Step-parenting is hard. It’s hard under the best circumstances, but when the parents aren’t always on the same page, the difficulty level increases immeasurably. This past Sunday, we had a bit of an issue, but then we, as parents, kind of hit it out of the park. That victory was so needed that I nearly cried from relief.
The X-man was tired. So tired that he nearly fell asleep at the kitchen table. His allergies were bothering him (it’s been a terrible summer), so after the third or fourth time we had commented on how tired he looked (“No, I’m not tired!”), I told him he should probably have some allergy medicine after lunch and take a nap.
The X-man didn’t like that suggestion.
“No! I’m not sleepy!” he yelled, as his eyes fought to stay open and he remembered for the thousandth time that he couldn’t prop his head on his hand at the table. His dad made some funny quip about of course he wasn’t, obviously, and we finished eating.
After our places had been cleared, a protesting X-man followed me to the bathroom, took some Benadryl, and was sent into his room. I started flipping laundry and heard him start crying and wailing – the kid really didn’t want to lie down. But, ten minutes later he was fast asleep. Shocker.
Two hours later, the X-man stumbled into the living room, looking like he didn’t even know where he was. He cuddled with his dad as he woke up, and I went to flip the laundry again.
And then I saw it: Bee’s bottle of lavender Febreeze lying on the floor in the middle of the room. The X-man had been reminded again that morning not to touch it. He’s generally pretty good about leaving the girls’ things alone, especially for a five-year-old used to being an only child who has never had to share his space. But he had been caught with the Febreeze and had been reminded that it was Bee’s to spray on her pillow at night; he wasn’t to touch it.
I picked up the bottle. Instead of being nearly full, it was completely empty. The top had been unscrewed. I carried it out to the living room and boy did the X-man wake up quickly when he saw what I was carrying.
“What’s this, X-man?” I asked. He looked down, then back up at me, but refused to answer. “X-man, what is this?” I asked again, still pretty calm. I was tired of confrontations and I was afraid Jeff would blow it off. But it wasn’t “just” that X hadn’t listened about not playing with the Febreeze, or even that he’d dumped it out somewhere in his room – the last time we had forced him to try to nap (two months ago), he had peed in his bed on purpose because he thought he’d have to be allowed to get up if it was wet. So now we had a very disturbing trend.
But Jeff jumped right on it. He told the X-man, firmly, that when a parent asks him a question, he had to answer. After some “I don’t knows” and some tears, the X-man started answering Jeff, even though it took Jeff asking leading questions to get anywhere. X did finally confess that he was mad we had made him lie down. I was proud that Jeff was firm and let X see that he was angry instead of coddling him, and that he made X sit in time out for ruining Bee’s things and for lying about it. (X said at first that he didn’t open it, then said he dumped it on the floor, and then when we investigated, we found that it was dumped on the bed and pillow, not the floor.) The X-man threw a temper tantrum about time-out, but Jeff stuck with it. The whole ordeal didn’t take longer than 10 minutes from when I found the bottle to when started the time-out timer.
When X’s five minutes were up, Jeff took him out of time-out. And that’s when the wheels came off the wagon.
X refused to answer about why he was in time-out. He said it was because he opened the Febreeze, but when Jeff asked him why, the X-man refused to answer. “I don’t want to!” he cried. He was ashamed. Jeff explained that he knew it was hard, but that he needed to know that X knew what he had done wrong. (We think X might have a mild learning disability and he does much better remembering things if he says whatever it is out loud instead of just saying he understands.) We weren’t going to have X deliberately wetting the bed every time we made him lie down. After being asked three times, X still refused to answer, so Jeff put him back in time out. It bothered Jeff, but he did it. He aced it, really. He was firm, but kind, said all the right things, and consistently put X back in time out every time he refused to answer.
After thirty or forty minutes of the X-man being stubborn, Jeff tagged out for an inning of relief pitching. Suddenly, X-man was all, “I WANT TO TELL MY DAD!” But Jeff refused to let X manipulate the situation. “You had a lot of chances to tell him, X-man,” I calmly told him. “Now it’s my turn. Can you tell me why you dumped out the Febreeze?” But the X-man kept crying. “Am I almost done?” he asked after another round or two of time-outs. Jeff reminded him that he had to tell us why he was in time-out before he could be done. The X-man started crying all over again. “Did you think your dad would let you out if you kept crying and said you didn’t know?” I asked, gently. “Well…yeah!” X answered. “I don’t want to say!”
Three hours of cycles went by: asking X in different ways why he did it, him insisting he didn’t want to, five more minutes of time-out. Jeff stuck with the plan brilliantly. The situation sucked – don’t get me wrong – but it was good for the X-man to see that both parents were on the same page and couldn’t be manipulated. When Jeff suggested that he was going to talk to Mama about not going to karate this week if X still hadn’t answered us by the time she picked him up, the X-man finally decided to cooperate. Suddenly he remembered that he dumped the bottle because he was mad at us for making him take a nap.
It was exhausting. But it was necessary for the X-man to see that he can’t cry his way out of situations. Hopefully the lesson sticks and it will soon be like so many other phases we laugh-cry about now. Parenting is not for the weak of heart. It’s a good thing our kiddos – this family – is worth it.