Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Not A Good Year

This past February, we decided we were moving.  We started packing up and getting ready to sell our house and move almost a thousand miles.

By May, Bug was clearly feeling fairly displaced.  The tantrums and screaming, the emotional dysregulation, which had been slowly fading away after The Year Of Three, started coming back.

By July, when we actually moved, he was throwing a screaming tantrum every time we walked in the door to our apartment (townhouse, whatever).  He talked about how he was 'anxious' about our old house and how he missed his old house and his friends.  I tried to help him work through the feelings, while emphasizing that this is our home now.   We went on lots of long walks, and ran around with the soccer ball, and went to every park in the area.  We fed ducks, rode on a trolley, petted horses, played with dogs.

He pushed his brother down the stairs.  He hit Tatoe and made him bleed.  He dislocated Tatoe's elbow.  He started grabbing things out of Tatoe's hands - not once, but once every ten minutes - and saying "But I wanted it!"

I waited it out.  We made some friends, had some scheduled activities, started preschool three days a week.  It got a little better.  He likes the preschool.

But.  But.  Tuesdays are a nightmare.  Thursdays are almost as bad.  Last week he screamed, whined, cried, and shrieked for four and half hours straight; it didn't stop for more than five minutes at a time.  Every time he hears the word 'no' or encounters any disappointment - and I mean "No, you may not grab that out of your brother's hands" or "We need to put shoes on so we can go to preschool" or "Three cheese sandwiches is, as I have told you three times, enough; what else would you like?" - he goes into a nuclear meltdown.  He hits. He kicks.  He refuses to listen to anything until everything he wants has been taken away from him.  Quiet time always inspires another nuclear meltdown; by then, Tatoe is napping, so he gets to throw a tantrum on the porch, or strapped into his carseat (only in appropriate weather, of course).  He's fine while Tatoe is asleep and it's just the two of us, but the moment little brother wakes up, it's back to the hitting and screaming and stealing.

I can't deal with it.  I stop caring why he's screaming and I just want him to stop. I grab him and pull him away from hurting his little brother. I'm usually in tears by naptime.  I don't have anything left.  I try to talk to him about what's wrong, or help him draw out some pictures, and he either can't or won't articulate anything to me.  It's fine when/if we get out the door (usually accompanied by an hour of wailing by both children; sometimes, however, not optional all the same), but as soon as we walk back in, wham.   I do fun things just with him.  Dr. S and I both give him all the attention we can.  But there are other needs - clean clothing, food, meals, another child - that I must also meet.

I'm trying to remove all the sources of conflict that I can.  But also, this week, I am calling up the therapists in town, and telling that I don't even want to be around my sweet child, my dearest firstborn, that most days I want to hurt him or send him away, because there is so much conflict and screaming and him hurting my other child, that since I cannot manage to parent my own child, I need them to work it out for me.  I feel like a failure as a parent.  I had one job, and I can't do it.


  1. Lisa C.1:20 AM

    heartbreaking and hard to imagine (being in the situation, making those calls). but you're not a failure as a parent. you are good parent because you recognize when you need to get professional help for your son. *sending virtual hugs*

  2. Jenn, PhD2:47 AM

    Ugh. I think you're doing the right thing asking for some professional assistance. You've obviously tried everything you can think of, but maybe they have some new suggestions, or maybe T will open up to them easier than he does with you since they are not personally involved. You are not a failure. You're a great mom. Good luck!

    1. He's amazingly more (lots of things) with people who aren't me. And thank you. I know we'll work it out, but in the meanwhile, I do want to start drinking by 9 AM most days.

