When the going gets tough... take three deep breaths and count to ten, or phone a friend, or call in reinforcements, but never take it out on the baby. Simple, right? Wrong. Just wait and you'll see.
Last night was not one of my good nights. Rick told me he would be late getting home from work and I was on my own with the kids. Iain is only eight weeks old so the thought of having to put both kids to bed, and feed, diaper, and entertain them at night is slightly terrifying. Iain is an ideal baby until about seven at night and then he gets demanding and cranky. He just wants to eat a ton so he can sleep a long stint overnight without getting hungry. Alone, that wouldn't be so bad. When you compound that with Ada's need for dinner, her desire to watch multiple movies, her refusal to get ready for bed, and her occasional rebellious nature, you could be in trouble. That was where I was last night.
As bedtime approached, Ada's dinner and movie were over. It was time to settle down with a few books before bed. She resisted all of my attempts to coax her into bed. Iain had been crying or nursing on and off for the past hour and nothing I did seemed to soothe him. Ada kept pushing my buttons until I finally had had enough. I counted to three out loud and threatened her with a time-out. She still refused to willingly go to her room to read books so I had to resort to force. Iain was still crying so I had to set him down and listen to his cries intensify while I pulled Ada off the couch and moved her into her bedroom chair for a time-out. She was screaming. He was screaming. I was ready to scream too.
I calmed him down for a few minutes while she continued to scream. The time-out was effective in that Ada knew mommy meant what she said and it was time for bed. I explained that we have a baby as a family and she needs to do her part in taking care of the baby by listening to mommy and helping out when she is asked. She looked right at me and nodded in understanding. Iain started crying again.
Ada and I were trying to read books but his crying was foiling our attempts. At that point, I had tried everything to calm him. He was fed, had a clean diaper, had been burped, was in clean clothes and nothing was working to calm him. (As it turns out, he was just tired and wanted to be rocked to sleep. Too bad I didn't know that at the time.) At one point, I was patting his back when Ada crawled onto the floor next to me and started patting my back. It was so sweet. She was really trying to help. I then moved Iain to where he was lying on his belly on my lap and Ada and I were both patting his back. It still wasn't working but at least she was trying to help.
A few more minutes of this went by and I gave up and called Rick. Lucky for me, I sat on the couch with Iain propped up on my thighs looking at me while I swayed my knees back and forth. The swaying calmed Iain long enough for me to get a short break from the screaming and to be able to vent to Rick for a minute as I searched for suggestions and moral support. Rick recommended everything I had been trying and said, "Hang in there. I'll be home in about half an hour."
Back in Ada's room, we read two books while I patted and bounced the baby. Iain fell asleep in my arms finally. But then Ada started to rebel again and her refusal to get into bed started to get loud. That's when I decided to changed Iain's diaper and fully put him to bed so I could focus completely on Ada. With him down for the night, getting her to cooperate was much easier.
When Rick got home, I thanked him for calming me down and offering suggestions on how to maintain my sanity. I explained how, sometimes, I just want to shake my child to get him to shut up. I felt awful saying it but it was true. And sometimes I just want to smack Ada when she is being sassy and I have hit my breaking point.
You know how Rick responded?
"Me too!" he said.
Whew! What a relief. Just knowing that we were in this together and it was "normal" to feel this way was a huge relief. We have both had the urge to lose it but in the back of our minds said, "No, you can't shake the baby or smack your toddler. That's where shaken baby syndrome and child abuse come from. Your children deserve better and you need to calm down."
That's when you give yourself a time-out. Take a few deep breaths, call a friend or family member, or take the whole family on a walk around the block to burn off some steam. Parenting is not easy. I have found the most challenging part of having two kids is prioritizing their needs and attending to them when they are both screaming and you hit your limit. It helps to know that you are not alone.
Moral of the story: When parenting gets tough, control how you deal with the situation. The rest is beyond your control so accept it and do your best to remain calm.