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Dreading the holidays

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 

Warning... this will be very long. I've got big feelings around this which makes it hard to be brief.


My 3 y.o niece will be coming with my brother and sister in law for the holidays.  In general they are great parents and we all get along really well.  But when it comes to discipline we are different and it is causing a lot of stress. I need some support and suggestions on how to clear away my emotional reaction and find a way to address this. 


I tend to be a more indirect parent when it comes to discipline.  I try to avoid the behavior modification approaches.  I do have some things that I set firm boundaries around, so it isn't that I just let things go.  I give a lot of space to my DD1 (who is 4 1/2 ) to navigate her way on her own with my guidance.  She is a girl who knows what she wants and really needs to do things her own way.  When I have tried more traditional discipline approaches (time out, etc), life for us all gets horribly conflictual and stressful.  She responds best to playful parenting and having me come along side her, rather than confronting her directly.  My goal is to help her find ways to meet her needs while also respecting others.   My overall approach is to give my daughter a lot of room but to stay very close by to help guide and direct gently.


I have been in an extremely stressful marriage that has just ended immediately after the birth of DD2 this summer.  Because of their dad's issues, we avoided crying and tantrums early on because he can't tolerate crying, screaming, or any strong emotions.  So, we set up some bad patterns in the beginning by giving in to her, just to keep her quiet and happy.  And, on the other hand, he and I can be very quick tempered, so there has been yelling and less than respectful handling of her when we lost our tempers. 


Now that he is out of the house, I'm working with her on setting more boundaries and just letting there be tears.  I've been using Hand in Hand Parenting, and it feels like just the right fit for us.   I'm also calmer and under less stress (although life is still very stressful), so I'm handling things with more consistency, I think.


When DD1 is with her younger cousin (3 y.o.), she can get a bit enthusiastic.  She wants to do everything her cousin is doing, and have what her cousin has.  She loves to share and wants to be doing the exact same thing her cousin is doing.  The main conflict between the families has been around grabbing.


This was an issue when they were much younger, but I thought it has smoothed out.  But when we saw them over the summer it came up again.  


I don't play referee.  If the children grab something from the other one, I give it a few seconds to see if they work it out themselves.  Sometimes neither child complains and they just move smoothly on in their play.  In those cases, I do nothing.  But my brother thinks that this is teaching that grabbing is ok.


If there is conflict over the item, I move in closer, try to offer some words to help, and may remove the toy entirely.  They see this as not being proactive enough and, if the toy is removed entirely, punishing the child who had the toy and wasn't done with it yet.  I also try to use playful parenting.  So for instance, on this last trip, I had us come up with a really silly word to help us remember about asking for what we need instead of grabbing.  The idea was that we could say the silly word when someone needed reminding.  My hope was that it would lighten things up in a tense moment and not create a bad guy/good guy scene.  But we never had a chance to use it.  Partly because it just isn't their approach at all and their daughter just couldn't understand the concept (she is much more of a black and white kid, while mine is more flexible). 


I see children's play, at this age, as so fluid and I don't see a need to make a big deal out of someone being right and someone being wrong.  Personally, I feel like my brother and SIL hover too much and play referee.  They have expectations of their DD that have always been beyond her developmental level.  And they way they approach things, the children don't have any chance to figure it out themselves, or to just be fluid in their interactions, because an adult is always there directing and guiding.  And honestly, I feel like they hover so much that I don't have much chance to parent my own way because they always step in right away. 


But I can see the other side of it too.  Maybe if my daughter was the younger one I'd feel more protective of her.  And they feel that their daughter ends up acting out because she has to protect herself from my DD.  


There was an incident too where my DD was playing on the couch and her aunt sat down close to her.  She was frustrated but, instead of expressing it with words, started kicking.  I moved close, held her legs, told her she needed to use words to say what she wanted/needed, etc.  But they would have had a more swift punishment.  I am trying to guide her in the situation to find the correct response, not just take her away.  But maybe that isn't what is needed?  I don't know.  She is a physical child and has a hard time putting into words what she needs so she will act out physically like that. 


Then there was another incident when my DD tried to take the pillow her cousin had and her cousin kicked her so that DD's head hit hard on the coffee table.  My brother's response was basically that it was DD's fault because her cousin was so fed up with having to guard herself that she kicked DD.  My DD couldn't understand why her cousin did that.  She really doesn't understand her cousin's protection of her things.  My DD is extremely generous and wants to share all that she has.  She doesn't feel that need to protect what is hers.  So, I think she just doesn't get her cousin's viewpoint.  


