Four-Year-Old Blues

Lately, I feel like I can't do anything right when it comes to mothering. Everyone has told me how wonderful four-year-olds are, that they're finally in a sweet, agreeable, tantrum-free phase, and some of the time, I agree with them. Emmeline is funny, and smart, and sweet. But she's also incredibly defiant, and I'm incredibly tired.

It seems like lately that everything is a battle. And I mean everything. It starts off in the morning with her arguing about what I'm fixing her for breakfast, we then move into an argument over whether or not she can have candy after breakfast, and then transition into the battle over what clothes, shoes, and underwear to wear to school. Believe me, I let her pick whenever possible--even when that means she goes off to school in a dress that's too short and is wrinkled beyond belief and is accessorized with a pair of scuffed-up old shoes that are worn on the wrong feet (for some strange reason, she prefers them to be on the wrong feet).

When I pick her up from daycare, she's delighted to see me, as am I her, and we usually have a nice conversation on the drive home. And then, the battle begins again. The constant whining and manipulating about whether she can have candy after dinner, and if so, how many pieces. A battle over toothbrushing, a battle over how long bath time will be, a battle over getting her pajamas on, a battle over what books to read, a battle over getting her to stay in bed.

Some nights, I handle it better than others and am able to hold my temper back and make it successfully through the endless negotiations. Other nights, like tonight, I end up sounding like a shrew. I hate sounding like a shrew. I'm really not cut out for the whole disciplinarian thing. As much as I try to be gentle yet firm, like it seems like all of today's parenting books recommend, I end up losing it and shouting at her.

I rarely spank her--we prefer timeouts--but there are times when nothing else seems to get through like a swat on the butt. And then I feel guilty, even though I grew up getting regularly swatted on the butt and don't think I suffered for it.

About a month ago, we finally made E her very own "big girl" room, complete with pink walls, wicker furniture that I spent a weekend painting a soft green, and a pretty little Jenny Lind four-poster bed that had belonged to my grandmother. E loved the room, and still seems to. But at the same time, she's decided that she's afraid of something every night, and she's gotten into the habit of getting out of bed about 4-6 times per night. She seems to always be looking for an excuse in the middle of the night to wake one of us up. Last night, she woke me up at 2:00 a.m. to tell me that one of her dolls had fallen out of the bed. It ended with me demanding that she stay in bed, closing the door (we usually leave it cracked), and her crying for about 20 minutes. I feel exhausted most of the time, because I'm having to get up with her so many times during the night. What's the solution to that, other than the screaming and shrew-like behavior I'm exhibiting during her middle-of-the-night calls right now? I have a friend that has a hook-and-eye latch on her daughter's door so that she can't roam around at night. But that seems a bit extreme to me.

I don't know what the answer is. I can tell K thinks I'm overreacting. He thinks it's just a phase, and I'm sure he's right. But that doesn't really help while we're in the phase. Especially when I'm left to muddle through this parenthood thing on my own most of the time, as he works a 15 to 18-hour shift every Sunday and then Monday-Wednesday nights--E and I are both in bed when he gets home, four nights a week. The way his schedule is right now, I'm completely responsible for E from the time I wake up on Sunday morning until we get home on Thursday night. And by Wednesday night, like tonight, I'm frayed and at the end of my rope, as there's no one to hand her off to for a little while for a sanity break. And she's frayed and at the end of her rope, too, as I'm her sole parent for 4 1/2 days a week. How do single mothers do this shit?

Let me add to all of this, again, that my daughter is a sweet, wonderful little girl. People are constantly complimenting me on how well behaved she is, how easy-going she is, how happy-go-lucky she is. And I agree--despite all of my complaints and frustration here, she's the light of my life. (And her behavior is almost always markedly better when there are other people around.)

But then, when it's just the two of us, on day 4, we both start to get tired and irritated with each other, and the frustration sets in. And I'm stressed out, because I haven't yet figured out how I'm supposed to hold down a full-time job, and do my laundry, and do E's laundry, and keep on top of vacuuming up the daily 8 cups of dog hair my dog is cabable of shedding, plus take care of the cat, the fish, the cooking, the grocery shopping, etc. I'm freaking exhausted. When do I get "me" time, other than for an hour or so a night, when I collapse on the couch after E has finally gone to sleep, and before I have to get up at 6:00 a.m. and start it all over again?

I don't know what the answer is. I don't think there is any answer, other than "this too shall pass." But lately, I feel like I spend most of my time being tired, irritated, overwhelmed, and overwrought rather than spending time enjoying the person that my daughter is and is becoming.

Okay, I'm off to do some laundry now. Any advice out there?


Kelly said...

I'm calling a meeting of the support group -- name the day :)

chris said...

A call for advice? Good god, you must be at your wits end! Well, at least I would have to be at my wits end to take such drastic measures - but, that might be because of my crew of over eager advisers when it comes to kid stuff.
I have not met E, but feel like I know her from your writing and I'm certain that very few kids could match her on the witty/engaging/charming/behaved scale. It sounds like the general public you cross paths with concurs. If I'm you, I take this to mean that my parenting approach is perfect...utilizing just the right mix of time outs, swats, hollering, candy rationing, scheduling and the TLC. Wouldn't think of changing a thing there.

The 4.5 day stretch doing the single parent gig is a tough one. I tried to imagine myself in that situation. Frankly, there would be dog hair up to our knees by day 4 and it would be hard to move around in the kitchen because I wouldn't do anything in there that wasn't going to create a foul odor. If I had to, I'd do maybe one load of wash to in the event there was a clean underwear shortage. I'd probably designate a cooking day when all the main meals get made and tossed in the freezer (or contract that out to stouffers). Have to fit laundry and general cleaning in there also...I guess.
Hope it eases up there soon!

Anonymous said...

these times you are describing are the times you will not remember when she is a graduating senior! you will remember all the good times and tear up because you will soon miss the fussing, and the other stuff that goes with being a mom! Just remember that you can always run to walmart for clean drawers, who cares what she wears to school? you dont have to see it all day long, and who cares what the teacher thinks? trust me on that one, after 32 years of teaching (the last dozen or more in k and pre k)! If she thinks about what your kid is wearing, too bad for her! Mine wore the same dress from kinder til 2nd grade at least 2 or 3 days a week. It was her favorite, she bought it herself and the damn thing would not wear out! She wore it every picture day, oh well...I wouldn't take anything for it and the pictures now!
Just breathe, enjoy her and don't worry about a messy house. You can clean it later...or get someone else to do it. Just breathe!