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Boys Don't Cry. Except For All The Times They Do.

Boys Don’t Cry. Except For All The Times They Do.

By Amalah

Dear Amy,

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.

Amalah
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch

Amalah

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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Caroline
Guest
Caroline

I managed to deal with this kind of thing without a parenting class actually – though I concur totally with you that your husband is NOT helping at all, OF COURSE he’s only 2.5 and is actually still a baby himself in many ways. However… he has learnt that by having a tantrum, you just do whatever to get him calm, i.e. lie down with him, setting up a habit that, if left, will take years to break. The simple solution is to put him in bed, nicely, and with the normal consistent routine and simply flatly ignore any protests… Read more »

Carolyn
Guest

I don’t have any suggestions, per se, but I just wanted you to know that my son went through a similar stage so reading your post broke my heart. At about 18 months he developed a crippling stranger anxiety (best we can figure out, at least) and he’d just dissolve if anyone in public so much as looked at him. Going out in public was agony because he’d usually be a screaming terrified mess, which got hard for me to power through when I started having back problems while pregnant. My husband also responded with anger, and I think that… Read more »

K
Guest
K

Long shot, but has your husband recently begun any new medications? I ask because I could have written this letter about 9 months ago (though my husband was more impatient than angry). Then I googled “synthroid” and “irritability” and realized that it was a well-known side effect of the medication he had recently started. Having a medical reason for it somehow made him more willing to improve and things are better now. Also, baby started sleeping, became a fun playmate and has generally been accepted as a permanent part of the toddler’s world.

Rachel
Guest
Rachel

In almost the same situation, we made an appointment with a parenting coach. Almost like a one on one parenting class, but one that dealt with our specific issues on our schedule. It helped immensely on getting us (the parents) back on the same page and tuned up in terms of having reasonable expectations and coping strategies for our (then) preschooler + newborn combo. If you happen to be in the Bay Area, we saw Meg Zwieback:

http://www.bringingupkids.com/

June
Guest
June

We went through something similar when our second was born but the age gap was slightly bigger. My husband and I had the same roles as you two, him flipping out over the whinging and crying and me getting upset with my husband. It took awhile for me to realize that yes, my husband’s reaction was not okay and not helping but that I was going too far in the other direction and catering to his every whine which was just encouraging him to perpetuate the behavior. We found a middle ground with a lot of talking that happened when… Read more »

Kat
Guest
Kat

This is tough – big hugs to the LW. Sometimes my husband has a hard time remembering that our two year old is…well….two. We have definitely argued over whether whining/behavior is appropriate for a child (not just a boy, but a child of two) and what needs to be corrected. His family is the same way (no emotion ever, especially for boys), so I can see the effort my husband makes in switching that internal dialogue when he interacts with our son when he is upset. I guess all that to say, be patient with your husband. Take Amy’s advice,… Read more »

An Easy World
Guest

I went through something really similar when we had a new baby just as my son turned two. The tantrums were awful and the stress of having a challenging newborn made it so, so difficult to deal with in the right way. I know Amy shied away from offering book suggestions, but honestly, read How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk. It changed my parenting. Hell, at that point I’d say it changed my life! I talked each chapter through with my husband as I read, explained the techniques and modelled them, and he… Read more »

Isabel Kallman
Admin

Thanks for recommending the book, How to talk so kids will listen and listen so kids will talk. We did a book group discussion on it. Here it is: https://alphamom.com/parenting/how-to-talk-so-kids-will-listen-and-listen-so-kids-will-talk/

Mona
Guest
Mona

Wow, this sounds familiar. And much like similar situations I hear of at work, where several of us have like age children. We feel like daddy is too harsh about every behavior transgression / whining / chatter, etc. Daddy expectations often seem out of line with the age- I don’t know if it’s more with boys (which is what we have), but I almost feel like they have some deep seeded fear that if they don’t get the child behavior under control RIGHT NOW, they’ll end up raising bad people. Ugh, it’s really hard to walk this line and figure… Read more »

Kim
Guest
Kim

For me, attending parenting classes is like going to church.  I pretty much know what I’m going to hear, but hearing it over and over makes me a better person, and there’s always some little nugget that will resonate that day. It also helps to remember that we all fall back on patterns when we’re stressed – that the anger/emotion stuffing is the husband’s default mode.  Talking about that when you’re both calm and can bring more rational thought to the discussion Can be helpful.  For us, I had to point out that we are raising our kids under a… Read more »

Mary
Guest
Mary

My suggestion for bedtime is give dad the baby and you work with your toddler. Some parents have different strengths. My husband couldn’t deal with a newborn but our 2 year old (meltdowns and all!) are cake. You’re a team so play at your strengths and try to improve your weaknesses. Hope it all works out!!

