The first two months of Charlie’s life were intense. Outside of the usual mix of chaos and slightly less chaos that comes with a new baby, Allison and I were being kept on our toes by the unpredictable nature of Charlie’s older brother, Jack. Jack is four and he’s recently realized quite a few things. He knows that the world does not suddenly come to an end when he doesn’t listen to his mom or dad. He learned that one quite a while ago actually. He knows that he wants attention, and that now there is this new little being that seems to be getting all the attention. Now, that is Jack’s perception. We have been doing a rather good job of making sure that some of the sacred things that are Jack’s domain are undisturbed, while also integrating a lot more of “this is us, we are a family now” stuff into the mix. Sometimes I take Jack to the park alone, but mostly it’s me, Jack and Charlie. Sometimes Allison takes Jack to the zoo, but mostly he wants her help with a puzzle right while she’s in the middle of nursing. It was the stacking up of moments like this, particularly in Charlie’s first month here, that started to mold Jack from the child we love dearly who can do no wrong, to the ticking time bomb that had two grown adults walking on egg shells. With each “I can’t right now, buddy.” and “Jack, I’m changing Charlie” and “Can you go grab me a diaper.” the tension started to mount.
I don’t think even the most well-adjusted of children can handle the upheaval that comes with a new baby without trying to buck the system. Jack has never been big on tantrums and, very rarely, what I would call destructive in his outbursts. Once in a while he would turn something over in protest, but these took the shape of more like Hollywood starlets being over dramatic in a Green Room than the horror stories you hear of kids screaming for hours on end. After a few weeks of Charlie, Jack went from Paris Hilton throwing a banana peel on the floor to Guns N Roses trashing the suite at the Chateau Marmont. His emotions seemed all over the place, but easily telegraphed. You could see the exact second he decided that he was going to show us who the real boss is around here. He’d trash the living room and then his room and, at the time, we were engulfed in a very “flavor of the month” style of discipline. I’d raise my voice occasionally, but knew it never worked. So, instead, we started down the dwindling list of “well, this is working for now”. Usually this involved either a Time Out on serious assaults (hitting, throwing things) or sometimes I’d go right to something like “Do you wanna lose trains?” In my darkest of moments I’d threaten to take Jack’s books away. This was kind of when I knew I was doing something that just didn’t have any long term value. Here I was, with my son who loves to read, and I was using them as a ploy to get him to be more in line with how I think he should be. A change in tact was destined, but first another dramatic shift. Jack realized that there was a source of this frustration and that if he couldn’t get the attention he craved positively, he was going to get it negatively.
The first moment that Jack slapped Charlie on the stomach, I did probably the exact opposite of what I should have done. It wasn’t anything dramatic. It was almost playful, if it hadn’t come on the tail end of a full destroying of the living room. I stood up, grabbed Jack and brought him up to his room. He was kicking and singing “Let It Go” as we went. Yes. He sings “Let It Go” from Frozen rather than saying “Let me go.” I’d think it was absolutely adorable if it didn’t occur at some of the more stressful moments in my day to day. He repeated this a few times and we got to the point where we were in a constant state of Surveillance Drone-esque hovering over Charlie. It’s a rotten feeling. Especially since 80% of the time Jack would lavish praise over his little brother. He’s hug him and pet his little cheeks.
There is a co-occurring disorder that is common with addiction, or just with humanity in general. It’s called Co-Dependence. Basically, it’s excessive amount of reliance on the happiness or comfort of another. To the degree that you’re willing to sacrifice your own comfort for theirs. I was co-dependence as hell already, I don’t know many addicts that aren’t on some level. However, Jack was bringing it out of me full force.
We stopped flavor of the monthing it and went back to basics on Jack’s discipline. We’d do our best to nip any of these tantrums in the bud. Recognize when they are coming, which was easy enough. For as manipulative as Jack can be, he wears his heart on his sleeve. It felts great replacing a countdown to time out with a simple: “Hey, Jack, what’s wrong?”. Also some of the behavior could be stopped in its tracks by simply stopping, hugging him and acknowledging “It’s really hard being a big brother, isn’t it?”. If Charlie was being fussy with a bottle during Jack’s story time, there was nothing wrong with looking at Jack and saying “Hey, this kinda stinks right now, right? It kinda stinks that Charlie is crying? What do you think we should do?” Basically, it was time to start treating Jack with respect and not punishment for not meeting my expectations.
Charlie is coming up on four months soon and most of this behavior has stopped. Jack is very helpful with his little brother and makes sure that everyone knows that his name is Charlie wherever we go. Perhaps this just would have happened anyway. Perhaps it just got to the point where Jack realized that Charlie wasn’t going anywhere. Perhaps we could have kept doing the “take away this, take away that” 1-2-3 TIME OUT crap that at least sort of worked in the immediate. I’m glad we adapted and it’s less because of Jack’s behavior than it is for my own sense of self-worth. I’m glad that I could come out of the last couple of months with the knowledge that we will continually adapt and, hopefully, better our parenting. I can’t tell you how much better it feels to be sitting with Jack on a rock outside the Coffee Bean with Charlie on my lap, with the full knowledge that I’m just doing this. That’s all. Not that I’m kicking ass at it. Not that I’m writing, or even reading, books about it. Just that I am consistently doing it. I wouldn’t trade my life today, trashed living room or not, for any other.
Thanks for listening. Be well.