When Childrearing Goes Awry

I’ve discovered that stress comes from more than just work. Of course, I knew that already. But as I ease my way ever so carefully back into the work scene, the greatest source of stress has come from home. My lovely refuge of 15 months is no more.

From the informal polling I’ve done recently, I assume that if you have, or have had, or once were a nine year old boy, you pretty much know what I’m talking about.

Actually, that may not be fair. There are plenty of lovely nine year old boys. Sadly, mine is not one of them at the moment and a number of people I’ve spoken to seem to have had or are having a similar experience.

Which experience exactly? Well, in our case, two calls home from two different teachers two days in a row. Disruption of class. Arguing with the teacher without backing down. And now something that is for the moment a mystery but will, I fear, turn out to be something equally serious when the teacher and I do finally speak.

This all follows on from last year’s final report card which now appears to have been only an indicator of problems to come, though at the time seemed pretty serious and worthy of the consequences meted out (no activities during the week, parent-imposed homework).

So, now he’s off the school soccer team and grounded for a week. But I have this dreadful premonition (based on what others’ experiences have been and this mystery call I’m expecting) that this is only the beginning.

And then what?

How many more consequences can we dream up?

And why can’t he just be a nice boy who behaves and gets to do fun things?

We are very close, the boy and I, but this might be part of the problem. I think our closeness has given him the impression that he is part of the parenting team. That we are a team. When what he needs to see is that my husband and I are the team, the team that is responsible for teaching him the way to be in the world. We love him but parental love is about the hard decisions made for the greater good. And I’ve been too forgiving and too easy up till now. And look where that got us.

My husband has been trying to tell me this for years. At first, I thought he was too harsh. I thought I understood my son and what he needed. But now I see what I didn’t see before. The error of my ways. My hand in the problem.

It’s hard to turn back 9 years of damaging leniency, for him obviously but also for me.

I doubt myself.

I feel terrible.

I can’t think about anything else.

It’s hard to write (so I’m giving in and writing about the problem at hand).

I have tortured dreams about him, his teachers and, for some reason, oil falling apocalyptically from the sky.

Even worse, he’s a good little manipulator. He grips his head and tells me I can’t imagine the pressure he feels. He says he doesn’t know why he does it. He looks at me with big eyes and says maybe he should go to a psychologist. I’ve taken him, by the way. There’s nothing wrong with him, nothing a little discipline won’t fix. Quite simply, he wants to do what he feels like doing. He’s impulsive and he’s had no incentive until now to curb those impulses. He’s smart but his intelligence is misplaced. I wish he’d use his powers for good instead of evil.

At this moment, I’m sitting in a local coffee shop on a rainy Saturday while he and two fellow Navy Cadets stand in the grocery store next door raising money for their cause. It’s a long day. They’re on their feet for eight hours, smiling and saying little more than “Thank you sir, thank you ma’am” and representing the Navy. I’m hoping some of the respect and discipline of that institution will rub off and make a difference.

In the meantime, I’m shaking from caffeine, frustration and anticipation of the showdown to come, and wishing that I could have instead made the most of what should have been a perfect, relaxing writing day.



30 thoughts on “When Childrearing Goes Awry

  1. Reblogged this on craftyrenee and commented:
    What I have learned through the years is to live in the present day and not in the future and not in the past. Do the best you can and savor each and every moment. You are a great mother and you always will be.

  2. Have you ever suddenly found yourself working with a friend? Someone you’ve known for years and once you start working with them, you wonder if you knew them at all?

    School is the child’s equivalent of a workplace, and while there they often display different facets of themselves than they might at home. Issues at school don’t make you a bad parent or your child a bad child. School is a tough place for boys to fit into.

  3. I get your frustration…our son knows right vs. wrong, but still gets in trouble at home and school on a daily basis. It isn’t him, though. He’s not trying to push boundaries, in fact, he is trying to protect his boundaries. Before going the full punishment route, perhaps get some feedback from a clinical social worker, children’s therapist, etc. Prayers…

    • Thank you. And yes, we are involving the school social worker and psychologist. They are going to shadow him for a bit to better understand his behaviour patterns as school is where the problems really arise. Again, thank you, for sharing your own experiences and your ideas as well.

  4. Goodness, what a difficult situation. I don’t have any kids, as you know – so I definitely won’t try to tell you what to do. Only that I know so many lovely, rounded, caring people who were once little shits. You’re doing a great job by being there for him and he will come to realise that. It doesn’t really help right now, and I have no idea how to make things better in the short term, but bear in mind that a few years down the line you will probably have a glass of wine together and laugh about how difficult he used to be. I hope things improve for you soon!

