Zoe doesn’t like to go to sleep. Recently, we were having a particularly rough evening. She kept reappearing in the family room as Steve and I tried to unwind in front of the TV. Finally, when orders and bribes had failed, and the whining had not ceased, we made good on our threats and closed her bedroom door. Ignored the weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Chose to finish our program. Once the howling and demands for freedom had finally died down, I went in to check on her, planning to dole out a final kiss and douse the lights. I discovered at that point that she had pulled every toy and book she owned onto the floor, and removed her own (clean) diaper and tossed it onto the pile. She was curled up, puffy-eyed, fast asleep on her bed in a huge puddle of urine.
I would have felt better if I was working or doing something important or worthwhile. But prioritizing television over my daughter while she cried herself to sleep in the midst of filth did feel a little petty.
Another night, she stayed awake and annoying for hours, and eventually I brought her back to bed with me as I tried to get to sleep myself. She wiggled and kicked and chattered until, exhausted and crabby, I got up and headed to the couch to try to grab an hour of sleep before a busy day. Twenty minutes later I felt a disturbance in my blankets, and found her trying to squeeze in between my feet again.
I was angry, but I did not yell angrily. Rather, I intentionally raised my voice and made it sound angry in a calculated way. I wanted her to obey for a change.
“Zoe,” I said loudly and sharply, “go back to BED!”
She dissolved into pathetic tears of hurt and betrayal.
What could I do? I pulled her in under the covers and snuggled with her until her weeping stopped. I told her that I loved her all the time, every day and every night, and that I was sorry to have yelled. But she had made me angry by being so naughty that night.
Even as I said those words, I thought about every stereotypically abusive relationship I’d seen in the movies. “Baby, why’d you have to do that?” “You know I love you, so why do you make me so mad?” *KAPOW*. The cinematic words rang true, but not the intent.
Am I an abusive mother? I don’t actually think so – it is not unreasonable to expect and require a bright 2 3/4 year old to obey instructions, or to go to bed, or at least to stay in her room and play quietly after a bath and a good-night kiss. To keep her own diaper in place when she has been told to do so. I slightly miss the 18-month-old who was eager to obey my every instruction, and I’m looking forward to someday having a child who understands rules and consequences. What age is that anyway – four? Eight? Twenty?
Meanwhile, I hate the punishments I need to dole out. As patient as I am, and as gentle as a time-out is, it’s hard to bear her misery and her rage over these power struggles.
I know I was a frustrating child. Smart and stubborn. I remember testing my parents and trying their patience in various ways and sometimes being frightened by the angry reactions I got, but I do not remember feeling unloved or victimized in any way. I remember being ignored when I whined, and being sent to my room on occasion, and turning out just fine.
I am not exactly worried that I am doing this wrong – but I don’t like doing it.