After I wrote my post last Sunday, Knox and I went out for a long walk. I immediately felt much better afterwards. I forget sometimes the negative effect of staying indoors day after day, never even seeing what pitifully weak sunlight may be on offer here on this high latitude. I suspect some of my feeling down is seasonal, some is related to stressful situations and some is hormonal. Since then, I've been making more of an effort to get outside at least once a day.
It may feel a bit after the fact by this point, but here's my further thoughts on the text message dramalama.
Can I just stress- it’s not a case of me blaming Knox for blaming Botany. And I’m certainly not mad at him. I don’t think for one second he should be vilified for his reaction. It may not have been the view I would have taken, but then, I'm not in his position and when I try to see where he is coming from, I can get a little more understanding.
Imagine, if you will, that you meet someone and fall madly in love. Your future spouse already has a young child from a previous relationship. You live in different cities, and you can’t easily find a job to relocate to be with her. She can’t travel because of the little one, so for a year, you drive three hours each way every single weekend to her city, through all kinds of weather, without complaint. When that gets to be a bit much, you go part-time at your work and give up a big part of your income, so you can spend more time with your loved one.
You’d like to spend more time with her child, too, but the child often only seems to want her mother. You've gone to big efforts to win over the child's love and affection, but you still feel like you are resisted to a large degree. Sometimes the child is frankly downright rude about it, too. There are days you feel completely rejected.
When you go out as a family, even to do something fun or a treat, it seems like the child often spends much of the time either whining or in a screaming meltdown mode. At home, when she’s not screaming about something, the child is constantly demanding, particularly of her mother, and not always in a very polite fashion. She seems to get whatever she wants much of the time. She is obviously very bright and it appears to you that she already has a very good grasp of what buttons to push with various people (especially your wife) in order to get her own way. God, there is a lot of whining. Did I mention the whining? It seems to you that this kid is almost always the total centre of your wife's attention and if not, then she seems to find ways to bring the focus back to herself. It seems like she has a gazillion toys but it seems like she rarely wants to play with anything without her mother right by her side, doing it for her. When you offer, she often pushes you away or wanders off to find mummy.
When the child goes to bed and you finally get a moment with your wife, she’s often tired from all the demands of the day and ready to go to sleep herself. You don’t get to go out very much and you don’t see your friends (since they are back in the other city) and you certainly don’t get to enjoy your hobby any more. It begins to look like the only solution to the two city problem will be for you to burn some bridges, in what feels to you like a very big way. You are trying to get a business up and running, which in itself is a fairly terrifying prospect to you, but are foiled at every turn.
You love your wife very much and you made a commitment to be part of the family. You love the child too, but bloody hell, her behaviour is really irritating a lot of the time. It’s hard work. Sometimes it’s harder than you could have believed possible. And a lot of what you see going on is contrary to what you know of your own upbringing. You don't expect Botany to be perfect all the time, but it seems to you that people are often dismiss bad behaviour with the stamp of “normal” rather than trying to deal with it. Sometimes it feels to you like your wife makes a lot of excuses for the child along these lines, rather than addressing some of the underlying issues. You find this very frustrating. You agree with your wife that you will both handle discipline in a certain way, but then it often feels like you are the only one who enforces anything. As you struggle along, the child apparently says something untrue and horrible about you. You are hurt to the core. You suddenly realise that she could potentially say other even more damaging things about you, things that could really ruin your whole life.
Knox has told me almost all of this directly at one time or another, so it’s not entirely guesswork (although I am trying to put the pieces together here). I'm perhaps being a bit extreme in some of my descriptions for emphasis- like all families with young children, we have good days and bad days. I think part of the problem was that the text incident came at a point where we had had what seemed like a string of bad days.
So far, the solution which is working- for now- is for me to take over the role of a more confident, consistent disciplinarian, and for Knox to try as much as possible to remain in the good guy seat until we all feel a bit more settled. Neither of us is entirely at ease with this- I'm probably still much more lenient about some stuff than he might otherwise be and I know he's biting his tongue at times. But, while it's early days still, it does seem like Botany is responding positively, to the extent that we have seen an improvement in some of her behaviour. It reminds me that while I may not always see eye to eye with Knox about every aspect of parenting or child development, he also has the advantage of seeing things with a less emotionally entangled perspective. And if I can step back from being defensive and overprotective, I often come to realise that he often does have very valid points- and listening with an open mind usually helps makes things better.
As far as the inappropriateness of E. raising the issue in that way- yes. Absolutely yes. One of the reasons I initially took a rather flippant approach to the whole matter was that E. and I use text messaging to communicate about routine matters (“what time pick up?” where is Botany’s pink octopus? why are you late again?) If there is anything more complicated or which needs in depth discussion, we email each other and for anything really serious, we always talk about it, either face to face or on the phone. So I immediately assumed that, given the medium of telling me about it, E. wasn’t taking it particularly seriously or at least knew it wasn’t true- and in fact, I was correct on that. I think he thought it was such a strange thing for Botany to be saying that he simply queried it- although in hindsight, it would have been better- a whole lot better- to ask me about it in person.
There's probably a whole lot more but for now I think I have said enough, except to add two more little things. Since someone wondered whether it would help for E. to take Botany for the night/weekend sometimes, I should say that yes it probably would and yes he will be, hopefully soon. The trust issues will always be there but I do think he's come quite a long way and he's not doing it all on his own. It's really more of a square at this point than a triangle, you see. You see?