Holding my own (and hating it)

Today my son threw a fabulous temper tantrum (FTT). It all started when I collected the laundry. I came back in to find that M had pulled a selection of shirts from his dresser and put them in his previously empty laundry basket. I told him that the shirts needed to go back in his dresser, and since he had gotten them out, he needed to put them away.

“No!”

M, a late talker, has just perfected the “N” sound, and is adamant in its use. I, on the other hand, have just perfected (yeah, sure) positive discipline and was eager to diligently apply its principles: logical consequences, positive time outs, etc. I took M and his laundry basket to his room and told him that he could take a positive time out in his room until he was ready to put his clothes away, but that he couldn’t come out until he’d finished. This is when the FTT shifted into high. M began to scream and sob uncontrollably. Every once in a while he opened his door to peek out, but he never did leave his room. Nor did he put the clothes away. After periodic checks for a half hour, every time using my calm but firm voice to remind him that he could continue his time out until he was ready to comply, I finally broke down. This was just not working, and his violent insistence against putting his clothes back made me uncomfortable. I knew toddlers could be defiant and that I needed to hold my ground, but this seemed ridiculous. I bent down, gave him a big mama hug, and finally thought to ask why he didn’t want to put his clothes away. Turned out he was under the undeniable impression that his clothes needed a washdown (This is a train term. We talk train in our house. It’s effective, and I like effective).

Okay, so in all my parenting glory, I’d completely ignored the needs of my little man. We settled on the floor and commenced an imaginary washdown. Once we finish, I folded up the laundry and asked him, again, to put it away. And thus began FTT part II. This time I waited only 15 minutes before trying something different, this time reinforcing the positive in the positive time out by reading books together while periodically asking him to put the clothes back. Yes, you guessed it: crying stopped while reading, crying recommenced as soon as I mentioned said clothes. For the love of all things good…

Over an hour into this tantrum, I finally sat down in his room holding K, who was thankfully snoozing through this whole shindig. I can only handle so much. The crying intensified. I maintained my cool insistence. This is what parenting a toddler is about. I’ve read the books. I know I have to stand my ground. Eventually he will learn. Eventually he will give in. Eventually I will win. Except I don’t want to win. I want my precious little boy to stop screaming like I’ve taken his heart and juiced it for my own personal gain. I want to do anything else with him other than sit in his room and hold my own.

I get down again. I hug him. I ask what’s wrong, finally, explaining again that we’ve already washed the clothes and gotten them ready to put away. He points to his dresser and gestures and suddenly I hit the nail on the head:

“Is the drawer too tall for you to put the clothes back in?”
“Yeah…” he moans pitifully.

What a mom. What a self-absorbed, book-loving, instinct-ignorant mom. We find an empty cabinet that’s easy to access and he happily hops to putting all the clothes in. One hour and fifteen minutes, and we’re back to playing as if nothing has happened.

Only something has happened. I stood my ground only to discover it was quicksand, and while he was fine only minutes later, I am still brooding over my actions. You’d think a mom who loved her kids as I do, worked so hard to be respectful and fair, wouldn’t fail quite so miserably on such a simple issue. Such is the downfall of parenting. I may not be able to be fired from my job, but sometimes I think I should be all the same.

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