Precisely one parenting book titled something to the effect of, How to Effectively Parent Your Strong-Willed, Quirky 3 ½-Year-Old Without Resorting to Punishment, Threats, Bribery, or Drugs, While at the Same Time, Insuring that You Won't be Unleashing a Free-Wheeling Monster-Boy into Society a Few Short Years From Now.
I Googled it, but couldn't find a match. If I figure out the answer, (and a shorter title) I'll most certainly write it myself.
It's time for true confessions here at Taking the Lid off the Sun. With the exception of a brief hiatus of about two months that ended a couple of weeks ago, Lucas has been on my last nerve since SEPTEMBER! I wrote about some of those parenting struggles last fall, and thought I'd discovered the answer after the holidays. Some of his current behavior falls under the category of general willfulness and contrariness, along with far more energy than I know how to handle, which I know is very normal for this age, though no less aggravating. Other behaviors seem more quirky and disturbing. Confident in his knowledge that I find them quirky and disturbing, he focuses a lot of time and attention on those, in particular. Would you like some examples?
- Teasing his playmates …
He asks a playmate if he'd like a particular toy. When playmate says yes, he pulls it away and refuses to relinquish it. Or he sits close to his playmate on the sofa and the playmate says, "Don't sit so close." Lucas moves so close he's almost on top of him. He seems to take pleasure in watching them get upset. (That's the disturbing part for me.)
- … and one of our cats
He has singled out one of our cats as "the enemy," and is constantly hassling him: tapping him, chasing him, and putting stuff on him. The other day, Lucas deliberately knocked a planted orchid onto the carpet and had the audacity to blame Hakuna, even though I was standing right there and watched him do it. If you want to see some older footage of him bugging our sweet cat with some James Brown moves, watch this. His little toddler voice is saying, "Kuna don't bite you." Meaning, "Hakuna, don't bite me."
- Obsessing about boobies …
This has been a long-standing preoccupation for Lucas, dating back to before he was two, when he associated the bras in Victoria's Secret with his first crush: one of my friends. "Bras … Shauna!!!" Now, when he feels like making noise but has nothing in particular to say, he usually chants, "Boobies, boobies, boobies, I love boobies, boobies, boobies," ad nauseum. He changes song lyrics to include boobies in each verse. When one of my friends comes over and (discretely, mind you) nurses her younger child, Lucas crawls right up next to her and stares at her with a sly grin, saying, "You got your boobies out. Can I touch your boobies, boobies, boobies?" I mean, really! Luckily my friend isn't bothered by it, but - call me a prude - it bugs the heck out of me. Especially when it triggers this next one …
- …and penises
I know all little boys discover the pleasures of the penis early on. But Lucas seems to associate it with seeing boobies, and this just doesn't strike me as normal for this age. Is it? Are they actually capable of having sexual thoughts at three and a half?! The last time this same friend was over and began nursing, he actually began to, um … diddle, while staring at her bosom and smiling. I told him that touching himself was perfectly fine, but it was a private thing, so could he please go to his room or else stop? At which point, he ran away from me, took off his pants and began to flash her in earnest, laughing maniacally and screaming, "Look at my penis! Look at my penis!! Ha, ha, ha, ha, ha!!" I couldn't think of what to do other than tell him that if he did that as a grown up, the police would arrest him and put him in jail. He doesn't even know what jail is, but somehow it made an impression. He stopped and put his clothes back on. A few days later, he randomly told another friend of mine, "If you are a grownup and you show your penis … uh (realizing he had the wrong part) … if you show your vagina to other people, the police will give you a ticket and put you in the jail."
I'm sure I could have handled this better.
- Screaming bloody murder
I have said this before: I haven't ever given in to his demands when he resorts to throwing fits. We all know that's a parenting no-no. Nonetheless, he still regularly relies on this strategy. These days, when he doesn't get his way, or when we ask him to do something he doesn't want to do, he first shouts, "NO!" and does this insulting little raspberry thing with his lips, "Ppph!" very loudly and sharply … and then he begins to scream. It's the kind of breathtaking and extended screaming that would have certainly summoned Children's Services if our neighbors didn't know us better. Like I said, it never works to get him his way, but it does manage to bug the crap out of us, and in that way, I guess he gains some power.
Trust or Control?A part of my awareness keeps urging me to just surrender to all of this. Just accept him as he is, in all aspects. Accept the booby songs and the penis obsession, the screaming and teasing, the crashing, bashing and destructive play, and trust that it's just a really annoying phase and that's all. Trust that it's not an indicator of a lifetime of offensive behavior.
I'm not to that place of trust yet. I keep thinking there has to be something I could be doing differently in my parenting. That's the core of it, isn't it? What are we really able to control as parents, and what is just the luck of the draw? How much can we manipulate their environment, reactions, and character, and how much is simply out of our hands?
I've tried time-out, time-in, pausing to breathe and regroup, hugging during fits, structure and rhythm, predictability, balancing rigorous play with quiet play, independence and togetherness. I've removed the sugar and quick-to-convert carbs from his diet and upped his protein. I've agonized over the merits of sending him to preschool or keeping him home. Just how many variables do I want to be responsible for? The more I adjust them, the more personally I take it when the outcome is not what I intended.
My ultimate fear is that if I relinquish the control; if I don't do my best to pick the RIGHT variables, he may not have the chance to become the boy and the man I hope him to be. That's the truth. I can call it being a conscious parent, but is it, really? Or is it selfishness, pride, ego instead?
I obviously don't know, and I'm not yet willing surrender enough to find out. Perhaps some of you have some helpful perspectives to share.
In the meantime, it is with humility that I leave you with today's gem of a solution to Lucas' defiance:
The Carrot-Nose Solution
In one of my least shining parenting moments, I discovered that picking up the phone and pretending to call the Carrot Nose was a sure-fire way to gain instant compliance during an impasse.
Lucas cuts his fit short, pleading, "I'm cooperating! I'm cooperating! Don't call the Carrot Nose! Hang up!"
What's one of your least-stellar parenting moments?