A year ago, my wife and I took our three-year-old, Felix, to see the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center, and today we did the same thing. (Perhaps this is the beginning of a family tradition; it’s too soon to tell.)
Like last year, our now four-year-old boy had his fair share of… well, not tantrums, exactly. That word connotes something out-of-control, a Tasmanian Devil of a toddler running amok with emotions he can’t process, a hot, frothing, screaming mess of a child. Felix mostly kept it together, but still we had fits of whining, whimpering, and complaining, bouts of hitting, licking, and pushing, and a dash of impatient fussing with himself — picking at his lip, readjusting his underwear, etc. He still wanted Mommy’s attention (and hand to hold) more than Daddy’s, so much so that when I took him to see the model train display at Grand Central Terminal he breezed through it without a word, anxious to return to his mom right away.
Because of this, hanging out as a family can leave me feeling isolated. Not physically — Felix wants to play games, or race, and he almost constantly talks. Yet he often clams up if I introduce an unfamiliar topic of conversation, and he might turn nasty if the adults are talking to one another and not him, and as I said already, he only has eyes for Mommy. All of which leaves me with the sense of being a third wheel, just tagging along, alone in the group, my thoughts running their own lone course. (My wife’s story is a different one, and almost the complete opposite: she has no time to herself on days when she’s home with Felix. He even lurks outside the bathroom door, talking to her all the while. He’s a bit obsessive.)
I had plenty of time today to ruminate on the differences between last year’s trip and this year’s, to notice the differences and similarities. Felix remains a child who needs a lot of attention, support, and patience. But there has been growth and development, positive changes. No duh, Brian, I hear you saying. He’s a kid. They grow up. It gets better.
But it can be hard dealing with a really intense child who demands so much, who pushes me to — and often past — my breaking point with his antics; so hard that hopelessness oozes through my psychic armor, polluting my seemingly-innate optimism with its dank and dour odor. Telling myself that these troublesome phases will pass doesn’t always help my morose mood, sometimes I need to list out the concrete ways that Felix has become more mature in order to prove to myself that it is indeed getting better.
In the process, I realized that no only is Felix changing, but I’m becoming a more patient, understanding parent (most of the time). And so this list is two-part: Here’s a look back at how Felix has developed, and also what I’ve learned over the past year as a parent.
Slowing down for a moment to reflect… 1 of 8
The new year presents a moment for reflection. Click on to find out how both me and my little boy have grown and matured over the year.
January 2013: Little Boy with a Full-time Stay-at-Home Dad 2 of 8
At the start of 2013, Felix was home with me full-time, aside from a few hours of babysitting each week. Playdates were hard to come by with most his friends in school, and so we spent days on our own, traveling to Manhattan to explore a new playground, or playing with his trains. Often, there would be tantrums — real meltdowns full of screaming, crying, kicking and flailing about, especially if we had errands to run that Felix didn't want to accompany me on. Oy.
Nature Boy 3 of 8
Felix has always loved spending time outside, and this year I realized what a tonic it can be for his spirit. Give him a stick and he'll make up a game, whacking the ground, or using it to whack through brush. Show him a path and he'll happily walk it, especially if you tell him that he's hiking. Though it is still hard to get the little guy through the door, it's worth it when we get out there — it puts us both in better spirits.
What I've Learned: I try to make sure that we spend at least some of our day outside.
Biker Boy 4 of 8
While he's a good little hiker, Felix loves to ride his trike and his bike, and shows a real knack for it. On a beautiful day, the promise of a bike ride is just the thing to get us outside and into the sunshine. He loves movement and speed, and the bike gives him just enough of a dangerous thrill to excite him without causing him anxiety.
What I've Learned: It's important to find things that give your challenging child a sense of calm and joy, and encourage them.
Helpful Boy 5 of 8
Nothing helps Felix and I pass the time like doing chores. He loves to be a little adult! Give him a chore to do — wipe out the shelves in the refrigerator, vacuum the corners, crack eggs to help with dinner — and he's instantly engaged. He also likes activities that have clear endings, and so completing a task is perfect.
What I've Learned: Instead of seeing your child as an obstacle to housework, make your kid a partner by letting them lend a hand.
Hungry Boy 6 of 8
A treat is probably the only bribe that keeps Felix settled when he's not sure about an activity, or when he doesn't want to do something that I do. Here he is watching the New York City marathon and eating a candy. The sweet treat kept him quiet and contained while he took in the amazing race — not the whole thing, but about thirty minutes of it, which was pretty great.
What I've Learned: Look for ways to get your kid through those trying times. Do whatever it takes!
Independent Boy 7 of 8
When Felix finds something that occupies his attention, I do whatever I can to stay out of his way. I want him to have those moments on his own in the hopes that he'll see it's ok to play alone, he doesn't need an adult with him at all times. In the summer, he could spend a long time washing his toys and painting with water on the patio. Now that it's cold, he has LEGOs, or washing plastic containers in the sink.
What I've Learned: No matter how silly the activity seems, if it occupies your attention-demanding child, just let it happen without getting involved.
December 2013: Big Boy and Part-time Stay-at-Home Dad 8 of 8
Here's Felix today, still learning how to control himself and be a part of the crowd, still not always great with boundaries or controlling his temper, but showing progress. He's able to go to school for five mornings a week, and on a typical weekday, the two of us don't have many major blowouts. In fact, sometimes we get through days without any tears or raised voices at all! And he's growing into a creative, bright, interesting kid, full of feelings and passion for life, all of which is pretty great, if sometimes hard to handle. Things are getting better, as he matures and I learn more about how to be a better parent to him.
What I've Learned: Always look on the bright side of parenting!