By Contributing Mama Jordana Bales
Lately I’ve been feeling like a bit of a failure. I love my job and husband. I finally have my teeny New York apartment organized and clean. I manage to keep my fingernails (not to mention toenails!) chip-free. I’ve lost (most) of my (second) baby weight and am not having any major conflicts with any major players in my life. Breastfeeding is going smashingly well even with the arduous task of pumping 3-5 times daily in order to produce 18 ounces for baby Lila Drew.
Is it the unbelievable screaming fits set on by anything (I want milk, I want a cookie, I want Elmo, I want to take Lila’s socks off) or nothing at all? Is it the constant hitting, poking, scaring her baby sister? Is it the incessant testing of the boundaries? Is it the desire to lick cream cheese straight from the package? Is it the unbridled energy that can turn a well-organized room into a disaster area in mere minutes? Is it the insistence on calling me “Mama” (I go by Mommy) or worse yet, “Dee Dee” (no idea where THAT comes from)? Partially, but mainly it’s my own complete frustration and inability in dealing with it.
I’m a pragmatic gal. Always have been. Give me a problem and I’ll talk it through, analyze it (to death, some may say), work on it and poof – get a solution! Call me Ms. Fix-it. But I’ve been stymied at how to deal with my Miss Ava. I’ve tried many-a strategy, ignoring, bribing (oh sorry, “positive reinforcement”), punishment, time outs, rewarding good behavior and so on and so on.
Nothing seemed to make too much of a difference. And the worst thing is, I was starting to dread my time with her.
So, I decided I needed some professional help. I have a therapist, Karen, who I have seen for years. In the past 5 years, I’ve only seen her once every 6 months or so for a “mental health check up.” Since my life has been going fairly smoothly since my early 30s, it’s sort of my own superstitious way of making sure I never really NEED her – to have a standing appointment twice a year with her. Today I had one of those check-ups and I wound up spending the whole time talking about Ava and my frustrations with her. I led with my biggest fear, that I’m just a horrible mother.
Karen assured me that the fact that I was asking these questions and seeking advice (not to mention solace) guaranteed that I was not a bad mother. According to her, only a good mother would bother to worry about being a bad mother (phew!). And then she gave me some very practical advice on how to deal with Ava.
One) DO NOT NEGOTIATE. When I say no Ava repeats what she wants. I then repeat my well-reasoned, articulate and rational comments and Ava repeats her demands. This goes on until it escalates with her screaming, “I want a cookie” and me babbling like an idiot “I know you want a cookie but you can’t have a cookie.” So, from now on, I give a reason, say no and that’s it. Game over.
Two) When she does work herself up into these screaming, crying, crazy fits, I can try to calm her through gentle touches. Previously, Ava would get herself so worked up that she could not calm herself down. Plus, her shrieking screams sent me into such an emotional tailspin that I needed some calming myself. Even though I knew a calming touch would help her, I felt like caressing her in the midst of these fits was positively reinforcing them. Wrong! Karen explained to me that soothing her was showing her that she is loved and understood and since I still wasn’t giving in to her demands, I wasn’t reinforcing her tantrums.
I tried these techniques today and it completely changed the dynamic and curtailed several fits.
Prior to the success of my new techniques, I had been so afraid of these confrontations that I hadn’t been able to see my Ava for the beautiful, funny sweet, passionate girl that she is. I was so certain that this oppositional toddler was destined to give me trouble for the rest of her (and my) days. I actually said to Michael, “I just know she’s going to grow up to be a heroin addict or something” to which Michael replied, “She’s not even three, let’s not write her off just yet.”
I’m so glad I have her (not to mention my Mommy confidence) back.