Do parents have favourites?

Catching leaves

The Girl is really doing my head in at the moment, and to be honest, I’m kind of relieved.

For the first three years of her life, I cuddled her, carried her everywhere, dressed her, slept in her bed with her if she had nightmares or growing pains or just wanted company in the night, let her off eating the rest of her dinner if she didn’t fancy it. My husband, the Fairy Godmother and I even sing to her in glorious three part harmony if we are all around when she wakes up at night. (As you can imagine, this has done nothing to decrease the frequency of nightwaking.)

In short, I have doted on her. She is simply the cutest, squidgiest, most adorable little person to ever dance around on two legs and then fall flat on her face.

Meanwhile, the Boy was difficult.

When he was two, I had a baby to deal with and I had to push him to be more independent. He got on with it and worked out how to dress and undress, climb into the bath by himself and learned to read himself stories for good measure.

When he was three, he started developing a will of Valyrian steel. It drove me nuts. Mainly, I was just outraged that he would defy me at all. For what seems like ages we locked horns. I would lay down the law – he would pursue his own, clearly superior plan. It took The Husband and I over a year to work out the best ways of challenging his behaviour and leading it down better, more acceptable paths.

It seemed to me, on a daily basis, like my interactions with the Boy were mostly negative and my time with the Girl was full of hugs and delight.

I started to worry that I had let myself develop a knee-jerk, negative response to the Boy.

I started to worry that I had A Favourite.

When I was in my early teens there was a period of a few months when I was convinced, with searing jealousy, that my Mum loved my brother more than me. I would catch her looking at him with an adoring look in her eye that spelled it all out plain as day, to my mind. Meanwhile, I felt I was getting all the jobs, the reprimands, the disapproval.

And you know what – maybe I did, at that time. He was a tween and still had a bit of the cute chubby cheeked look while I had just shot up and sprouted spots everywhere. Not so cute. Also, I was a teenager and did more stuff that deserved reprimanding. Also also, I was older and could handle more jobs.

Perhaps, at 3 and 1, the Girl was my favourite of the two. She said adorably cute things and let me dress her and she (mostly) did as I asked. If she was naughty, it wasn’t deliberate.

Fast forward to present day. The Boy at 5 is a delight. He is actually helpful: he can feed the cats, wash up, set the table, pour milk into the Girl’s cereal and has intelligent comments on multiple choice reading exams. He is fascinated by everything, and you can have amazing conversations with him about science and art and religion and you end up feeling like a genius because you know so much (compared to a 5 year old). His favourite pastimes no longer require my input or much supervision: he will play school by himself, he develops and executes craft projects with minimal help and he builds Lego intended for 7 year olds from the “inconstructions”, as he adorably calls them.

The Girl, on the other hand, clearly thinks Valyrian steel is for wimps and sissies and has developed a will made of diamonds. It sparkles so brightly, endears you with its determination and then BAM: she is on the floor wailing, refusing to move when you are already ten minutes late for school pick up.

When she does not want to do something, she will a) ignore you, then b) go limp on the floor refusing to move and c) start crying like you are taking her to prison. And believe me, there are many, very reasonable things that she does not want to do.

The Husband and I are working on strategies, but it may take a year or more to train this one. This time we are more upbeat though. At the table is a 5 year old building Lego, living proof that the threenager can be defeated.

So: do parents have favourites? Yes, yes we do. But who that favourite is depends entirely on who is the most pleasant to be around at the time – which may be different every day.

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Tantrums – and Mind Reading

I had mentally prepared myself for the Terrible Twos. I thought there would be fearsome battles over “I want another biscuit!” or “No, I don’t want to go to bed!” I thought I would win them with Logic and Being the Parent and by standing firm. I was not prepared, however, for shrieking tantrums caused by my son’s disappointment at a lack of evolutionary advancement on my part.

Let me explain.

The Toddler is lying facedown on the – not very clean – floor, screaming, kicking, crying. There are actual tears. If I come near him, he starts to mow his arms about to try and hit me. Just before he launched into this rather theatrical display of displeasure, we had the following conversation:

Me: Would you like porridge for breakfast?
Toddler: No, Mummy.
Me: What would you like to eat then?

Cue tantrum. What is going on?

It seems similar to the tantrums he has when, out of blue, he says: “Again, Mummy,” without specifying what; or “Pleeeeeease, Mummy,” without asking for anything. Attempts to clarify what he wants dial up the rage. He does not understand “What did you say?” or “What do you want?” and seems to interpret them as ‘Mummy will not acquiesce to my request’.

The Toddler has always been quite prone to extreme frustration. He would shriek and cry in the days when he could not move around yet but desperately needed to reach a particular toy. Later on, building a tower or putting train track together would reduce him to tears. In fact, I had to teach him to say “Mummy, help!” very early on, to deal with the constant shrieking that accompanied a task he had set himself but could not complete due to his own physical or developmental limitations.

Now he is frustrated at mine. Is he waiting for me to develop mind reading skills?

Slowly, the breakfast-options-tantrum subsides a little, and now when I come close his arms don’t wave about but they stretch up to me. He wants to be held. I kneel down and he climbs onto my lap where I hug him close until he stops sobbing. Over my shoulder, his eye falls on the remote control: “TV, Mummy?” he asks sweetly.

Everything is back to normal.