So things just came to a head and my brother expressed just how frustrating it is for them that I'm not more direct in discipline.  And after the conversation I basically said, "ok when we are at your place, we will do it your way".  But I have a lot of frustration too.  I feel like they just don't understand what my values are and can't see that I really am giving a lot of thought to my approach.  I actually think I've thought through what I do much more completely then they have.  They are just going by the traditional approach.  


But there is more to it.  I just don't have the energy to parent like they do.  There are two of them.  They really do co-parent equally.  If one of them is having an off day, or needs a nap, they can take some time to themselves.  I have never had that option, even when married.  So, they have more energy for responding to every little detail.  


Plus, they both work full time.  That means they aren't with their DD all day.  When they are with her in the evenings and on the weekends, they are ready to engage fully with her.  I'm with my two DD 24/7 practically.  DD1 is in school 3 mornings a week but I still have the baby during that time.  I do have a mother's helper 2 afternoons a week, so I can get a nap and a walk by myself.  But I basically feel like our situations are so different.  I just can't be on all the time to the level that they are.  I'm not sure that I would want to be since it isn't my parenting philosophy.  


On top of this all, this last visit was when I broke the news that DH and I were splitting.  I had a new baby (she was only 2 months old at that visit), life as I knew it was falling apart, I'm in grief and in over load. I've had PPD.   Being at their house is nice because there are actually two other adults that I can rest on a bit.  So I'm possibly even less involved than I normally am simply because it is one place that I could actually step back just a bit from parenting 100%.  That doesn't mean I left everything to them, but I didn't feel like I had to have a constant eye on the children. I didn't feel that they left a lot of space for me anyway.  Not in a bad way, but simply because they are so engaged when they are with the girls.  I felt like I was in the backseat.


A large part of my philosophy comes from what I experienced and needed as a child.  There was the expectation that children just already would know what was right or how to do things in an appropriate way.  I felt so disconnected and like the black sheep.  No one looked for the motives of my acting out, which was really a cry for help.  They only addressed the actions, not the root of them.  I am fiercely determined to not do that with my daughter.  But maybe I go too far in the other direction?


I want my daughter to be liked.  Her cousin doesn't like for her to come and play at her house.  I don't know what to do for the holidays.  They will be here for 4 days.  Part of me just wants to pack up and move away.


Normally we are a very loving family.  I'm close with my brother and we both hate conflict.  He is a really great dad, too (just has a different approach). And he wasn't mean about it when we talked, just frustrated.  My poor mom feels really stressed because Christmas is a big deal for her and she wants everyone to get along together.  But she thinks I'm being too overprotective and that they have a point.  Basically, my whole family seems to think I'm too soft.  I'm feeling angry and hurt and misunderstood.  


Partly I just need to talk about it. And partly, I need some help getting past my emotional reaction and figuring out what to do about this so the holidays aren't just a big stress-fest. 


If you've made it all the way to this end... thanks for listening!

post #2 of 10

I made it all the way to the end, and I'm sorry you feel so stressed about the holiday visit. I don't really have any practical advice, but I couldn't read without responding. Are the four days they're visiting going to be really intensive activity-packed days? Maybe you can build in some down time for yourself and your kids while they're there?

post #3 of 10

I can hear the stress and frustration in your post!


I don't have much in the way of practical advice to offer, I'm sorry, but couldn't read without posting to say that I hear you and totally get what you are saying.  I think that you hit the nail on the head when you said that families that have two adults coparenting and who have parents who are not home 24/7 are not aware of what a a different experience it is for a parent who is doing the whole thing solo (I'm a member of the former group and I can't even imagine). 


I guess my only thought might be to be as honest as possible with your brother. From how you wrote about him, he sounds like a good man, who loves you and your DDs a lot.  Tell him that you are trying, doing the best you can, that you are tired, and also maybe stylistically a bit different :)  and then meet him in the middle.  I'm fairly mainstream compared to most MDC people, but also fairly non-mainstream in terms of parenting styles (very playful parenting/consentual parenting etc) compared to mainstream parents, too.  Since you are not going to be with the cousin every day, I honestly don't think you'll be undoing anything or sacrificing any of the good parenting work you've done to use some language that would make your brother and his family feel comfortable.  Like if your DD want takes something her cousin is using, I thinks its completely in line with playful parenting as I read the book to run over to your DD and swoop HER up into the air yelling, "OK, if we're allowed to TAKE the things we want without asking for a turn, then I'm taking YOU!" while handing the toy back to the cousin and playing with DD to distract her for a few minutes or something.  I don't think playful parenting has to mean permissive parenting, which may be where  your brother is getting confused, ykwim?  Just some thoughts.


