The Hardest Job You Will Ever Love

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.


8 thoughts on “The Hardest Job You Will Ever Love

  1. Well, not having observed your child, I would say this: Three is hell. I don’t know why people talk about the Terrible Twos when three is right around the corner. Three is a very tough developmental age. A lot is going on, but, keep in mind, this is the age when little ones begin copying other kids. If your son sees behaviors like this at his daycare provider, then he may copy it. Also, tantrums peak at this age. Also, time outs as a method of discipline is usually not effective until children understand cause and effect, and this is not until they are 3.5 years old at the earliest.

    You and your wife love your son, and I’m sure that you are not screwing him up. The first child is like the guinea pig precisely because they are the first one. When I had my fourth, I had a ton figured out thanks to my first, second, and third, and i have apologized to my first for making a plethora of mistakes. The others are the benefit of those mistakes.

    My husband could probably relate to you on what you said about marriage and the bond between your wife and your son. From a woman’s perspective, it is very, very hard to be a wife and mother particularly in the first year. There is a ton of oxytocin pumping through our systems ensuring that we bond to our babies. We are exhausted with the hormonal dumps, the changes, and we feel fat and terribly undesirable. It’s our job to bond with our infants, and if we breastfeed? Oh Lord, we are so sore, and we smell like milk. Sex doesn’t feel good for a long while “down there” if there was a vaginal birth. If there was a c-section, then, goodness, the recovery time takes forever. We’re not sleeping, and we are hardwired to love those babies! It’s how nature ensures that the babes thrive. The best thing a husband can do is offer massages–something I so wish my husband would have done for me but never did. Do some laundry. Make some dinner. Do what any girlfriend would do. Actually BE my partner. The likelihood that sex will happen will go up if this happens because feeling wanted is imperative. Wanted as a woman and partner, not just an object…

    And, I don’t know if this will be helpful in the least since you’ve not commented on the last few comments I’ve left, but…all babies bond to people differently. My first daughter just wanted to be snuggled. She was perfectly content to sit in someone’s lap so my husband could carry her around or hold her while he worked at his desk, and she was happy as could be. He expected to be able to do the same with Daughter #2, but every time he held her, she would wail! Of course, I have the boobs so she was fine for me. What I figured out though was that she wanted to be held up and talked to with direct eye contact…as a one-week old baby! I had to direct him to hold her up to his face and talk sweetly to her. Once he did that, she stopped crying and lit up. That, and as soon as he came home, he strapped her on in the Baby Bjorn because she liked that, and that’s how they bonded. Each baby is so different. They have different personalities and requirements for bonding. Daughter #1 liked Naked Baby Time with naked baby massage so he could do that. Daughter #2 hated it! She hated being naked. Daughter #3 loved being naked and loved music and being rocked. Daughter #4 broke us. She screamed for two years solidly, but she has an autism spectrum disorder so that explains that.

    Also? Anxiety runs in families. Keep that in mind.

    YOu’ll get it all figured out. Try and relax. That will help.

    • We were warned that the three’s were where the real trouble would be, and it appears to be the case. He is constantly trying to manipulate situations by getting us to respond to his various pleas, hunrgy, tired, hurt, whatever. We have been keeping consistent with the overall strategy and hoping for the best. There was another dressing time tantrum this morning, but the rest of the day went better. We typically have to wake him up during the week, and we dont have these problems when he wakes on his own over a weekend, so tonight it was earlier to bed. We’ll see…

      I understand the bonding thing, but understanding it doesn’t make it suck any less. I am much closer to my Dad than my mother as an adult, and I suspect the pendulum will eventual swing back, the truth is I can see it starting to already, but the steady rejection begins to wear on you. I am sorry about the lack of responses to you comments, that is shitty of me I know. I so appreciate it when people take the time to comment. It has been a really tough month around here on a variety of fronts.

      • Don’t worry about it. I tend to leave these epic comments, and, in retrospect, I wonder if it grates. That’s the only reason I mentioned it. I know all about difficult months. It seems to be contagious. Hang in there…

  2. I agree with MJ about moms, babies and the difficulty Dad’s have bonding (and I think I may even out-write her!) My husband felt like an outsider too but that will change. Trust me! Boys bond very strongly with their dads and eventually mom takes a back seat to the relationship between father and son.

    I feel for you and the simple answer would be you and your wife are doing everything right. You are trying to get through a tough time in early childhood. Three year olds are the worst! They have better language skills and know what buttons to press to get you concerned or worried or upset or to give in. Masters of manipulation!

    I don’t mean to be cruel but I have worked in many daycare centers and the bottom line is your child is fighting to stay the center of you and your wife’s world when the reality is his ego centrism is diminishing and he realizes he will not get every need met at the very minute he wants it. But, he is giving it his best shot! This is developmentally normal and what he wants is to feel he has some power and control over his life. Give options. From things that don’t matter like, “Do you want your Cars shirt today or the dump truck shirt?” Ask him what game he wants to play with Daddy. At the dinner table can he choose where his chair is? Also, with some issues there aren’t options, that’s when counting to ten works miracles. “If you haven’t done what I asked (such as get out of your pj’s) on the count of ten, I will do it for you because you are showing me you can’t do it yourself.” Most preschoolers like nothing less than having their parents do it for them Everything should not be a power struggle but if son realizes you mean business on some issues and you won’t wait for him to stop the tantrum, the episodes will become less and less. I have matter-of-factly told my children and children in daycare, “Can you please go over there and cry because that’s hurting my ears.” You do not have to jump at every whine and protest. In fact, it will exacerbate it. It’s best to either ignore it or take charge.

