Here's a sampling of texts I've sent recently as an easy way to journal:
From 11/11, to my mom and sis:
Another day, same routine. Lovely day. Excellent restaurant dinner experience with the boys. Then we get home and all is going pretty well until --NO-- changes his mind about being willing to shower and refused to do that or stop with Legos and now he's lost ALL his Legos. can't let things get too good before he sabotages everything again.
But I didn't yell!
From 11/12, to my college girlfriends:
This parenting job is the fucking hardest thing in the whole wide world. I win a freaking medal for how awesome I've been lately. I'm working so incredibly hard at being compassionate calm and consistent while still holding them accountable. But the thing is, I don't want a freakin medal. I just want it to get easier. On me and on --NO-- in particular. He's breaking my heart every day as I watch him fight off the tears and keep himself in his own dungeon and try so hard to help him let it out but he refuses anything that might feel like help or the satisfaction of life being too regular/good/smooth/right.
And then this to the STBEX later that same night after bedtime:
---NO-- had been consistently refusing to do homework. He is flipping back and forth in general from being totally fabulous to being awful and defiant. We've had many frank talks about everything. He sees the pattern of self-sabotage that he is engaged in (as soon as things start to feel too good and normal he has to destroy his own happiness), but he can't stop the pattern. We've talked about that too, how that's hard even for grownups. I have been doing an EXEMPLARY job of staying calm, consistent, and compassionate, while still holding him accountable. He lost all his Legos last night. :( He refused to do his homework again all afternoon today and this evening, despite plenty of time, reminders, and offers of support.
I'm sharing this with you because if this was my weekend coming up, he wouldn't be allowed to go to ---- with --(his friend)--- if he hasn't done his homework for the week. I've wondered allowed with him what you might think about that, but have stopped short of presuming what you will do or saying what you should do. However, if you desire to be in the same page, that's what I believe should happen. Just like last weekend, he didn't have his homework done and he had to do it over the weekend and wasn't going to get to have a play date if he didn't get it done.
Please let me know how you will handle this so I can know how to proceed. If you agree, I was wondering about contacting --(his friend's)--- family and having them contact --NO-- to encourage him.
To which I received this infuriating response:
In general, I want to be supportive of teaching --NO-- that there are consequences to not getting one's work done, but 1) I think that there is a lot at play here, and 2) I'm not really okay with subjecting --(his friend)-- to the potential disappointment, particularly since this trip has been postponed a number of times already. I will make sure that --NO-- gets at least some homework done after Hebrew school tomorrow, keeping in mind that he will have had a long education day already and we haven't seen each other in a week). I will also make sure that he finishes all of his work by Sunday evening.
That all sounds lovely and good, not infuriating at all, unless you know him. I realize know how typical it is of him. Sound good, not outwardly disagreeing, seemingly on the same page, but not really when tough choices come up and with lots of outs available. One of the hardest things about this scenario is the lack of kudos from my former partner. I am working so hard to be a good parent, but I'm not going to win his praise. I know that he doesn't respect my parenting style. So, why do I yearn for his approval, especially when I don't have any reason to believe it will come. And he makes himself look so compassionate and understanding. Well, we'll see if all his homework is going to be done Sunday.
I discussed this issue with my counselor on Wednesday and to sum up, she encouraged me to talk with NO very honestly about my role in his schoolwork/homework life and I consider stepping out of my role. So I did that Wednesday and then sent STBEX the following as part of a longer email about calendars, Hanukkah presents, and sitters:
Of course there's been no response to that email.1. HOMEWORK: After talking with my counselor yesterday, I've decided to try a new approach with --NO-- regarding homework for awhile. One of her main points (among several) was that if it's going to be up to him to self-motivate in life, he needs to experience that now and perhaps experience the effects of failure now too. Better to fail now than fail in 10th grade. She suggested that I ask him what he'd like in terms of homework support from me. I talked with him yesterday afternoon and in that initial conversation he said that he wanted me to remind him once when he gets home from school, and if he hasn't done anything to remind him in 30 more minutes one more time. So, I'm going to SIGNIFICANTLY back off from homework support for awhile. I will provide a place and the supplies to accomplish homework, I will remind gently twice, and I will be there if he requests support or checking. I will let his teacher Brian know about the new approach. And if he's failing miserably, I will request that Brian request a meeting with us and Noah to discuss it. (I realize that me requesting Brian to request from us is a little convoluted, but I think you get that right?)
Yesterday was the first day of the new homework policy and I stuck to my agreement. It wasn't the homework that was the battleground. It was the Legos. We had what would have been a knock down drag out over the Legos and his unwillingness to follow directions in general. It got physical, but in an unusual way. Rather than emotionally engage with anger I tried yet a different tack. I feel like I have to keep him on his toes. How's she going to react this time? Calm? Stoic? Compassionate? Anything but anger. So, I tried to use humor, shock and surprise. He was wanting to physically wrestle with me in his anger over the Legos, so I went for it. Wrestling, but while laughing, tickling, kissing. Anything but getting mad. Giving him chances to get up and walk away to cool down, but not allowing him to get/keep the Legos (his goal) or destroy the toy room (his other goal). I kind of think it did work. He didn't recover immediately, but he did recover faster than he might have. As I was catching my calm and my breath, I sent the following to the girlfriends:
And that's what it feels like, CONSTANTLY strategizing in uncharted territory. Asking myself, ok, which tricks and tools am I going to use this time.
