Boys Don’t Cry. Except For All The Times They Do.
A mom needs help with her husband and his shaming of their sensitive toddler son for his recent and many crying bouts.
I am hoping you can help me. I have been a big fan of your blog since I was pregnant with my first child, now 2.5. My son has always been a clingy, needy child. He is mainly comforted by being held, usually at the most inconvenient moment “hold me mom! Hold me!” This summer we are in the midst of a shit-storm of chaos. He is 2.5, we now have an 8 month old with all of the jealousy and drama that goes with a new sibling, we have also moved out of our house for the summer due to some structural construction work on our house. Not surprisingly, he has had many more meltdowns in general, and specifically a very hard time going to sleep since we have moved to our temporary housing. He refuses to go to bed, pops out of bed again and again. We have resorted to one of us laying down with him until he falls asleep (which is much harder at naptime when I also have the baby to deal with).
The issue is my husband. Recently he just seems to have zero patience for the toddler drama– partly because we are all stressed and not getting enough sleep, and partly because his go-to method for dealing with stress and emotion is anger just in general. He is normally a very good dad, very hands-on and involved and previously surprised me with his patience, but no more. He gets frustrated with our son and yells at him which just makes the situation worse (could you go to sleep with someone yelling at you to just GO TO SLEEP?!) and he gets mad at me when I suggest to him that he is making the situation worse (I usually end up sending husband away and putting him to bed myself, but then I am trying to also juggle the nursing baby who frequently gets woken up by big brother’s crying about going to bed).
My husband also keeps telling him not to cry, that crying is not ok unless he gets hurt, and to be a “big boy.” While I concur that the (often loud, exaggerated) crying is terribly irritating, I really don’t like the message my husband is sending, that boys don’t cry and basically that emotions should be stuffed down (which is what my husband and his whole family do, incidentally)– and not that a 2.5 year old is even capable of controlling his emotions anyway.
I don’t know quite what to do, because I don’t really like it when he tries to tell me how to parent either, and I don’t necessarily have a good solution for how to deal with the tantrums either– I encourage my son to use his words, try to remain calm and soothe him, but it’s exhausting. It’s hard to know how much of the behavioral problems are from our move and how much is from just being 2.5, but it’s all very stressful and I’m feeling worn a little thin. Before we moved he usually went to bed without incident most nights, and asked to take a nap, now it’s very hard to get him settled– he often doesn’t fall asleep until 10 or 10:30pm by which time he is exhausted. Any ideas or resources on how to find a middle ground for parenting boys and helping them deal with their emotions and or adapting to change? I hope that all made sense.
Exhausted and Frustrated
Oh, but this letter hurts my heart.
Many of us have “been there,” after a new baby arrives (even without the whole “moving out of our house” thing). We’re tired and stressed and suddenly our firstborn looks HUUUUUGE and our exhausted brains can’t reconcile that this HUUUUUUGE-looking child did not actually grow up overnight and is not capable of the behavioral and emotional standards we’re suddenly trying to impose because OMG YOU’RE HUUUUUUGE STOP CRYING, GET YOUR OWN JUICE AND GO THE EFF TO SLEEP.
But your husband’s response is wrong. Terribly, horribly wrong and unbelievably unfair. 2.5 is not HUUUUUGE. 2.5 is not a “big boy.” 2.5 is not old enough to expect that a new sibling and household move WON’T completely rock his world and cause some (“some!” haaaaa) regressions.
And yet 2.5 is absolutely old enough to internalize chaos, parental inconsistency and impatience, and act out accordingly. I mean, that’s actually EXACTLY what toddlers are pretty much known for.
Your husband — a previously patient, hands-on dad — is suddenly yelling and scolding and shaming, and your son is letting you both know that it’s NOT OKAY. STOP IT. He’s not getting enough (or any) positive attention from Daddy, so he’s deliberately seeking negative attention, and the more your husband reacts negatively, the stronger the cycle becomes, and the more difficult it will be to reverse your son’s behavior. (Not to mention the growing friction/anger/resentment you’ll have for him, watching him lose his shit at your son and say asshole things to a toddler.) (NEWSFLASH: BOYS CRY. A LOT. EVEN BIG BOYS. WHICH YOUR TODDLER IS NOT EVEN ONE YET. My almost 9 year old still cries, dude. You’ve got a lot of tears and emotions ahead of you, so buckle up and get used to it.)
Here’s what I want you do:
1) You guys need to find a parenting class. Yes, you do. Yes, both of you, as you need to work on getting back on the same page approach-wise and presenting a fair, loving united front. Your husband needs a reality check regarding his expectations of your son’s emotional capabilities…and to realize the hypocritical unfairness of demanding total emotional control from a toddler while his own temper is clearly leaking out of his ears.
If you are (by any chance) in the Maryland/DC/NoVA area, I highly, highly recommend the classes offered through PEPparent.org. If not, they have a few similar options in other states on their FAQ page — otherwise, please call your pediatrician’s office and ask for a recommendation on courses/classes on parenting toddlers, toddler discipline, correcting toddler behavior, etc. There is most likely something similar being offered through your school district, early intervention program, or a local hospital or other non-profit.
There is no shame in attending a parenting class, by the way. This is not some kind of court-ordered “and here’s why we don’t feed Pepsi to babies” thing I’m talking about. These sorts of classes are incredibly helpful, and are designed for parents just like you: Good, well-meaning parents who are struggling with some specific aspect of raising young children, and who want to do better and above all — want to do better TOGETHER.
2) You need to attend said parenting class TOGETHER. Yes, I’m going to say the word “together” a lot. I could certainly rattle off a few book recommendations on parenting toddlers, but here’s the thing: You’ll probably end being the only one reading it, unless your husband recognizes that his behavior and parenting style is unacceptable and actually contributing to the problem. Which he probably doesn’t, and it certainly won’t help things if you were the one to point fingers and tell him that. A parenting class, on the other hand, puts you BOTH on the hook for recognizing your current shortcomings and requires both of you to say, “okay, this isn’t working, we don’t know how to fix this, let’s find a way to fix this, together.”
3) Said parenting class may require the hiring and use of a babysitter, or leaving the children with friends or family. Do it. Consider it an investment in your sanity and relationship. Call in favors with people who asked if you needed help when the baby was born, or they heard about your house upheaval. And then make it a date night. Go to dinner first, or a movie afterwards. You both clearly need a break. Like, in giant neon letters, your email is screaming WE NEED A BREAK.
Please please please do not feel guilty about TAKING A BREAK. Let someone else handle the bedtime chaos once in awhile — I promise your children will be fine, and likely your son will behave BETTER when there’s a neutral third party present, rather than two exhausted, stressed-out parents that he can pit against each other.