  3. We had the same thing - as soon as the then baby started moving around and asserting herself, Freddie (then aged about 2.5) went nuts. I dealt with it by throwing money at the situation - having a nanny three days a week - and crying for most of the other 2 days a week. he grew out of it eventually - by the time he was about 4. although there' still ALOT of jealousy with his younger sister (and, strangely, nothing but love and adoration for his youngest sister ). It was horrible. I looked into child-behaviour experts, but was too lethargic (exhausted) to actually do anything about it. I read every book - nearly all of which told me to ignore it - but as you point out, it's impossible to ignore when it's NON-STOP and he's hurting someone. What I always really wanted was someone to come in, observe our dynamics, and tell me what I was doing wrong (there had to be something, right??) and show me how to fix it. looking back tho I don't think that anyone could do that. it does sound as if you're doing everything right - giving him alone time and one-on-one attention, being as patient as you can be (under the circumstances), being consistent with your discipline. I think that it's just hard for some kids, boys especially. they're full of anger and pent up energy, and can't use language or reason to deal with it - so it just comes spilling out. One thing that gave me a bit of respite was having a "simmer down cushion" - a big cushion I put in anotehr room, and whenever he went into meltdown, he had to sit on it until he was calm. I told him it was full of magic energy which would make him feel better. sometimes it worked, often not, but either way he was having his tantrum in another room and I could go and breathe (cry) somewhere else. He WILL grow out of it, and you WILL - I swear - forget just how dreadful it is at the moment. And remember - just because you cannot stand the sight or sound of him sometimes (even if it's most of the time) doesn't affect your love for him. I think most parent go through this, and get through it - so don't feel isolated.

    1. He does go simmer down in his room - I wonder where that big pink tuffet went? I think I ditched it in Cold State. Maybe a magical Mater The Tow Truck pillow. He won't even stay in his room for me - Supernanny tactics be damned - unless I lock him in. Seriously, I tried it for 45 minutes once (perhaps if Supernanny were watching my other child and doing my laundry I could have held out). If I had money, I would throw it; I am considering doing so anyways. I vividly remember once asking a friend when her kid grew out of being awful and she said "when he went to kindergarten all day".

      I have a hard time with where exactly to draw the line. Do I let him go out in pajamas and no shoes when it's 32 degrees? Where we lived before, it was actually too cold to step outdoors in winter without a coat, for about five months straight, but here, well, it would take longer to get frostbite (but it would still happen). (That was today's 2-hour meltdown, in case you were wondering.)

    2. Yes, do. Pack his coat and boots and say - ok, off we go. If nothing else I guarantee you will raise a smile from the other struggling parents. He's locked in a power play with you, to get your attention ( and he doesn't even know he's doing it). See if you can let go of some of the stuff he wants to fight about, and if it makes a difference. You are going to need a bootle of gin at the ready, however....

    3. Anonymous11:27 AM

      Our preschool teacher recommended taking this approach. She said she had to do it with her daughter, but only had to do it once!

  4. You love your child, and you are a great mom. Bug is just a sensitive little boy and the whole household has been under a lot of stress for the past year! I'm glad you'll be talking to professionals soon, I do think it will help.

    Consider seeing someone yourself. What you're describing sounds suspiciously like caregiver fatigue. (I've been looking it up for my dear MIL, who has been taking care of jerky FIL for years.)

    I was lucky with C1's non-stop tantrums and screaming fits. He'd only try to hit/kick/bite/head-butt me, and I could usually hold him in a manner where he couldn't hurt either one of us. C2 was still a rather small infant, so there wasn't a ton of conflict between the boys. C2 was generally sleeping through the screaming.

    Hang in there! Preschool 5 days/week is a good option, too. Bug does love his routine.

    1. I'm definitely fatigued of caregiving, that's for damn sure. Though, let me add, last time I discussed it with the spouse he said if I wouldn't yell at Bug (this after NINE STRAIGHT HOURS of me calmly managing the child's overflowing emotions and then at the end of the day, during the daily meltdown, yes, I did shout at him once) and I just about.. well, you can imagine.

