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Child Caring

Single mom worries that "losing it" will affect her relationship with her son

Barbara,
I am going to ask you a question in hopes you can make me feel better.
I am a patient mom. I am a single mom by choice. I have the best kid. He is bright, happy, intelligent, and definitely ahead of the game. We really do have a great time and he is very kind to others and receptive to the needs of others. He will be 4 yrs old in April and I can attest that age 3-4 is hands down the hardest year we have had. As I said, I am patient, I don't say "no" all of the time, I allow him to learn through his own actions (safely). However, I have a switch that he can flip and I lose it. I have made a pact with myself not to scream. I feel that screaming doesn't help, it makes me feel awful, and then I set the example that it is appropriate to cope that way. That said, I have tried all the tricks, I have changed schedules, routines, etc. but the morning routine of getting out the door is awful. And more times than I want we leave hurried, upset, and late.

My question...do even the best of the best, the Jane Nelsen's of the parenting world, never completely lose it? How can anyone live with a 3 year old, that never lets up, not finally throw their hands in the air and resort to the only thing they haven't tried...screaming?

I don't want age 3-4 to be what defines my relationship with this amazing little person that I love dearly. I remember feeling that same impatience with my mom and I don't want to portray that to him. But I don't know developmentally if they pick up and remember this age or if I got that feeling from mom at a later age.

Thanks for your insight. It is much appreciated.

From: AN, no town given.

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Dear AN,
Let me remind you: Being a parent is one tough job (there's even a parenting support site with that name). Wait. Let me amend: It's The toughest job we ever sign on for and the one for which there is the least amount of training. Doing it as a single parent? Even harder.
Let me also remind you: kids are resilient. They bounce back quickly. What's more, those lasting, resentful feelings -- the kind you're worried about, that you remember feeling toward your mom -- likely are from an older age. They also are likely to occur only when a parent's repertoire of screaming behavior is routine, consistent, and/or shaming, not when it's a rare event.
We all lose it sometime. We are human. Cut yourself some slack.
In the meantime:
set FIRM limits< that you make clear to him ahead of time, and follow through consistently, even when it's inconvenient. Never set a consequence that you can't (or won't) follow through with; the hardest part about setting limits is when the limit becomes a pain for you. For instance, I can remember when my son was a morning dawdler and I threatened him with not having time to eat breakfast. When push came to shove? It was an empty threat that I came to regret, not because I thought it was mean ( it wasn't, it was a natural consequence). What I should have done was hustle him into the car and hand him a piece of toast.
Use humor. You know what they say about honey vs vinegar.
Apologize. In those moments when you say something you regret, don't let it eat at you. It doesn't weaken your positive to say, "I'm sorry;" In fact, it provides a wonderful role model for your child to (a) understand that everyone loses control once in a while; (b) that they can gain it back; (c) that relationships can go on even when feelings have been hurt. When you've said something hurtful, simply say, "I wish I hadn't said that. I apologize. I shouldn't have said it, and I'm sorry that I did. I'll try not to do it again."
Next time you feel yourself about to lose it?
Remove yourself from the situation: "I need to take a time out so I can calm down. I'm going to sit down and count to 10." Tell your child ahead of time that this might happen some time, so he won't be frightened. Then do a zip-your-mouth motion and take a quick time out. It's far more effective than putting him in time-out.
It's his job to protest; that's what preschoolers do. They are trying to figure out where they belong in the world, and part of what they do is experiment with reactions as a way to see what your reaction will be. Click here for coping suggestions.
My last, and maybe best, suggestion, is to have someone you can talk to, whether it's a best friend, a mom at the play ground, or women in a mom's group, knowing that you are not alone goes a long, long way.