We seem to be born to struggle. I speak specifically for myself, but looking around, I know that most people feel the same way. Day after day, we pick some goal to reach and go for it. Along the way the moments of joy are sometimes elusive to the point of invisibility, and it begins to appear that it’s all about twisting, stretching to the breaking point, and not quite making it.
That’s how my husband and I are both feeling right now, mainly about our almost five-year-old son, but throw finances, careers, diet, and exercise in there too. Last night we had a discussion (read: contained argument) about how we are handling our darling only child’s behavior. I admit, I played the teacher card. I do it way too often, and apparently not subtly enough to encourage my husband to use my methods. It’s not as if I don’t have challenges with my son; yesterday he had a meltdown in K-mart that ended with me carrying him screaming (him, not me) out to the car, sure I was about to get tazed by their security folks for abducting a random child.
Still, it’s always easier to identify problem areas and solutions in someone else’s yard, and that’s why my husband and I ended up with accusations and defenses last night. I failed to smooth-talk him, failed to see that he really does want the complimentary speak I give parents of my students, when I try to get them to use my suggestions as well. My thought was hey, this is a man I am perfectly honest with. We don’t use smooth talk in this house! In the process, I forgot that he may be my husband and my best friend, but that, first and foremost, he’s a man. He’s a father trying to do his best to understand and navigate the dark waters of five-year-old-hood, a place where I have been paddling around wildly for the past eight years as a primary teacher. My son’s behavior may frustrate me at times, but at least I understand it. My hope is that our son will go the way of some of my former students, who come back to visit and turn out to be polite, articulate and lovely creatures, despite all the hours they spent trying to unhinge me.
‘The Boy’ as he is sometimes referred to, already polite and articulate to total strangers, is deeply into arguing with us. Vehemently he goes to the mat over every subject from whether he’s wearing shoes or boots, to whether it was one or two days ago that he had chicken soup for lunch. If we make a comment, he rebuts it. We try to be positive and he positively shoots us down. The Oedipal years have reared their ugly head as well, which heaps fuel to the fire. My husband feels the wrath, constantly interrupted whenever we try to talk to each other with my son nearby. We aren’t crazy—we save all discussions for our few hours alone each evening - but our son seems to see every attempt on our part to connect as a declaration of war. Chats about what to have for breakfast turn into lengthy battles and time outs. I try to help my husband see that there’s no need to take it personally, but of course I am on the wrong side of the issue; I’m in the middle, getting liberally showered with testosterone from both sides. Here I struggle, trying to help each of them, and failing miserably. We can’t seem to spend any time together as a family without the center falling out, and my husband feels this keenly. Having lost his father at a very early age, he craves the family unit, and fears its absence more than he knows. I understand this and I also want to spend time together, but I have the blessing of an intact family, and I can see the bigger picture. Once our son gets through this stage, our small positive moments will grow into longer times. My inability to get my husband to accept this, to find some peace, creates a whirlwind in anxiety in me. And on we go.
There are many, many families who have much bigger struggles with their children than this. I know my husband also suspects that these small behavior challenges, if not ground into dust now, will automatically become the horror stories we hear about. Or in his case, the ones he knows all too well about, from a former partner’s children. Their failures were written in stone long before he was with them, but I suspect he still feels the pain of being connected with children whose lives were in turmoil, and who made the lives of their family miserable. Our son is not destined for that. We are very, very fortunate to have a child we love and who was born capable of loving us back. This struggle we are in now will come to a positive resolution, I know in my heart.
My words flail around as wildly these days as my scattered thoughts, but I am trying to reign in my frustration, and keep helping myself and my family see the best outcome. The next time I attempt to talk to my husband about this, I’ll put my teacher hat back on for real, and remember that he’s a man who needs a lot of respect for what he does. I appreciate that he’s in this struggle with me, beside me all the way, and I love him even more for it. In these rough waters, it’s good to have a companion.