    • Thank you – your encouraging words help. I hope one day, as you say, he and I will be able to laugh over that glass of wine. And if not, well, I’ll have done my best and I can drown my sorrows in the same glass of wine! See? Parenting is hard. And a painful process πŸ™‚

  5. I totally understand where you are. And believe it or not, you are lucky. Lucky because your son is only nine and you are realizing that maybe things need to change. My son was much older than nine when I had the exact same realization. So there was more damage to undo for us. My unsolicited advice: stay the new course. It will be difficult now but so worth it in the end.

    I think we as parents have been led to think that in raising kids one of the most important things is to build their self-esteem at all costs. And so everyone gets a trophy, not just the winners; and we make allowances so as not to make them feel bad about themselves and we do take them on as partners who should be expected to use their powers for good. Only they are kids who haven’t learned everything yet.

    We went this route with our kids and truly thought it was the “enlightened” thing to do. It’s one of the things I most wish I could have a “do-over” with.

    My kids are grown now and they are great people whom I love very much. But we had some struggles along the way that I think we could have avoided – or at least had at a younger age when the repercussions might have been of less import – than what we eventually had to come to terms with.

    So – stay the new course. You haven’t done anything “wrong” —- but you AND he will be happy that you made those changes now rather than later.

    And remind yourself that you are doing the best you can with what you know at the time. It will come out all right at the end.

    • You just gave me shivers. I think because I’m so caught up in the moment, in self-doubting and in being completely shocked at where we find ourselves. Your words, wisdom and encouragement are so reassuring. I can’t thank you enough; this really helps and when I find myself wondering if I’m totally off, I will re-read what you’ve written here and feel better and stronger. Thank you for sharing your experience.

  6. When my son was 9 I wanted to hang him in a closet and throw food in once in a while – he was very unhappy at the time. Have you read Between Parent and Child by Dr. Haim Ginott – a very good book ! Hang in there they do grow up to be good people.

  7. I feel your pain. Some child psychologists call this age, in boys, the latency age. I’m not sure why, but I do know that my step-son and my cousin (who is nearly 20 years younger than me) were the most awful human beings at the age of 9. The good news is that they are now both very lovely young men.

    It’s a hard age — but it sounds like you’re on the right path. You care about him and you’re taking advantage of the resources available to both of you. It will get better. I promise. In the meantime, don’t forget to be kind to yourself.

    • Thanks Suzanne. I do hope he can grow out of and beyond this stage to become a lovely young man, too. It;s strange; he’s lovely on his own, at playdates, at cadets, and mostly at home, but at school it all sort of falls apart. Maybe it’s because we aren’t there to keep an eye on him, or maybe it’s some pressure he feels. I have no idea. But he really has been behaving shockingly so something has to be done.

      Thanks for the reminder to be kind, rather than to continue doubting and beating myself up. πŸ™‚

  8. It’s the challenge of parenting that makes one on her toes 24/7 but there are lovely moments too. My kids are grown-up now and I have a two-year old grandson who teaches us the meaning of patience every day and makes us appreciate simple things that we overlook sometimes.

    • Thank you for your comment. I probably have focused too much on the nice things, but possibly not enough on the simple things. We do try to make things too complex sometimes, don’t we?

  9. I’m sorry to hear you and your son are going through this. From a teacher’s perspective, the parents who are willing to work with the teachers to face the truth of whatever is going on are the ones who are able to help their children to develop in a positive way. The parent who makes a lot of excuses for their child, acts defensive, and “attacks” the teachers may rescue their child during that one conflict, but they do damage in the long run. So even though this is a difficult time, it sounds like you have a loving and realistic perspective to help your son through whatever is going on.

    • Thank you, Marcy. It’s very helpful to hear it from a teacher’s perspective, in addition to our teacher that is. I am sure that I have at times been that other parent you describe, though not always. But lately, I can see that that is not what is needed and has not helped. Nothing is black or white and sometimes the teachers’ decisions or actions have made me wonder, but I think now we have an opportunity to work as a team so that we all understand where we’re coming from. As you say, this should help our son in the long run. Thanks again for reading and offering gratefully received advice.

  10. Great post.

    What I found interesting is the little things – like why would your son want to back down when arguing with authority figures. It puzzles me that teachers become so frustrated with children who don’t automatically agree and respect hierarchy.

    When they are adults we don’t want them to just accept what the people in authority say. Questioning authority has made changes in laws and stopped atrocities. We no longer consider following orders a reason for committing crimes.

    However with the school system out of date it still sees its goal at the elementary level to reward conformity while saying that it admires thinking individuals. Furthermore it is a gendered institution; schools used to have boys with more success but now boys are struggling and girls are more successful. I think we have made strides in creating a system that is equitable but it is not yet ideal.

    I try to teach my children that school is a game that you play. Like Trouble or Monopoly there are rules and structure.
    When you play it doesn’t mean that you believe in ideology; just because play monopoly doesn’t make you a land baron.

    That being said my daughter plays the student game better than my son.

    Don’t doubt yourself and don’t regret the past. Not every culture believes in being hard and strict with the boys and there are successful men of all backgrounds.

