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QUESTION: I’m feeling very lonely and confused about my three-year-old son and the relationship I have with him. I had to go away for work recently for a few days and on returning home I got a wonderful welcome from him, which was really nice. However, since then he has wanted his daddy to do most things and I’m finding it very hard to discipline him.
Last night he got out of the bath but wouldn’t stand up so I could dry him and then when he did stand up he lashed out at me to which I responded by slapping him. He cried and I felt guilty so I made him say sorry to me and I did the same to him.
When I later put him to bed he did his usual of coming out of the room and I put him back in to bed but he still kept coming out and I was cross with him.
He eventually went to sleep at around 9.30pm – we had started the bedtime routine at 7.15pm!
He woke up during the night looking for a hug from his daddy, which I wasn’t going to allow as his dad was wrecked after a hard week at work.
My son was cross about this and I slapped him on the leg on impulse and immediately regretted it. I had to calm him down and his daddy ended up coming in anyway to give him a hug.
Today we’re both tired, I’m feeling awful and my son hasn’t been near me much. I have suffered from post-natal depression quite badly and came off meds recently – I think I may still have it. How am I going to regain my son’s trust?
ANSWER: Post-natal depression (PND) is a very significant condition to be suffering. Since you have had treatment before, then it could be worth going back to review things with your GP or consultant. It can be very challenging to overcome the symptoms of PND and so good professional support can really help. The sense of hopelessness, exhaustion, frustration and stress that you may feel is highly likely to be impacting on your relationship with your son.
You have, for example, recognised that you are starting to slap him and you want to change that. Good for you. So, first, get the right kind of help for yourself.
In addition to reviewing any medication, you may consider counselling or therapy to help you better understand and deal with your own feelings. You will be better able to respond to your son when you feel better yourself, so do get help. While you are processing your own feelings you can do many small but important things that will help your relationship with your son. The first is to re-evaluate his behaviour.
As you have described things, it seems you have taken his behaviour personally as being somehow designed to get at you.
You sound like you feel rejected by your son. When he deliberately chooses his dad over you, it leaves you feeling hurt, resentful and cross. Similarly, you seem to feel as if he deliberately misbehaves to annoy you.
Yet, all of the behaviour you describe sounds entirely normal and to be expected in a three-year-old. So, for example, after a period of separation (like when you had to go away for work) many children will welcome a parent home but then show that parent that they had to cope while the parent was away.
His asking for his daddy to do things is not necessarily a preference for his dad (or a dislike of you), it could be his way of telling you that he missed you and that he learned to cope without you.
Similarly, almost all preschoolers will have moments when they are oppositional or determined to do things their own way.
This is not a reason to start punishing them; it is a reason to get creative in trying to match their desires to our own.
So, with the bathtime interaction it may have been possible to make a fun game out of what actually became a confrontation.
For instance, when he gets out of the bath and insists on lying down you could take that as a cue to start a “play-wrestling” game with him where you wrestle him about while he is wrapped up in a towel. He’ll get dry enough in the midst of the rolling and tumbling and you’ll both be laughing rather than fighting.
Taking this approach of becoming creative could help with so many of the other situations you are likely to find yourself and your son in. If in doubt, see if you can make a laugh of a situation. Your son is just being three and is not deliberately looking to fight with you.
They say a change is as good as a rest and so his dad might welcome a bit of cuddle time with his son at night. It will give you a break and it provides a nice balance for children to have the interaction with both of their parents.
You might also want to rethink the notion of power and control in your relationship with your son. Parents do definitely need to have power and to be clear about certain expectations, but not to the point that every interaction has to become a battle of wills.
You have nothing to prove to yourself, your son or your husband. You are a good mother and you are trying to do your best.
You don’t have to do everything and it is pointless trying to strive for some perceived perfection in parenting. Give yourself permission to relax, permission to be easygoing, permission to be fun and permission to get things wrong.
Try to think of your son as a joy and a blessing rather than as an opponent. He just wants to have fun with you and to feel safe and loved. Offer him that, with a bit of structure and routine thrown in, and your family will do just fine. – Irish Independent