    2. Yes, indeed I can imagine. I hope Dr. Scientist was humbly repentant about his comment. Definitely look up the caregiver fatigue, you might recognize yourself in the description. Perhaps if you sent Dr. Scientist a scholarly article on the subject he'd change his tune.

    3. Unfortunately he wasn't repentant at all. I looked it up, but it seems pretty indistinguishable from "I moved 900 miles and my kid is crazy and I'm tired and lonely."

  5. You are a good parent. A bad parent would not be trying to solve this. Just the fact that you are trying makes you a good parent. I wish I had some wonderful advice, but I think you're doing the best you (or anybody else) can do. I truly do. Just hang in there.

  6. amelie8:05 PM

    So sorry that you have to deal with the screaming and the hurting. It is awful in every way. I used ear plugs and stuck screaming kid in SAFE locked room with a book and a snack. And talked to multiple psychologists who recommended the above strategy. Seriously - self protection, protection of the younger and waiting for the kid to out grow it was the only way to survive.

    1. Last week, I did decide screw it, and took a chisel to our (rented) doorjamb, and now his door locks from the outside. (There's a screwdriver inside in case of emergencies, i.e. parents getting locked in, though let us not speak of that time a door lock failed and we had to saw off the doorknob with a hacksaw... fortunately no-one was inside at the time.)

  7. I'm sorry, this sounds awful - both the situation and feeling as if you were failing your child. I feel like I failed by firstborns, too, though in a very different way.
    Hang in there. I hope the therapists can help.

    1. I wish with everything I am that your girls were still with you and not wherever they are now, and that in four years, you could be tearing your hair out over their child antics instead of grieving that terrible loss. And thank you - Bug will be okay, eventually, and we'll get through it, I know.

  8. Anonymous9:01 PM

    Oh Jenny, I am so sorry. This sounds unbearable. I feel like I spend a lot of my day trying to keep my children apart, but it's probably about half an hour total and I'M IN THERAPY BECAUSE I CAN'T HANDLE IT. Also, may I say that your lovely husband IS PISSING ME OFF WITH HIS LACK OF SUPPORT, considering it's been his choices that have put y'all through all this sh*t lately. I mean, okay, collective decisions, but you know what I mean. I vote that you get every weekend entirely to yourself from now until the end of time.

    Sorry, you may not be so into random internet strangers being pissed at your husband, I just feel like you have sacrificed EVERYTHING of yourself and are getting nothing but grief.

    You're, of course, an AMAZING mother, and you're doing your job brilliantly, because if you were not, well, Bug would be chained to a radiator in a basement.

    I hope reaching out is successful--it can be really hard, but if find the right person, really helpful.

    1. (Also, thank you. If we had a basement, he would be chained in it.)

  9. I would totally go for getting every weekend to myself.

    The other side of the coin, of course, is that he's only applying for academic jobs in a four-hour radius of my family, because that's the priority we set collectively, but also because that's what *I* really wanted. They just all came up for Tatoe's birthday - so I am getting some of what I want. It's the uncertainty that's killing me (and Bug too for that matter). I could use a little more spousal *understanding* though, you're right. :)

    Turns out there are TWO COUNT THEM TWO child therapists within 45 minutes of here... and one is young and incompetent. Lord love the South.

  10. Anonymous1:07 PM

    Jenny, I know it's been a LONG while since I've commented on your blog. I was just thinking about you because I read an article about why young women with talent aren't choosing to go into the STEM field.

    You are just about the only one I know, besides myself, to have given up a scientific career for family. I'm sure there are others...but...anyway.

    While I can't say I know exactly what you are going through, I do, sort of. My middle daughter, now 10, to this day, still has tantrums about things, but they have been significantly reduced - instead of 4-5 a day for a few days in a row, now they are far and few between.

    She had gone to a pediatric neuospychologist for a battery of tests when she was 4.5. Her presenting feature was selective mutism and those frequent meltdowns at home (she was an angel at school but also didn't talk at school either). I wanted selective mutism confirmed and I wanted to know what was really going on with her emotional nature.

