I'd love some feedback and suggestions, if anyone has any.
My ds (5 years old) and I are going through a stressful transition (divorce), so I'm very clear that some conflict will be likely because of it. However, lately ds is really inclined to pull the kind of "oh yeah, well then I will/won't do xyz" and it's often some kind of threat of destruction/refusal to cooperate. I've been having trouble lately with feeling really frustrated about repeating myself multiple times, politely, when something is going on that I need to have happen differently. As an example, toothbrushing. Ds brushes in the a.m., I brush for him at night. When I brush his teeth, there are some nights when he repeatedly bites down on the toothbrush really hard so that I can't brush. I've explained that it ruins the bristles, and that I can't brush when he's biting. Also, by the end of the day, I'm really ready to get through our bedtime routine. So after repeatedly asking him to stop biting the brush, I have said to him that I don't like repeating myself and feeling unheard, so I'm not going to ask for something more than three times, and then I'm done. As was the case tonight, I asked three times and he was still biting the brush, so I said, "Ok, I'm done, now you can brush your teeth." At which point I start to hear stuff like, "Well I won't do it and you can't make me," and, "If you won't brush my teeth then I'll use my magic to xyz..." True enough I can't make him. I reply as neutrally as possible that it's time for bed and teeth need to be brushed so the sugar germs don't make his teeth sick, etc.
A similar example that I'm still feeling conflicted about; we were at a children's play, and I had repeatedly asked him to stop several behaviors that were not completely unruly, but disruptive, and he wouldn't, so finally I just said that since he wasn't able to listen, it was time for us to go. Cue massive fit. I spoke to him calmly about how I had repeated my requests multiple times, and he was not able to listen, so we were leaving. I had to carry him out with him kicking and sort of hitting at me and breaking my necklace (this kid never threw fits as a toddler, though around three he sometimes got really angry). This choice of mine was met with more "you can't make me..." and "oh yeah, well, then I'll do this..." kind of stuff.
I'm deeply concerned about handling this well for his benefit. His father is encouraging a lot of the revenge sort of scenarios and has been disruptive and inappropriate about divorce details/me (x blames me for everything from the fall of Rome to the recession, basically, and is given to substance abuse and dishonesty, among other things) in front of ds. I'm feeling like I need to be really clear about limits, but I want to also be compassionate and clear, not arbitrary. I think it's important for ds to feel some empowerment through this process, but at the same time, I don't think I'm doing him any favors if I become totally passive and without boundaries, which is what I suspect is mostly going on when he is with his father--or everything is turned into a joke or a game, which can be useful in some circumstances, I think, but I also think there have to be some clear boundaries--maybe my thinking on that is off.
Like I said, any suggestions would be welcome. I've read pretty much the whole a.p. pantheon, and I just pulled out my copies of How to Listen... and Parent Effectiveness Training. I'm thinking I'd like to get my hands on Playful Parenting, it's basically the only one I haven't read.
I'm sorry that you have so much going on right now. I think you're right that there is going to be more conflict and upheaval at the moment for all of you.
As for the toothbrushing issue, could you do something along the lines of brushing his teeth earlier in the evening (after he's eaten, but not at bedtime?) Or could you say something along the lines of "We have 30 minutes to get ready for bed. Then I'll read to you for 20 minutes. I'm going to set the timer for 30 minutes. If we aren't ready for bed by then, we'll have to miss out on some of our reading time, but if we're ready before the 30 minutes is up, we can spend that extra time snuggling or reading (whatever might encourage him)." So maybe that'll encourage him to be more cooperative? As far as the play goes, it seems like you handled it pretty well. Having to leave was a natural consequence of his behaviour.
I would also suggest posting in Single Parenting forum in regards to the issues with your xh and how that's affecting your son. It might be helpful to hear some been there done that stories!
If you're a parent of a child ages 4-18, I would really appreciate you participating in my brief online study. Copy/paste the link below for more information:
Thank you so much for the thoughtful replies and support. I think the biggest trigger for me in all of this is that it's turning into a battle of wills, and becoming about what I will or won't let happen (which is courtesy of his father and his discussions with ds about parenting time issues where I get to play the role of she who prohibits/she who allows; never mind that x has been running his own life completely separate from ours for years and has shown an amazing facility for lying about it all...). I'm really trying to emphasize the idea of consequences--or maybe results would be a better word--where the choices we make have an impact on what we are able to do without turning things into a big punitive power struggle. It's not a new concept, since we often talk about choices we make, and why; e.g., we don't go out to eat every night because we have other financial obligations and it would be silly to eat in a restaurant but not be able to pay our electric bill or similar. I'm so tired of being the bad guy all through our marriage, and now it seems our son is being encouraged to see me that way, too, so I'm trying to walk a fine line between being a responsible and ethical parent, and finding effective ways to problem solve with ds.
I did just order Kids, Parents and Power Struggles, I'm hoping there might be some insight in that book that can help me approach these conflicts from a different direction. It's really painful to hear my son call me crazy when it's a word that x used to both excuse his antics and blame me for them at the same time. I don't like feeling trapped in the same dynamic now with my son.
QOM, I appreciate the suggestion to post in single parenting, I might post in the forum and see if anyone will come take a look, or if someone can tell me how to cross post, if it's appropriate, I could do that, too.
dkorovikov, I am the sort to discuss hard things with ds, on his level. I don't watch or listen to news when he's around, because we just don't have a context for a lot of those discussions yet, but stuff that is a part of our daily lives, absolutely. Ds has always been reluctant to acknowledge feelings, so I've just stuck with trying to identify and name things for him in the moment, even when he denies feeling anything in particular. I have also tried to be open on a limited basis with my feelings--just the simple stuff, like sad or frustrated or excited, even, (we're moving, and that, too, was warped by his father into some kind of nightmarishly scary scenario where we wouldn't have room for toys and there would be criminals everywhere) about ongoing changes--I don't discuss any serious concerns with him as far as logistics or ongoing conflicts with his father, etc. We often talk about how we feel feelings in our bodies, too, and how they change and pass.
Thanks again, and if anyone else has suggestions or btdt, I'd love to hear from you!