Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Parenting in the Time of Poltergeist, or How Mothers Thrive

The Brilliant Book Club wrote on Monday about Dr. Tovah Klein's book, How Toddlers Thrive. After I published my post, in which I wrote how generally easy Henry is, I discovered he had scribbled in black ink all over the kitchen wall.

Cue the schadenfreude.

Lauren from omnimom thought the book was a bit too child-centered. Sarah from Left Brain Buddha also alluded to this point. I can't say I entirely disagree.

I liked Klein's general philosophy -- accept your toddler for who he is, and try to take his point of view when confronted with tantrums and so-called unreasonable requests -- but throughout the book I questioned how realistic the approach was.

Her advice, though, is solid, and it works if you follow it to the letter. Case in point: This morning, in yet another example of why you should never say you have a good toddler out loud, Henry threw his most Poltergeist-worthy tantrum yet. Screaming, shaking, choking, hitting, throwing.

It seemed out of nowhere and uncharacteristic to say the least. But, I realized, today was his last day of camp, and he loves camp.

After about 20 minutes of complete mayhem (during which time I never left the kitchen, as Klein recommends, though I really, really wanted to), I sat down with him and said quietly, "I know this is your last day of camp. You must be sad. But you'll go back to the same school again in only one month."

It wasn't magic; he didn't stop right away. But he definitely calmed down not too long after. We were 15 minutes late for camp, and I sat with him for a few minutes until he was fully absorbed in one of his many crafts.

Preschool Swag

I thought Dr. Klein would be proud.

Here's the Rub

But here's the thing. The reason I was able to be calm about this morning's tantrum and not worry about being late or staying extra is that I had nowhere else to be. Sure, I had a few hours of work on an editing project. But that is flexible.

In contrast, the day before, I needed to be at work on time, because four of us were getting in the car to drive an hour to another hospital for a meeting. I needed Henry to eat breakfast and get ready for daycare so that I could shower, get dressed, pack his bag, drop him off and drive an hour to my place of employment. (No breakfast for you, Moo Cow.)

In short, there was no time for Poltergeist.

I guarantee that this morning's scene would NOT have been met with the same physically present, calm parent. Out of sheer necessity, I would have left him to tantrum on his own in the kitchen while I got ready, and then returned to force him into his clothing and the carseat one way or another.

The level of child-centered toddler parenting Klein describes only works when the parent has few other obligations. I'm not saying it doesn't work. It definitely does. I'm just wondering how realistic it is in today's frenetic world.

This summer, my nanny had to return to Europe, so we bring Henry to daycare when I work. I can't believe how spoiled I was. Getting a child (never mind more than one!) out the door to daycare in the morning is a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions. Every. Single. Day.

Yet, that is precisely what most parents have to do in these times of perpetual economic insecurity. I wonder what needs to change: societal expectations, parenting techniques or both?

What About Mom?

The book was about how toddlers thrive, so it's hardly fair to critique Klein's lack of commentary on how mothers thrive.

Still, I will a little. Some of the parent examples in the book -- like those who insisted their child not eat snow -- were clearly neurotic and over-controlling. Pick your battles, people.

But sometimes it's 5:30 pm, and we have to leave the playground to go home and have dinner. Henry doesn't want to. He's having fun, why should we leave? Sometimes I have an event I need to be on time for in the real world, as opposed to the live-in-the-moment toddler world. Or sometimes I am simply exhausted out of my mind after a long week.

At that point, after all the reasoning and cajoling and "making it fun" to do what I need him to do (as she advises more than once), I'm going to scoop Henry up and force him into the stroller. He's going to scream and flail, and do the stiff-as-a-board and the limp-as-a-noodle maneuvers, but still, I am going to pick him up and wrestle him into the stroller in front of everyone.

Sometimes in life, things don't go your way. As much as I indulge his benign requests ("two" pieces of toast, always one in each hand; "three blankies!"), sometimes, I can't. I understand Klein's point that life is difficult and confusing for them, and it is our job as parents to create a safe environment where they can develop. But, well, life can be difficult for me, too, and occasionally I need him to go to bed so I can meet a deadline.

That's not his fault; but it's reality.