    • Well, regarding your first point, I think there’s a time and a place. It’s like what you say about playing the game by the rules. He wasn’t entirely wrong in the point he was making, and in fact when he apologized to the teacher, the teacher said there were things both of them could have done better in the situation. But the situation arose because my son was being so disruptive that the class couldn’t carry on. That’s not playing by the rules. And then he very smartly called the teacher out on something in front of everyone and continued to argue over the teacher as he tried to regain order and finish the lesson. You don’t have to agree, and you can voice your opinions, but you’re going about it the wrong way when you’re the one kid in class who requires the most time and energy, and when you’ve developed a reputation as a problem child in the school.

      We’ve tried explaining, reasoning, providing encouragement but if he is unwilling to obey the basic rules of school, then we have to try a different approach.

      I do like the play the game explanation, I have to say. It has worked a little bit but not enough.

  11. I have it on personal authority that most kids are hideous at age nine. It is the worst. I know I was terrible and drove my mother to distraction, if that is of any comfort.
    As the above commenters noted, that you are concerned and aware will make a huge difference. At least, that’s my opinion.
    Also, as a side note, it’s nice to hear a non-fiction piece from you–it feels like you’ve opened a window to your life. πŸ™‚

    • Thank you, Natalie. Everyone’s comments certainly made me feel better and brightened my day. More importantly, you all helped me doubt myself a little less.
      As far as opening a window to my life goes, I’m not sure this was the one I’d want to open, but there you have it. It was on my mind and I had to write it better. Thanks for the kind message πŸ™‚

  12. I have a nine year old son as well. When he was younger we would always have conversations about why things were the way they were, why he had to do this or that. I think sometimes we made him to much a part of the parenting process, because now, there are days when I want the reason to be “because I said so. end of discussion.” But I can’t get away with that. So we have been going through the painful process of instilling authority where we hadn’t before. Setting new expectations. When they were little we could pick them up and put them in their rooms or in time out. We could strap them in their strollers, tears and all, if we had to get out the door. I don’t know about you, but there’s no way I am able to pick my nine year up anymore and make him go anywhere or do anything he doesn’t want to πŸ™‚

    If it’s any consolation, I do feel like we are making progress…there are good days and bad days, but I have hope that a thoughtful, compassionate, civil child is in there somewhere.

    • Your progress is a consolation but more than that, so is your message. I think that’s exactly the trap I fell into. The conversations, the inclusiveness, the inadvertent co-parenting. I kept thinking my husband was too strict when he didn’t do it that way, but now I see how right he was (it helps that everyone around me keeps telling me so!). I’m sure it will improve if we can, as you have done, re-learn and re-teach in a consistent and patient way. But it’s so hard. I still find myself falling into my old ways of thinking, standing up for him, believing his manipulations. Anyway, thank you so much for sharing what you’ve gone through, and for your message of hope!

      • Don’t be too hard on yourself. I think there’s a necessary balance between both ways. I am guessing there have probably been circumstances through the years where your (our) way was the right way. It’s just not always the right way.

        As an aside from all our failures as parents, being 9 sucks. Our kids are going through a lot of social and emotional changes. I think back to how miserable I was in 4th grade and 5th grade and I’m not always surprised at the outbursts I get from my son. And sometimes I’m glad I get the outbursts, because I was a kid who internalized EVERYTHING, and that’s not healthy or productive either.

        I wrote a piece a few weeks ago about a day when I realized the strain my son was feeling just because of back to school and life in general. It strays of little bit from what you are talking about here but I thought maybe you would appreciate it. http://transformingmommy.com/2014/09/23/the-most-important-thing-you-can-do-today-5th-grade-style/

        Anyways, good luck! I’ll be rooting for you!

        • My god, your post was exactly what I needed to read. That is exactly what I’ve been trying to explain to my son but you did it much more clearly than I have. I may even have him read it. Thank you.

        • So glad this resonated with you :). I had my son read it after I wrote it. I wanted to get his thoughts and make sure it was true to our conversation and I wanted him to get the perspective of the written word too. Sometimes you miss things that are communicated verbally that you find in writing and vice versa.

  13. I think as parents, second-guessing and obsessing over what we could’ve done differently are mandatory (hindsight is horrible!) I hope you are able to find what works with your son and with you and your husband united, you can steer him in the right direction.

  14. Aww! I don’t have kids yet of my own but I work with a lot of kids and spend most or nearly all my free time with them. I totally can understand what you mean about kids being impulsive and just doing what they want to do… It’s a tough balance, to discipline them and be firm, but also to love and encourage them other times.

    Hope that things gets easier for you eventually…

    • Yes, that is the key thing I think; balancing between love/encouragement and discipline. It’s important to remember and to teach that discipline and firmness doesn’t mean you don’t love them and it shouldn’t be taken personally. Thank you for sharing your experience and for the kind message.

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