Switcheroo

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Categories Attitude, Balance, Difference, Divorce, Parenting Twins, Relationships, School-Age, Single Parenting, SleepTags , , , , , , , , 4 Comments

My daughter J cried herself to sleep last night, as she had the night before.

The first night, it was because I made her go to bed without a bath after she earned a timeout. She earned the timeout for backtalk and kicking at me for asking her to take a bath. Yes, that’s exactly as circular as it sounds. Last night, the tears were because I didn’t let her finish her science homework because she remembered it (after I’d asked 2 hours earlier and she’d told me she was done) 1 minute before bedtime.

Over dinner tonight, I had to lay out our ground rules again. I’m willing to hear the girls’ opinions, but they are to listen/obey first, then talk.

We’d talked specifically about what had gone wrong last night earlier in the day, after we’d all had a chance to sleep on it. I reminded J that I’d made it very clear that both my 6-year-olds were to be in bed at 8:30, no matter what.

“You didn’t explain that properly,” she retorted. “‘No matter what’ isn’t even words!”

“I know what ‘no matter what’ means,” her twin, M, piped up helpfully from the other bed. “It means, ‘no exceptions!'”

My girls have a tendency to react to bad behaviour from Sissy by being extra-helpful and extra-cheerful. It’s actually a great arrangement from my perspective, since it means that I have only rarely had to deal with both girls crying or acting out at once. Most of the time, they’re both very good-natured and bouncy, so I’m glad they don’t get down in the dumps together.

When I go to the bottom of what was bugging J, it was concern about the next week. Spring break starts tomorrow, and the girls will be driving off with Daddy to spend the week with him in El Paso. They live with me, and this will be the longest they’ve spent with Daddy since he and I separated last April.

Tonight, it was M who cried at bedtime.

“When the overwhelmness fills my whole body,” M explained through her tears, “it makes tears come from my eyes. I’m going to miss you too much. I hate this divorce. Divorce is a ugly stupid word. I wish no parents ever fought ever and there was no word of ‘divorce.'”

J was the one to try to lighten the mood, reminding her sister of a movie they’d watched with their school counselor at ‘divorce club,’ the monthly meeting for 1st graders with divorced parents.

The nutty thing is that, until the last month or so, J has been the one completely in touch with her emotions. She’s been the one who explains to me clearly exactly how she feels about all the recent changes in her life, while M has acted out and needed a lot of help to get to the root of her worries.

This sort of role switcheroo happens all the time with my girls. One will be extremely mature and in touch with her feelings, while the other is a mess with no idea what’s bothering her. After a few days, or weeks, or months, they’ll suddenly switch roles. One will bury her nose in a book 24/7, while the other wants to play, and one day, the arguments will remain exactly the same, but with J and M reversing positions. When they were babies, M was the one who loved to be held and rocked and snuggled, while J would cry to be put down. Today, J’s the one who lists “snuggles” in the “need” column on school assignments on needs versus wants, while M tells me that my goodnight hug was “too much squishing.”

Of course, there are a lot of ways in which M and J are consistently distinct from each other. M can talk the hind leg off a donkey and just be getting started. J takes earnestness to a fine art. M is a picky, picky eater, while J is usually open to liking new things if I can convince her to try them. J has the ability to warm a stranger’s heart with one word or look, while M can leave people writhing with laughter with her wry humour.

I’m pretty sure that there’s nothing conscious about the way that J and M go about reversing roles and maintaining balance, but I can’t help thinking that the sensitivity that they’ve learned from adjusting to each others’ moods and needs will serve them well in personal and professional relationships throughout their lives.

Do your multiples switch roles?

Sadia lives and overthinks matters of parenting in the suburbs of Austin, TX. She is newly divorced and works in higher education IT. She will be at work, not at SXSW, this week. Her daughters, M and J, are identical 6-year-olds in 1st grade.

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Not Their Friend

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Categories Balance, Behavior, Co-parenting, Discipline, Mommy Issues, Relationships, School-AgeTags , , , , , , , , , 7 Comments

We’ve been having some discipline issues around here recently. The girls have been talking back to me in a way that is not appropriate for 5-year-olds. Both M and J have had emotional outbursts that can be described only as tantrums. Age 4 and the first half of age 5 were nearly tantrum-free, so this flashback to age 3 was unexpected and unpleasant. I’d say something innocuous, and see one child or the other go rigid, rise on her toes, and clench her jaw before letting out a shriek. Despite my efforts not to, I would feel my own muscles tense and my blood pressure rise in response.

During the Reign of Tantrum Terror, also known as the Terrible Threes, I prided myself for being unflappable in the face of the girls’ outbursts, trying to show them how calm thought can work in one’s favour. I used to count slowly to 3, using both my speaking voice and my fingers, refusing the temptation to try to raise my voice over theirs. At 3, off the culprit went to time out, sitting on the floor facing a wall for a minute per year of their age. It didn’t matter if we were home or out in the world. If there wasn’t a wall available, a tree would serve just as well for a time out location.

I’ll confess that I had allowed the thick skin I developed during the Terrible Threes to melt away. At the same time, my children had learned to say, “No.” The first time that one of my daughters said “No,” when ordered to time out, I lost it. I yelled at her to go to time out, and this time she followed my instructions. I immediately knew that throwing a tantrum of my own wasn’t going to help things. All I was doing was validating the effectiveness of their unacceptable behaviour.

My relationships with both M and J became increasingly charged over a couple of months. My husband finally had to step in with some very constructive, but painful, criticism. He pointed out that the girls had learned that they could argue with me, and I was failing to rise above. I needed to remind them that “because Mom said so” carried weight.

He was right, of course.  I had been so enjoying the recent explosion of both girls’ critical thinking that I had been inviting them to offer their own opinions, and trying to show them, whenever I could, how I reached the conclusions and decisions that I did. In my attempts to encourage them to question the status quo, I had put myself in the position of their friend, not their mother.

I shed a few tears, and slept on it. Once I’d marshalled my thoughts, I sat M and J down at the dining table for a conversation. I told them that I appreciated their ideas, and loved our discussions, but I was the mother. When I asked them to do something, I meant that they should do it immediately. If they had questions about the why of things, they could ask them later, and I would decide whether or not they were open to discussion. I would also be the one to decide when they could be discussed. The girls would go to time out when I told them to, and they would listen to me. Period.

After a week of maintaining my icy calm, and an average of 3 time outs per child per day, we’ve settled back into solid mother-daughter relationships. Much as I hope to be a friend to M and J when they are grown, I am exclusively their mother in the here and now.

Do you find yourself becoming complacent and compromising your parental authority? How do you fix it?

Sadia is a Bangladeshi and British working mother of twins and American army wife living on the Texas-Mexico border. Her thoughts on matters of parenting, twins, and parenting twins can be found at Double the Fun.

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