Maybe look at the 4 days in shorter increments and try to get out of the house for part of each day, build in activities that will be engaging so there are fewer long blocks of time where little kids can get overtired and rub on each other's nerves.  Get outside as often as possible, even just for 10 minutes, even in the cold... I shamelessly use a few minutes of TV time during witching hour when all the kids are at each other's throats :)


Oh, and I hate to say it, but I personally agree that taking away a toy that someone was using, just because someone else wants it too isn't really fair to the first kid who was using it nicely... but there is probably lots of creative ways to figure that one out... I used to have the 2nd kid "say the ABC's with me" a few times until it was her turn... see if we could find another toy that they could use to "play with them together" (like another doll that could both do something together) etc. 


Hope you have a good thanksgiving!

post #4 of 10

I'm trying to find the nicest way to say this because I can hear that you are stressed and I don't want to kick you when you're down.  Your daughter is old enough to know not to snatch and grab.  She's old enough not to kick someone who sits too close.  I know it's easier to "let them work it out" but when your child is always on the losing end of that, it feels very differently.  I would say either get in there first and make her give things back (in our family gatherings, my siblings are LAZY because their kids are dominant and physical and generally come out on top of everything.  I REALLY have to work to keep their kids from eating mine alive.  If they don't like how I do things, they need to get up off their behinds and do some parenting) or resign yourself to letting your brother do it.  If he's fair, then that might be your best option.


In all honestly, it's the parents whose kids are always on the instigating end who want to use this "let the kids work it out" method.  It feels VERY different from the other side.

post #5 of 10

You are both at different places in your lives. Sinlge vs couple parenting. 2 kids vs 1 kid. Give yourself a break for not being on top of everything your 4 year old is doing when you have a 2 month old. No one is on top of everything with a 2 month old! Your brother and sister in law do not and will not get that becuase they just are not there yet.  I would also try to get outside everyday if you can and let the 3 and 4 year old burn off some engery during the visit. Also if things look like they are about spin out of control, switch gears completely, "lets go outside and play now!" It would be great if your brother could take teh 3 outside so you could nap with the baby!


As far as the grabbing, what I do for that is if you grab you give it back and if you don't give it back I take it from you and give it back. There will be tears, but they will get over it. it will take a 2 year old 1000 times of this to figure it out as their impluse controll is really low, but your 41/2 year old will catch on pretty quickly and stop grabbing. I wouldn't bother with the say a silly word thing. That is just way to complicated for a three year old. It is hard enough to rmembe rnot to grab when the inpulse strikes, but now to remember this word, and what you are suppose to do when you hear the word, it is just too much. 

post #6 of 10

I agree with the poster above me.  When someone grabs, they have to give the item back and we talk about taking turns.  If it's a special item (lovey, new toy) then there's no sharing but our family rule is we don't take special things with us when we visit.  We only take things we are willing to share.  They catch on really quickly if you just enforce it every time. 

post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 

I should clarify, that it isn't just my daughter grabbing.  Her cousin does it too, perhaps more.  My daughter doesn't grab that often.  Often she is very good about asking for what she wants.  She is also very wonderful about sharing and often just isn't bothered if another child takes something.  In other play situations, it just isn't an issue at all.  Mostly because it just doesn't happen, but also her friends are all parented in a similar way too.  


I respond the same way if it is my daughter or someone else.  So, it isn't that I have a double standard.  I just take a much more playful and gentle approach.  Often simple observation.... "I see that she was playing with that and she isn't done yet".  But I don't grab the toy away to give it back.  I stay with the child and talk them through giving it back themselves.  I want to see my daughter give it back herself rather than me do it for her.  Once she gives it back, its over, I don't do added punishment.  And if it becomes an all out grab-fest between the two kids, I might just take the item away at that point for a few minutes.  


It isn't just the grabbing, though.  It is also how my daughter will run to get in her cousin's chair if her cousin gets out of it or runs to do exactly the thing that her cousin was doing the second she leaves it.  I think her cousin just feels like she doesn't have a lot of space from my DD.  They are very different kinds of children.