    One other thing because I’m on a roll. There are some children who learn to throw out excuses as a way to deflect from the issue which is mentally difficult for them. Perhaps your son has learned when he says “ouch” whatever is going on changes dynamics. Maybe the conversation is over his head and he wants it to stop. I’ve observed many preschoolers at storytime tell me “I’m tired.” because they don’t want to sit and listen to the book because it is challenging for them. (I will offer my lap to help them focus). At meal time, children will say I feel sick when what they really mean is get me out of the chair, I want to go play. One boy was emotionally younger than the other children and would always complain “I’m hot” no matter what if he didn’t like what was going on. It seemed like it just came out of the blue with no rhyme or reason. As parents, you can try to judge what the underlining reason might be. A good way to diffuse a child’s overwhelming feelings is to name them. “You don’t want to stand in this long line in the store? You don’t want to be fussed over about clothing? You are tired of us talking about food at the table?” “Oh, you sound really angry right now. Is it because Daddy told you it’s dinner time?” I know you don’t like to eat but that is what we do every day. Is there something I can do to help you not feel so angry?”
    And if your child is well behaved at the child care providers than he is understanding what you are teaching him but he is testing the limits at home, where it’s safe. Consider yourself lucky! FINALLY, I will say four year olds are so much more agreeable!

    Daylily, who got long winded because early childhood is not only my passion but my college degree!

    • My Dad told be a couple months back that the fact that he is good for everybody else is a sign that we are doing it right. God I hope so. I have no doubt that he is using these made up problems, hungry, tired, potty, etc to change a situation. These are the things he can say to us that get the most immediate responses so he is trying to manipulate the situation by changing the dynamic. They are smart and observant little bugger for sure. Thank you so much for the thoughtful comment.

    • Well done, and thank you for writing this! I totally agree. I feel like we’re sitting at a round table discussion group. I think the one thing to be careful of is attributing deliberate manipulative skills to preschoolers as if they are adults. A three-year old child does not have the cognition to manipulate with the sophistication of an adult. Your three-year old is just coming out of separation-individuation and consolidating an enormous amount of developmental growth. This is a very challenging time for him. Daylily is right on about giving him options because that does honor the individuation process that he’s just worked so hard to achieve. In other words, pick your battles.

      I’ve known sensitive children who struggled with transitions from one part of their day to another and who also couldn’t process information quickly. They needed a picture schedule and a timer to give them a chance to understand when transitions were coming. The picture schedule let them see what their day was going to look like at the beginning of the day, and the timer gave them a chance to prepare for pending transitions (“When the timer goes off in five minutes it will be time to stop playing and get dressed.”) The Time Timer is the best timer for this kind of thing. Having a child set up a picture schedule helps because they feel empowered about their day: “I have to go to daycare, and I have to get up early. But I get to watch a show after dinner. I think I’ll watch _______.” These kinds of things bring children into their own experience of their day and give them a sense that it’s their life, too, which it is. No, they don’t pay the bills, but they can choose what show they will watch (given a an array of 3-5 for example to choose from), and they can choose which shirt to wear (as Daylily suggested) out of their wardrobe.

      The other issue is language development. I think Daylily referred to this. Sometimes language pragmatics are delayed when there is a cognitive leap so it’s very frustrating for children to communicate. Tantrums ensue because there is deep frustration. This is why pictures, picture schedules, and just plain old patience and non-reactivity is so helpful. And, Daylily’s suggestion of: “Honey, I’m right here to help you, but you go over there and cry. When you’re ready to tell me what you need, come back, okay?” And give him his blanket and stuffed animal or whatever he relies on for comfort so that he doesn’t think you’re taking your relationship from him or punishing him. He’s 3.

      The good news is that if he’s holding it together with strangers and non-parental figures, then he’s just a normal kid. But, everyone needs a soft place to land and process their day. I think that’s what he’s doing. Developing…and different parts of the brain come online at different times. Language, attachment, separation from the mother, renewed object permanency, identity development, intellectual development…all of this is going on with him. It’s not easy being 3…

      It’s not easy being the parent of a 3 year-old. ::shudder:: I’ve done it four times. It’s….HARD. You’re doing a good job.

      • MJ is right on with everything she says — having 4 children has given her a great perspective. Timers and picture schedules can be life saving.

        When my sensitive child was 3 and frequently misbehaved I learned a trick that pays off ten-fold. It also turns the table and forces us, as parents to become your child’s helper and advocate rather than just the disciplinarian and rule enforcer.

        The times when I got the most frustrated were also times when my anxiety was sky high. I had house work to do, meals to cook, another child to take care of, friends to call, a job that distracted me and the list goes on. I realized that some of my child’s behavior was directly related to my stress.

        I don’t recall where I read this technique but it works. Imagine that your young child’s social/emotional health is like a car’s gas tank. A three year old can navigate some of their world but much of the transitions and obligatory parent-stuff can cause their tank of emotional strength to dry up. Sometimes life can be so hectic children lose their way. This is when the child may suffer crying spell after crying spell and express things that aren’t necessarily the real problem, like “I’m tired” “I need to potty” etc. Here’s what I did. I got down on the floor with my son and looked him in the eyes. I talked to him, played his games, listened to his preschool chatter and laughed with him — all the while looking him directly in the eyes. The eye contact was me filling his emotional gas tank back up and my son’s mood improved because he had a renewed sense of feeling worthwhile and important.

        This time can be precious for both parent and child because you are forcing yourself to live in the moment and the emotional connection is good bonding on both sides of the relationship.

        Probably more advice than you wanted and not even addressing the big questions about your marriage and baby #2. But, I have a sense that if you could diffuse some of your 3 year old’s tantrums your house would feel more harmonious and the idea of another child would not feel so daunting!

  3. Hey C, I just came across this website when I was looking up information about Norovirus–

    I thought you might find it interesting. Hope you are well! –J.

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