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Who's the Disciplinarian in Your House?

Sarah Preston Gorenstein

There’s been a seismic shift in our house, but apparently it's barely perceptible to anyone but me. For months now Mom was the overwhelming favorite. It got to the point where Dad could come and go and Preston would hardly flinch, but the moment I entered or exited a room I did so with a toddler hanging off my leg. Remember the great daycare debacle of February 2011? He was being super clingy and going through major separation anxiety only a few months ago. It was trying for all of us. God help me for saying this, but I think I miss those days a little right now.

There was a time, back in February, when Preston clearly chose me over his dad—for everything, including bedtime stories (in his defense, I do have a knack for animated storytelling), meal time, bath time, play time, any time, really. Not gonna lie, it wore on me a little (read: no break), but I also secretly loved how attached he was to me. I was always the one he wanted, and I was (and still am) exhausted and wanting that break some nights—ya know, to go to the bathroom without him following me in there. So when Dad would put him to bed, Preston would inevitably cry for me. I couldn’t cook him dinner without feeling like I was somehow neglecting him. He wanted my undivided attention every moment I was in his presence. The guilt I felt outweighed the exhaustion after a long day of work, so it usually just led to me doing everything—because no one wants to see their baby cry, right?

But then something changed. I think it was around the time he started walking, at 18 months old (he just turned 20 months). He’s become this independent little man who doesn’t want to hold mommy’s hand anymore, or even be held, and doesn’t want to give mommy a hug or kiss when she asks for it. Wait, hang on a sec, while I wipe the tears from my keyboard…

When I try to psychoanalyze all the reasons why he’s suddenly become so un-attached and such a daddy’s boy (which I must say, I also love), all signs point to me being the Debbie Downer of the group. Why would he want to hold my hand, when I’m always trying to stop him from having fun, or doing something that could potentially land him in the hospital? Ya know, like falling down the metal stairs at the playground, or crossing the street, hands-free? Or worse, trying to take him away from whatever he’s doing that’s much more exciting than changing a poopy diaper.

I don’t play “tackle” the way my husband does; I don’t throw Preston up in the air (mostly because I can’t, he’s too big for me to do that), I don’t throw balls at his head to make him laugh, and I wouldn’t dream of twirling him upside down and pretending to almost drop him for a giggle. 

I’ve become the un-fun one. I’m the mom he runs away from, because every time I try to ask for a kiss or hug or even try to pick him up for a second, he thinks I’m trying to take him away from what he’s doing to change his diaper or something totally uncool like feed him.

I wish I could be as laid-back as some other moms, particularly like Erin Zammett Ruddy who doesn’t stress when her kids are being kids, running and jumping and climbing on things. I’m trying, I really am. But I think we know our kids, and mine is still figuring out cause and effect, and is still gaining his balance. He’s starting to climb on things, and attempting to “jump, jump, jump” and I’m encouraging him to do it. But I know he’s one “jump, jump, jump” away from losing his balance and landing on his head, potentially cracking his skull on our hardwood floors or marble fireplace. He’s still learning to walk up and down steps one foot at a time, so he needs his hand held, especially when we're on the metal steps at the playground with other bigger, more rambunctious kids flying around.

The “time outs” have been working, by the way. I really only had to give him a couple of them, and now he understands the threat of a “time out.” Or the threat of going to bed early tends to do the trick, too. I try to use these “threats” sparingly when he’s doing something he shouldn't be, like taking his fork and using it as a drumstick, after I tell him not to. Or dropping his food on the floor for our dog Barkley. Or getting mad at me when I tell him “no,” then lashing out by throwing something across the room. Stuff like that. Some of these things are actually funny when they happen, so it's hard not to laugh—I’m always telling my husband that laughing when he does these things only encourages him to keep doing them (my son LOVES an audience). Jay and I are on the same page about how to discipline him, but why does it feel like I’m always the one doing the disciplining?

Dad’s the fun one, and I’m the one whose hand he doesn’t want to hold.

I still think he prefers me to put him to bed, and that's when I still get his cuddly side (he likes to back his tushy right up against me while I read to him and then he lays his head on my chest, it's the best). But let's face it: He knows how to milk it with me. Dad reads him one book a couple times over, and I end up reading him anywhere between five and 10 books. Then once I put him in his crib we line up all his burp cloths on the side of the crib (he sleeps with about eight of them), and we count each one of them, five times over. My routine can take up to an hour; Jay’s routine takes roughly 10 minutes.

I always assumed I’d be the disciplinarian in our family, but I’m actually sick of hearing myself say “no” all the time. But I know consistency is key. I try to say other things than “no,” like, “Preston, please don’t open Mommy’s closet door, I don’t want your fingers getting caught.”

That one didn’t work out so well—Preston’s pinky finger got caught in the crease of my closet door last week, and he has a badly bruised nail because of it. I cried just as hard as he did.

See, this is why I’m so protective! My husband used to accuse me of turning our son into a mama's boy (or, rather, "a pussy"). But I think it's safe to say I've lost that battle already, and I'm fine with it as long as he stays out of the emergency room and has good manners. What I’m not fine with is being the mom whose son doesn’t want to play with her anymore because she’s become too nudgy.

Is there a happy medium? How do you keep your kids safe without being a killjoy? And who’s the disciplinarian in your house?

I've been blogging again over at www.thecosmomom.com. Or you can follow me on Twitter @thecosmomom, and Facebook at Sarah Preston Gorenstein.

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