I think that the thing that is hardest for me is just feeling so overwhelmed.  I'm emerging from 11 years of an emotionally abusive relationship.  My husband told me he was leaving when our baby was just a week old.  Then, later, I discovered he is pursuing another woman.  Things have been very challenging.  In the midst of it all, I'm trying really hard to help my daughter heal from the damage of the past 4 years being the child of a dad with a neurological disorder and a mother who is incredibly stressed.  It's just tough.  I guess I just feel like I don't need one more thing on top of me telling me how messed up my family is.  YKWIM?  


Maybe if he came at it from a different direction, like "gosh sis, I know that life is really tough for you at the moment.  I'm noticing this pattern with our girls.  I'm wondering if we could figure a solution out together?"  I know that it is too much to ask.  Everyone is doing the best they can.  But I really don't think I'm that bad of a mom.

Edited by MamaRuga - 11/21/12 at 4:17pm
post #8 of 10

I think you've really thought out the situation well from everyone's standpoint.  I'm sorry you're under so much pressure...I've often felt that when I think about my own and my kids' needs when being with other people and kids.  It really is harder when the other kids are younger...the parents do tend to hover more and be more protective and to some degree judgmental, because they expect a lot more from your kid, being the older one.  Kids grab things out of each others hands even when older...they just become better at the verbal communication.  And there's not always right/wrong.  There's a lot of give and take to figure out social graces and expectations.  That's normal, and you're absolutely ok with not following your dd around.  I'm sure by the time their dd is 4.5, they'll be the same way...  Just realize that your dd's are at different ages of development and maybe bring that up to the parents...Just tell them exactly what your parenting philosophy is, that you feel like kids need a chance to figure things out for themselves.  I like to say as long as there's no blood, parents don't need to jump in and fix everything.  Also, your dd may not realize that her cousin is younger ... I know my son doesn't always think about that, and gets more frustrated with someone who seems close to him in age, but is way nicer to the obviously younger baby and lets her grab anything out of his hand.  So, I tell him that "so-so" is younger than him, and is sensitive, and here are the things that make her cry/upset (and her mom too :).

post #9 of 10
Originally Posted by MamaRuga View Post


I think that the thing that is hardest for me is just feeling so overwhelmed.  I'm emerging from 11 years of an emotionally abusive relationship.  My husband told me he was leaving when our baby was just a week old.  Then, later, I discovered he is pursuing another woman.  Things have been very challenging.  In the midst of it all, I'm trying really hard to help my daughter heal from the damage of the past 4 years being the child of a dad with a neurological disorder and a mother who is incredibly stressed.  It's just tough.  I guess I just feel like I don't need one more thing on top of me telling me how messed up my family is.  YKWIM?  


Maybe if he came at it from a different direction, like "gosh sis, I know that life is really tough for you at the moment.  I'm noticing this pattern with our girls.  I'm wondering if we could figure a solution out together?"  I know that it is too much to ask.  Everyone is doing the best they can.  But I really don't think I'm that bad of a mom.

Men can be amazingly dense ... why don't you have a one on one talk with him or your sis in law, and explain it like you are here....?  

post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by lmk1 View Post

Men can be amazingly dense ... why don't you have a one on one talk with him or your sis in law, and explain it like you are here....?  


I think that is what I need to do.  I just found out that my brother is coming in for Thanksgiving tomorrow, just by himself.  My grandmother lives next to me and her health isn't so great.  He wants to see her in case she doesn't make it to Christmas.  So, I would have a chance tomorrow.  


The thing is, I'm just not exactly clear on what to say.  My feelings are so raw that I'm afraid I won't be able to be really clear.   I guess I need to get clear on what outcome I want.  Mostly, I am wanting understanding that my parenting/family situation is a lot different then theirs.  I also want respect for my choices as a parent.  I know I do make mistakes, but I also think there are things that I do well.  Ant he main things is that I am really STRIVING to be the best I can be.  I'm not a lazy mom who just lets her daughter do whatever she wants.  I am VERY thoughtful about my approach.  We may not see eye to eye on everything, but I want them to see the positives in my choices.  For instance, my daughter LOVES to share.  Their daughter doesn't.  I attribute that partly to how I've approached things from a different direction.  But I don't want to get into a back in forth about who is right and who is wrong.  I respect them as parents, I don't think they are wrong, just different.  I want the same respect and understanding. 

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