S
Guest
S

I loved what a previous comment said about parenting class being like church. Hilarious and true! I think it was key seeing other parents and a teacher who had been there saying yup, I know, I’ve been there! We all lose it. I also have two kids, including one non-sleeper. Her dad and I both lose our shit sometimes. Like really lose it and say awful things in the middle of the night. Way more often than I’ll admit. Like you, I would just go and handle the situation myself when he loses his shit with a huff and annoyance… Read more »

Amelia
Guest
Amelia

If your husband is the type who responds to research and evidence, get your hands on a copy of a book called “Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child.” It clearly explains why and how a child can be allowed to have his own emotions (while still managing his behaviour.) If you want a preview, this blog post (not mine) sums up the approach nicely:
http://nathensmiraculousescape.wordpress.com/2012/03/01/emotion-coaching-vs-emotion-dismissing-parenting/

Amy
Guest
Amy

Amy is right about parenting classes and time away from the kids. Both as a couple and as an individual. If Dad isn’t getting some some non-work, non-kid time then I would suggest it. Mom too! Dinner with friends, work happy hour, golf, whatever. And I’ll second the suggestion to give dad the baby and get bedtime back to a predictable calm routine. If that means laying down with him for a week to get everyone rested then I’d do it. Then work on the problem. Some where I read about putting several pieces of tape on the floor and… Read more »

allistas
Guest
allistas

I think you’ve gotten some great suggestions above and hope that you can figure out the strategy that works for you and your family.   One other “tool” that I have used with my kiddos in the past (we just moved back into our house after a 3-month long renovation project as well!!) is to have a conversation with your 2.5 year old and tell him some of the things that you are feeling about the new baby and the move out of your house.  i.e. model healthy communication of emotions Saying things like, “I miss our old house and… Read more »

Myriam
Guest
Myriam

I second  the idea that you need a plan : a solid, detailed plan on how to handle tantrums and bedtime. Kids need a routine/structure. That’s very reassuring to them, especially when the environment is changing. Establish a routine, and don’t improvise until it is fully establish. Having a plan that your husband and yourself agreed to in advance will remove the “we don’t know what to do so we give in/lose our patience” out of the bedtime situation. Maybe get yourself a sleep training book. I really like the http://www.sleepyplanet.com approach, it is a 5-10-15 method that really works… Read more »

Karen
Guest
Karen

ok, so 2.5 yr old – check. new baby (3 weeks) – check. living in a temporary place while house is under construction – check. 2.5 yr old used to go to be “ok” but now is having horrible screaming fits every night and generally behaving like a 2.5 yr old – check. I was reading your letter wondering if I’d written it. I have nothing for you but empathy. In my case, it’s me who can barely handle the kid. Everyone needs a breather. The kid, dad, you… A time to recharge and remember what you love about each… Read more »

maree
Guest
maree

I feel for you I really, really do. Over the years our family has had some times of stress and I find that one of the kids acting up is usually the sign that things are waaaay out of hand stress wise. I agree that you need to talk with your hubby about your (and his) frustrations. At times like this hubby and I like to strip everything back and start with the basics. Are we eating good food? Getting some sunshine and exercise every day? Some time for ourselves (normally a cup of coffee when he gets home from… Read more »

slydegirll
Guest

I wonder if Dad is getting upset both at the toddler and you, mom? I say this because in my marriage, the parenting roles are reversed – I’m much more likely to be inpatient. And I have absolutely been known to tell my 3-year-old to calm himself down and be a big boy – its OK to get upset, certainly, but once you’ve shared how you feel, time to figure out how to calm yourself down. Yelling = not the right response, however, if my husband were giving in to the screaming fits and (in my mind) perpetuating the problem,… Read more »

Emily
Guest

All around good advice, however, I want to chime in from the perspective of someone for whom parenting classes were not an option both financially and because my husband would never in a million years agree to them. One thing that has helped my husband immensely is to be around other kids the same age as ours. My husband didn’t have a lot of interaction with other kids (I was the stay at home parent and the one arranging playdates and attending birthday parties). I started having more play dates over at our house (or inviting another family with same-age… Read more »

Arial
Guest
Arial

Let me start by saying I am not on your husband’s side here. But I also don’t think you’re giving your son credit to say that a 2.5 year old can’t control his emotions.  With my son (also 2.5) this is my mantra:  “It’s okay to be mad, but you can be mad without screaming at me.” or “It’s okay to cry, but you can cry without screaming at me.” etc.  Basically the message is: your feeling is okay, it’s okay to express that feeling, but you need to learn to express your feelings in a way that doesn’t hurt… Read more »

Shannon
Guest
Shannon

No husband advice, but we ended up dropping my daughter’s nap around 2.5y when she couldn’t fall asleep at night until 10pm. It was a transition & some days she still needed it but it made bedtime so much easier, earlier, & faster!

MR
Guest
MR

We went through something similar. My hubby was simply expecting too much from our toddler (she could speak REALLY well, but that didn’t make her more emotionally mature), and there weren’t any good parenting classes in our area, so I couldn’t make him go. My mom told me that she had similar issues with my Dad (so, hey, we ALL go through this!), and that she found she couldn’t make him read a parenting book, but she could leave a book open to a page in a place he would see it, and he would look at that page or… Read more »