Monday 11 December 2017

David Coleman: I feel like I am being pulled in three different directions by my children

I had a baby girl in December of last year. I also have a very energetic toddler boy who is two-and-a-half and a mature five-year-old girl who will be going into senior infants next month. I am finding it hard to divide my time between them.

I find the baby gets my attention first as she cries loudest. After her, my son gets most notice from me as I am forever pulling him out of cupboards, fridges and all the places he shouldn't be in. At the end of all that I do not seem to have much time for my five-year-old girl. She seems to be whining a lot these days, although she was always quite sensitive.

I feel like I'm being pulled in three different directions. Some days are fine, but some days I feel like pulling my hair out. This stress manifests itself especially in the early evening when my temper is short.

David Coleman replies:

HAVING three children of these ages is a huge challenge. It is easy to place high expectations on ourselves and then feel like a failure if we understandably can't meet them. The demands of young children can be a real head-wreck at times, so don't despair!

The good news is that this stage will pass. In the meantime, if you think about the differing needs of your children, according to their age, their behaviour makes more sense. Once their behaviour becomes understandable we can often find more patience to deal with it.

Your eldest girl, while she might love her little brother and sister, probably feels displaced a bit by them. Her whinging and whining is probably her way of trying to tell you that she needs you, too.

As the demands of the two younger ones increase then her whining may also increase unless you find a way of attending to her so that she feels you understand her and have time for her.

As you point out, by the evening you are potentially so frazzled that you can't be available to any of them. So, for your eldest, pick a time that you think you might have the most head-space. Perhaps when she comes in from school, or just before she goes to bed.

Try, at this regular time each day, to do a little check-in with her about her day, her worries, her stresses, her successes, her friends, her family, her hobbies or any other things that are on her mind.

She will be the most verbal and so you might develop a regular conversation with her where she feels really listened to and connected with. This may only take five minutes but if she feels really noticed by you then she might whinge and whine less.

She may also like to be included in tasks where she feels she can spend time with you helping with her little sister or with cooking or whatever you are doing.

Your two-year-old is, like all toddlers, experiencing his world through his interaction with it. He needs to be able to explore, to touch, to hold, to twist, to push and to manipulate things to begin to learn about them.

I love your description of constantly lifting him out of things that he has climbed into because it is such an apt observation of the main task of parenting that age group ie, making their world a safe place to explore and then giving them as much freedom as possible to explore it.

Your son needs you to be very clear with him about what he is and isn't allowed to do. The more structure and routine you can create for him the better as this will make his world more predictable.

Two-year-olds love habits and so by creating regular and consistent chunks in the day he will feel more secure and if he is feeling secure you may feel that he is less demanding of you.

Your baby just needs you and you can't avoid her or deny her the time. She is probably coming a bit closer to mobility, starting with crawling and then moving to walking. Until then she is entirely dependent on you for everything she needs and will have to be close to you all this time, too. If you pop her in a sling even in the house you may have more hands free for jobs or for the other two.

However, her sister may love the role of becoming her entertainer and general go-for and it is worth encouraging their relationship. This could occupy her big sister usefully and may give you a few minutes' respite every so often to attend to her brother or some other task that requires your presence.

Sometimes our guilt at not being always available to each of our children individually can draw us into this spin of constantly trying to meet not just every need, but every whim and desire that they have. This just adds to our sense of failure at times because it is impossible (and detrimental) to always be available to children.

This is because doing too much for them can block their natural development of responsibility and independence. Children sometimes have to be left to work it out for themselves and to cope with a bit of frustration. So as long as you do your best to meet their needs (for warmth, love, comfort, food, rest and so on) then you are being a good enough parent.

The last thing I'll suggest to you is that you make sure to share out the childcare tasks and responsibilities with their dad (who didn't get a mention at all!). Take any time that you get from this for yourself to de-stress and to mind yourself.

The more you feel rested and minded, by getting exercise, sleep and good food, the better you'll be able to cope with those moments when you are genuinely pulled in three directions at once.

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