Our daughter shall forego her mum’s warmth and present herself to the world towards the end of January. Having had a difficult experience with Johnny who simply refused to sleep for months on end, we cannot but brace for impact. We are currently consumed by both excitement and anticipatory angst. But the knowledge of the difficult times ahead is liberating; it helps manage expectations and prepare. (A kind reminder to everyone not to expect new parents to be radiating with joy.)
But enough with us, this is about Johnny.
Johnny, who recently turned four, is going through a rough patch. For one, he is absolutely obsessed with his sister; he mentions her various times per day and imagines how life will be once she’s around. Realising the forthcoming breakdown of his monopoly, he started claiming space and affection, essentially marking his territory and demanding his mum’s undivided attention. Prior to finding out, he was gradually shifting his attention away from Sunshine and on to me, eagerly trying to mimic and surpass me in everything that I was doing – in sync with the stereotypical father-son relationship. But once he found out that a new baby is on the way, he clinged on to his mum and started being somewhat aggressive towards everyone else. All of us, suddenly turned into pretenders to the throne that is his mum’s love and affection. Long story short, he behaves like a super cute, short teenager.
This shift in attitude is rather uncharacteristic of him and at odds with the way we have been interacting with and around him ever since he became a toddler. Let me give some background of these interactions in order to understand our surprise with the recent outbursts.
For starters, we purposely enrolled him to a Montessori school, which certainly is not without its ills, but it does cultivate a strong sense of independence and freedom. When he is at home, we adopt a similar approach, whereby we avoid yelling and arguing, and generally try not to force him to do things he doesn’t want to do. Instead, we discuss and agree with him certain routines – to be followed by all of us – in advance, which he then observes like gospel.
The routines are clear and uncomplicated; that he should not be watching more than one cartoon episode per day; that 7pm is shower time and 7:30pm is bedtime; that we all clean and tidy up after ourselves, including toys; that we all wear our clothes unassisted and so on. Not complying with something that we agreed on has consequences, which he is not prohibited from exploring if he so wishes. The consequences are a fact of life and are not vindictively accompanied by yelling or bitterness (on our behalf). He knows, for instance, that if he does not pick up his toys once he finishes playing with them, they will go into a bag, which he won’t have access to for a few days. We do not have to argue back and forth begging him to pick stuff up. That being said, in order to enforce the behaviour, we did have to actually use “the bag” a couple of times (and endure the associated drama).
You can therefore imagine our surprise when, suddenly, our well-tuned toddler, started behaving like a little dictator. I think we are handling it well, but who the hell knows. We don’t try to reason with him while the drama is high, realising that he is experiencing intense feelings that overwhelm him. We also give him some more slack and a bit more attention, but not immediately after the outbursts so that he doesn’t associate ill behaviour with increased attention. Other than that, we just realise that it’s a difficult period for him as well, having to adapt both to a new house (we finally moved) and to the prospect of a sibling.
I don’t know what else needs to be done or even if the way we are handling the situation works. It’s all a bit too much, if I’m honest; I suppose more so for Sunshine who has to simultaneously deal with being heavily pregnant and also with Johnny’s dictatorial whims. Not to mention that she – the social butterfly that she is – has been advised by her doctor to stay home as her contractions are too strong and too frequent (both her and the baby are ok). I try to keep my cool in all this, which take place on top of a very stressful and busy period at work, but admittedly it’s not always easy.
Concluding this brief post, I realise that I have not instilled any wisdom upon you and that I just vented a bit and expressed my moderate frustration. That’s also something, I guess.
This is part of a series of entries titled Fatherhood Diaries where I record thoughts on life as a new dad. Click here for all the Fatherhood Diaries.