    She was a highly sensitive, extremely clinging and socially anxious child.

    I suspected giftedness, too, and that was confirmed, too. She had a mixture of diagnoses - selective mutism, sensory processing disorder, some attention drifts (basically some ADD), in the presence of "intellectual talent". She was developing asynchronously. And, the sensory issues and the social anxiety she faced wasn't helping anything.

    I was worried she was autistic...but that was before I knew much about the gifted in autistic behaviors. It would have been okay if she had. I used a lot of materials for autistic children and books about emotions (like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Day, and When Sophie is Angry) to help her understand her emotions and be able to articulate them, instead of throwing tantrums to get herself heard and her needs met.

    If you are interesting in seeing what that was like, I have a post made of it here:


    You can get some ideas from the links that are there.

    I'm going to guess that with you and your husband having your Ph.D.'s, you are raising some really smart and intense kids, who will probably be growing asynchronously. The social/emotional development in highly intelligent kids lag behind. Heck, even gifted adults STILL don't know what to do with their intensity.

    On my blog Raising Smart Girls I have a post about highly sensitive kids and how our children has had their various idiosyncracies that has made life challenging.


    I should probably update that because it turns out my youngest is highly sensitive too, in yet a different way.

    I think this might have to be a two-parter...

  11. Anonymous1:10 PM

    Part 2

    I hear you on the lack of husband support. It may not be your husband's fault, entirely. If he was raised in an invalidating and intolerant household, like my husband was, he may not have the understanding of what it really takes to get on the 'ground level' with kids and see the hurt child behind the behavior.

    Father's typically don't see what mothers do. They often think in simple terms and believe there are simple solutions for them. Not so when dealing with little human beings.

    When we can see the world through our children's eyes, we have a better chance of helping them through the difficult stuff. And, my daughter trusted me, more than anyone else in the world, to fall apart with. For a long time I walked alone. I struggled with her moods, my husbands irritation and anger (and layoffs and his increased drinking...which was a whole other problem in itself), and my own crumbling identity (from giving up my career in medical genetics for my family, which turned out to be a bigger loss than I ever thought it would be).

    For some children, the parents have to be the 'emotional regulators' for the children. It sounds like you've done your very best to help your son. Understandably, you are depleted. And you don't know what else to do.

    My daughter's meltdowns/tantrums have diminished though not completely. She's in a gifted program at school. She's maturing better than I ever could have hoped.

    I know that locking my daughter in her room was a recipe for disaster. The absolute worst punishment for her was to banish her to deal with her enormous feelings alone. She just didn't have a language to help her out. She didn't have the maturity to delay her wants.

    I've started to give her a magnesium powder supplement. It's a product called Calm.


    I am also very mindful of my oldest daughter. The one with the most calm personality. The two younger daughters emotional needs tend to overshadow hers, but I make it a point to take her out for 'dates' at the coffee shop with me. We read and make art together.

    Be on the lookout for not just caregiver fatigue, but also thyroid imbalances and perimenopause - it can start as early as like 35 or so (I know you are younger than me, but I don't remember how young). All of these things can contribute to depression. I take b-vitamins, fish oil, selenium (for my hashimoto's thyroiditis the drs won't treat right now), magneisum. I also take iron during my menses as I know I feel really tired because of it.

    I know between my family of origin issues, my marital issues and my children's needs, I'd gotten some PTSD symptoms. I decided to go a holistic route for that.


    (lots of these things help ANY kind of stresses and anxiety, not just PTSD)

  12. Anonymous11:23 AM

    Dealing with the same BS in our house. We have nightly parental discussions of coping strategies (ie how to not throttle our daughter AND how to get her to cooperate).

    It sucks. I'm sorry you're dealing with this. I hope you'll share the strategies you use (and I hope they work!).


Comments are moderated, so it may take a day or two to show up. Anonymous comments will be deleted.