They say parenting is the hardest job you will ever love. Well they were at least half right in that it’s the hardest job I have ever had, but I have to admit there are days when I wonder how much I actually “love” it. This is not to say I don’t love my son because I do, more than I ever thought I would be able to, which is what makes the parenting process so damn painful. My son has been luke warm on me from the beginning. When he was an infant we could sit on the couch and when his mother handed him to me he would cry. When I handed him back he would stop. She could pass him to a friend or grandparent and he wouldn’t cry, back to me and the crying would start up. He was left alone with me about three nights a week for about an hour during his first couple months. The entire time we are alone together he would scream. He was completely inconsolable and would cry until he fell asleep every single night. It was, and remains, painful to be so fully invested in something and get so little back. I am aware of how selfish that sounds, but I see the relationship he has with his mother and wonder why I cant have just a piece of that. What did I do?
I think parenthood brings some other unpleasant surprises to most fathers. We are prepared in a way for these changes by the other men in our lives as they joke about the lack of sleep, lack of sex, and lack of attention from their wives. I think on an intellectual level most men are aware there are going to be changes, but the extent of these changes still comes as a shock to many of us. I always operated under the belief that even after the arrival of children it is imperative that the health of the marriage remains the most important thing. Children do best when raised by two loving parent’s and if the marriage relationship is tended the children will receive what they need to grow and thrive. It is important to find a balance here, but there is a tendency to make the child the center of everything, and I think this is a dangerous path to travel down, particularly if the mother is having her intimacy needs fulfilled by motherhood along.
My wife and I have struggled with this balance since the arrival of our son. As I already mentioned I have had a difficult time with the actual father son relationship. It has gotten better as he has grown, but it is a long way from what I was expecting fatherhood to be like. Combine that with my wife focusing the majority of herself on the child and I was left on the outside looking in not feeling completely a part of the parenting process or the marriage. It was well over a year before my bride began to remember that she was a wife and a mother not just a mother. This was a very difficult year for me. It is not something I want to revisit, but the first suggestions of a second child popped up when our first was about six months old.
For two years I was adamantly opposed to the idea of a second child. Much of what I have written here had not been said out loud in my marriage until recently, but it all seemed so obvious to me that I couldn’t understand why anybody close to the situation would wonder why I had no interest in doing it again. My wife and I had always had mismatched libidos which caused a great deal of tension before we even had our son, but after he was born it became I huge problem, at least for me, in our marriage. The most frustrating part of this was my wife seeming to have no interest in trying to fix it. She acknowledged the problem and recognized its severity, but just didn’t know what to do about it. Combine that with feeling disconnected from the family and basically felt like I existed for little more than a second pay check. I was not living a life I wanted to double down on.
My son was three this past August and things in my marriage have improved as he has grown. The libido discrepancy is still there, but there has been effort put into bridging the gap. I would obviously like to see a more active approach to this problem, but we have come a long way in the last year or so. Also as the boy has gotten older I have begun to consider the ramifications of him being and only child. I am an only child so I am staring straight at what his reality will be in another 30 – 35 years. Last week my wife and I had a serious conversation about having another. My concern about the health of the marriage and its priority in a house with children was brought up. She agreed with the philosophy and wondered aloud if she hadn’t done that wrong to this point. The conversation has stalled in a place where neither of us is sure if we really want to do it again. I will be thirty six in two months she just turned 35. If we are going to do it again now is the time. I would like to have a second one born before I turn 37, which gives us about four months to conceive.
Aside from my worries about our relationship I think we are both questioning our ability to parent well a second time around. We went into parenthood with a philosophy and have used that to guide our decision making from the beginning. We have a child that is well behaved in public, he is polite, and respectful, but we have run into a massive roadblock the past several months. He is still well behaved for the day care provider and his grandparents, but he has turned into a monster when he is around us. Whenever he doesn’t get his way he breaks down into these horrific tantrums. He will stand in place with his body rigid screaming “ NO!NO!NO!NO!” and forcing himself to cry to the point you wonder if he is going to make himself sick. The crying produces tears, snot, and drool, but it doesn’t appear real. He gets himself worked into a frenzy such that you can’t do anything with him. Every action leads to an intensification of the tantrum. When I say every action I mean it doesn’t matter if you offer him a hug or put him in the timeout chair, no matter what you do it makes it worse, and if you do nothing it will go on as much as 20 minutes. He does this every time he doesn’t get his way, and given that he is three he doesn’t get his way all that often. In a typical workday we will have him at home awake for about four hours and it would not be unusual for this to happen three or four times in that timeframe. Everyday. This morning he was triggered within minutes of waking up simply by being told it was time to get dressed.
He has also taken to saying “Ouch”, “’I’m tired”, “I need the potty”, or “I’m Hungry” to get out of doing things he doesn’t want to do, which lately has been eating. They say kids will eat when they are hungry and we have applied that logic in the past, but he will now skip consecutive meals. This morning he eventually ate his breakfast, but it almost didn’t happen just because we were running out of time, and he hadn’t eaten anything since lunch the day before. He had to be hungry. He also incorporates these words into his tantrums. “Ouch” is the most common word he uses and when you ask him what hurts he points to random place on his body, but never the same place. These behaviors have been happening for about two months now. We have all been sick this past week, but if he is still acting this way at the end of the week, I am planning to take him to the pediatrician to be sure this is a behavioral problem and there isn’t actually something wrong.
The last couple months has shaken our confidence in our parenting philosophy. I believe we have sound ideas that would work for most children, but what if it isn’t working for him? It has to this point, but are we screwing him up? In all likelihood we are not, but when week after week goes by and it isn’t getting better you begin to second guess. Parenthood has taught me that “this too shall pass” are words to live by, but the length of this struggle is making me wonder.
We are grappling with a life changing decision with a ticking clock in the background during a time when I have more stress in my life than I can ever remember. We don’t plan to talk about it again until everybody is feeling better, which probably means next weekend. Neither of us are confident in our ability to actually parent effectively nor are we secure about the impact of a second child on our marriage. Is this evidence that we shouldn’t do it? Or do these questions simply reveal a thoughtful approach to such a big decision? I am not sure there is a way to know.