Which brings me up to this evening.
Mostly they are charming and delightful so long as I'm not asking them to contribute in any way to the team effort. Tonight was yet another example of their utter unwillingness to help if they aren't in the mood. Particularly NO (Number One). The Little One is actually a pretty cooperative 3-year old and surprisingly (or perhaps not), every since NO has started being so profoundly difficult these past couple of months, my Middle Child has become easier. He's always been a particularly challenging child. And that's still the case, but I do feel like he's easier to deal with now that everything has become such a struggle with NO. Tonight, I shared my feelings with the boys calmly, clearly and honestly. I told them that I find it frustrating because I'm spending my time doing what I think is good for the team, being with them, making cookies and challah with them, planning for a nice evening with them, taking care of chores for us, acting for what feels like is for the good of the team, while they are not interested in acting like part of a team. They're happy as long as nothing is expected of them, but ask them to spend 15 minutes to bring the recycling and garbage in from the street and pick up the toys and miscellany scattered around the kitchen floor, and it's, "no, I don't want to." I told them how I felt about their attitude without yelling, without blaming, without inappropriate amounts of guilt. As in no "you're a bad kid," kind of crap, but just honest, "it makes me feel like I'm not a respected member of the team when I do things for the team, but you don't." So, I was getting pretty grumpy headed into the evening at about 5:30. I reached out to my support network. I sent the following text to several women in my life including my mom, aunt, sis, and three friends:
When you're irritated and grumpy with your kids and it's clear they aren't going to change their behavior, what do you do to let go an be cheerful again so that you don't ruin the night? I know that I'm the only one preventing us from having a nice end to the evening, but I'm grumpy from being not listened to, disrespected and unassisted. If I ignore all that, they'd be happy and we'd have a nice night. How do I let it go so I don't ruin our evening while still making it clear that I don't approve of the way they've acted (and shown no change)? They're not grumpy, just me. Help?!?
And here's what I got back, from my sis:
Ok. My reaction is: if they are rude and uncooperative and disrespectful - why is the goal a 'nice night'? I would want them to know I was irritated and send them off to bed, shut the door and pour my self a glass of wine. The goal is not to wrap every night up in a bow, right? It's their loss, not yours and I don't think you should change your behavior to bend to them. I know that's not the answer your probably wanted.
I know you want it to be happy right now... I get it. I would just do that calm emotion-less thing you've been doing and send them to bed or to their rooms. Again, sorry, I know that's not what you want. I could argue the other side if you want :)
And then from my aunt:
-----(my name)-----, I agree with your sis. They are not deserving of fun evening. They are using bully style behavior on you. Sounds like 3 boys
Will need to be in bed at 7 tonight.
Why would any mom be happy and cheerful in face of rude behavior..,. Drugs!
Rent a chic flick.
Don't guilt self with vision of what you wanted tonight to be.... Plan b
Is their choice.
Then from friend:
First u have to walk away from them and clear ur head. Then I would absolutely take away the fun night and work on getting them to bed ASAP so u can have alone time to chill xoxo
Then back again from aunt:
You have a consensus.
But before I ever got any of those I got this one from another dear friend on a different thread:
Oh ----. I've asked myself that so many times. sometimes I pour myself a glass of wine. Sometimes I tell myself a hundred times "they are kids. She is only 8. He is only 3." If I start to think so what? I repeat it again until it sinks in, kids at 3 and 8 can't do all I wish they could. And they especially are not grateful. I yelled at Ada the other day for not taking me for granted. Then, I remember I took my mom for granted until I was 30. Don't know if this helps but it's all I got in times like these.
And here's how I described my night to them all in the end:
So, I took three minutes in my room. Changed into my slippers and came out with a better attitude. Decided not to throw everything out just because some parts were crappy. Boys set the table, did the best job EVER at saying Shabbat blessings and we had nice conversation at dinner. Then ---NO-- refused to cooperate at the end if dinner, but I was able to respond to him calmly as he lost dessert, them being with us, then stories... Bedtime with other two were mixed, but worth it. A Shabbat story and significant turn around on ---MC's--- part. And ---LO--, well he was just a tired 3-year-old that didn't get a nap, so how much should really be expected? And most importantly, the boys learned that I have the power to choose my own mood and determine the course of the evening, and consequence are only connected to their behavior and not my mood and that everyone gets second chances in life, but that there are logical consequences as well. So, I'm glad I made the choice I did. Now however, what I would give for a rented movie to watch. :(. Wish there were better options on Netflix. Any suggestions?
Oh and we made chocolate chip cookies and challah this afternoon and I made a delicious shepperds pie with homemade crust for dinner that none of them liked. Delicious, but now I have a lot of leftovers!
And what was the right choice? Who the hell knows?