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I spent some time at home with my family recently. My sister has a 3.5 year old son. There are a lot of issues there that would take a lot of time and energy to get into and probably aren't germane, but I can summarize by saying this little boy has had very, very little stability in his short life.

My family are spankers, and yellers, and threateners. They are just doing what they've always known. The way I deal with my son is totally foreign to them, but they don't do anything to undermine it (mostly). My nephew is harrangued, and spanked, and threatened, and screamed at, on a daily basis. I can't remember the last time I've spent a day with he and his mom that he wasn't spanked. They are not trying to be awful people. It is just what they know.

My nephew is a difficult child. His behavior is very difficult for me to deal with -- even though I know it is a direct result of how is treated. He never asks for anything in a nice voice; he's always yelling to get attention. He was absolutely horrible to my son, mean and threatening and bossy and physical unless I was right there to prevent it -- but he obviously liked Nate very much and wanted to play with him. He is oppositional, will do things you are in the middle of asking him not to do, and throws tantrums at the slightest provocation. It is utterly exhausting to be in a room with him and the rest of my family.

And I'm so ashamed to admit how hard it was for me not to treat him like everyone else does.
: Not to yell at him, and threaten, and ask stupid questions like "What did I just say to you?" Not to swat him on the butt when he popped my child's hand for reaching for something "forbidden." I'm ashamed to admit that there were times that I treated him with so much less dignity than I am so careful to treat my son with. How few times I got down and talked to him on his level like I am so good about doing with my son.

I am ashamed with how many times I thought "but he's such a brat" even though I know he's not. I know that he is simply acting the way he has been taught to act, and if I act that way too, I'm only making things worse.

Just before the visit my youngest sister had complimented me on my parenting. "I have never known a better parent than you. I look at Kelly, and then I look at you, and I know how to be. I don't understand why everyone can't see it. I've never seen you yell at him. I've never seen you hit him. I've never seen you hurt him." And I was so thrilled with that validation, that feeling.

And then I went for a visit home and thought horrible thoughts about a tiny, helpless little boy who's just trying to make his way in his world.

I'm scared that the only reason I can treat Nate the way I do, the way I have so far, is because he is easy -- and it's easy to do when the child is easy. Will I still be able to do this when he's three? Will I still be able to do this if my next child is not so easy?

I am ashamed and I'm scared. Does anyone else out there have a hard time being gentle with children that aren't their own?
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