Friday, March 18, 2011

The Blame Game

It quite apparent from recent posts that we're having a lot of trouble with Jacob. We love him to pieces, but boy...it's not easy some days to look past the trouble and see that sweet baby we brought home. Sometimes it literally feels like he's a different child. I can barely remember what it was like to have a little baby. The problems were no less difficult then, just different. One of the biggest differences is that there was very little you could blame on the baby. Sure, the baby might drive you nuts with crying or blowouts or insomnia, but inherently you knew that it wasn't the baby's fault. All of that was instinct for them, and in most cases in the end it was easy enough to a) blame no one; or b) blame yourself. Either it was something that couldn't be helped, or it was some questionable judgment on your part that led to the current predicament.

But as your child gets older, it gets easier to blame them for the things that they do wrong. Over time you expect that they should know better, though that may or may not really be the case. But you know that they have free will and they exercise it often, so it doesn't seem that big of a stretch that they might be to blame for whatever they just did. And for the little stuff, it seems pretty straightforward. But in our case, where the bad behavior has become chronic and troublesome, some of that guilt has come slithering back in our direction. How on earth did we let this happen?

I know that may not be fair to us, because we've always done our best and there's only so much under our control. Like it or not, things get in the way of perfect parenting--exhaustion, schedules, wanting to keep the peace, and, oh yeah...the nine-plus hours a day that he's at daycare. Just writing that makes it seem so cruel. Even older kids in school are only gone for seven hours. And we expect our two year old to deal with nine? Yikes. Still, he has been doing it all his life. He's never known any differently, beyond the fact that he gets us all day on weekends. Maybe it's simply too much to ask of him to spend all that time away from us. Maybe it's okay for some kids but not for ours...maybe he's just programmed differently and he needs his time with us. And oh, how I wish I could provide that. No matter how I do the math, one of us staying home just isn't feasible. Maybe someday with one of us making a few thousand more and another $10,000+ worth of daycare on the agenda, but right now it would be a huge decrease in income that even numerous lifestyle tweaks wouldn't counteract. But for now, regardless of whether or not this is the problem, we're going to have to make do.

It's hard to tell if Jacob is the problem, or if he's being sucked into the problem. When his teachers wrote us the note about the sticker chart, it was phrased in a way that made it seem like Jacob was the only one who was getting it. But then I saw the board with everyone's names on it and the other day a note went home explaining how the chart was going to work. The note made it seem like there are problems with many kids in the class, though the issues they mentioned are all things that I know Jacob is struggling with. Maybe they were just being nice, or maybe he is really one of many. There have been things from time to time that we're pretty sure he's learned from other kids (and often he'll tell us who by name--though I suppose we need to take it with a grain of salt because what kid doesn't want to pass blame?), and that's extra frustrating as a parent, because you know it's not your fault and there's nothing you could have done to prevent it. And good luck telling your kid that something he and a friend thought was funny actually isn't. But as a parent, what do you do? Tell the teacher? You don't know for sure and unless it's really serious it might come off as petty, but if someone else's kid is teaching your kid something bad, it's a tough call. For all of the hockey and lacrosse fights Jacob's seen, I still feel like the seed was planted at daycare because apparently one of his friends was a big wrestling fan, and that seemed to coincide with Jacob's desire to fight us. The sports might have added on and validated it a bit in his mind, but I have my suspicions.

Still, I wonder if our choice to spank from time to time was a problem. I never thought I'd second-guess that, but it really does seem to make him more violent. I thought timeouts were crap, but now I get it. They should be less about punishment and more about getting the child out of the inflammatory situation and giving them a chance to cool off. It does do that for Jacob most of the time, but it's not always the most convenient when we're out and about. We're trying. If we had figured out something else from the beginning, would he be as violent as he is now? Are we not consistent enough? Were we too strict? Not strict enough? You can question yourself forever.

I'm not sure if the sticker chart or withholding hockey sticks is going to be the cure to all our problems, but they're a good starting point. He got four stickers today (missing all but "Listening"), but did come home without socks. He took them off at some point and hid them. Awesome. Still, I did give him one of his hockey sticks back. He was very excited and had a good evening. On good days he'll get a hockey stick, on bad days he'll lose a hockey stick, and if the bad days start to outnumber the good, they'll all go away again.

Part of me wonders if we should try working on a big boy thing to encourage him and/or distract him. I don't know if I'm ready for hardcore potty training yet, but I do wonder if we should try the big boy bed. He might take such pride in his accomplishment that he won't bother to be difficult. For example, the other day he got in his carseat really nicely. I got genuinely excited, because it's always been a problem. He gets distracted, tries to jump into the front seat, roll over to the far side of the backseat, or stand up to look out the back window or play with the top latch of his car seat. But he did it so nicely the one day, and after I made a big deal and he was all proud, it's been a regular occurrence ever since. That's not to say that I haven't tried to do that before, but perhaps he's getting to the point where he gets it. And that's also not to say the novelty won't wear off, but it's something. He was good at dinner tonight (he didn't eat a ton, but he ate it nicely), and I made sure to thank him. We'll see if it sinks in. And maybe now that he got a hockey stick back, he'll make that connection. I'm not holding my breath, but I can hope. But knowing how difficult and impulsive he can be, it's a huge risk. I guess we can always threaten to put his crib back together and hope that helps, but it's a tad nervewracking as people always say, "Keep them in a crib as long as you can!" But maybe it's time for him to grow up a bit and maybe he'll respond positively. Maybe we just need to have higher expectations and encourage him to live up to them. I'm sure we'll have some tough moments, but it's not too often we get a weekend without any plans to try things out. And knowing potty training should be just around the corner, we need to get this in sometime. It's such a tough call. Chances are I'll chicken out again, but I need to keep it in the forefront of my mind because it needs to happen...soon.

At this point, I'll give anything a try.

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