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Mom Equals Garbage Can

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How is it that my kid is wonderful with everyone BUT me?

woman inside a trash can

Jennifer Ginsberg: One of the best pieces of parenting wisdom I ever heard was from Betsy Brown Braun, a best-selling author and parenting expert. Out of desperation, I went to her for a consultation. Yes, I know how neurotic and indulgent it may seem to run to a parenting expert for advice about how to deal with your 4-year-old! But I was completely frustrated that, despite my training as a psychotherapist, I could not figure out how to deal with my sweet, smart, sensitive child who morphed into a demanding, defiant, contrarian brat the moment we were together.

I asked her, "Why is Shane an angel with everyone but me? His teachers love him ... other moms are always saying how well behaved he is ... but all I seem to get is the bratty, whiny, worst of him!"

Betsy replied with a smile, "You are your child's garbage can. And this will never change."

I thought of Shane as a newborn, hungrily nursing away. When I burped him, he spit up in my hair, leaving a big, tangled wad on the back of my head that I didn't notice until the next morning, when I finally tried to run a brush through it. Mom equals garbage can.

I remembered Shane as a toddler, running through the park and finding "treasures" all over, like cigarette butts and spit-out gum, and proudly handing them to me. Mom equals garbage can.

Last Friday night, Shane climbed into my bed. "Mommy, my tummy hurts," he said, right before he puked all over me. Mom equals garbage can.

Just now, he blew his snotty nose and walked right past the actual trash can to hand me his goopy tissue. Mom equals garbage can.

But being a physical garbage can is one thing -- I can shower off the puke and dispose of the butts. I have yet to find a receptacle for the emotional barf he spews onto me day after day.

I recently went to his parent-teacher conference. "He is such a sweet and cooperative boy," his teacher beamed. "He always listens. Enjoy him!" she said.

I got home and asked my sitter, "How was he?"

"Oh, good, Jenny," she replied. "We always have fun. He never gives me any problems."

Shane descended on me. "Mommy, can I have my vitamins? Not four, but five vitamins ... because I am going to be five in 11 days. Can I have my Popsicle?"

"Yes to the vitamins, no to the Popsicle. And you always get three vitamins," I responded, as I always do.

"But whyyyyy?" he whined. "I want five. And I want you to take the training wheels off my bike right now. Don't forget for my birthday I need a blue Spiderman on my cake -- not black or red -- but blue, yes or no?"

I took a deep breath and said, "Hi Shane, it's nice to see you."

He continued, "My birthday is in 11 days, right? I want a Nerf gun, a Donkey Kong DSL, and don't forget my blue Spiderman cake -- not red, not black, but blue!" he repeated.

"Adam," I screamed across the house to his office, "has Shane been watching TV with commercials again?"

"And a Spiderman pinata and a SpongeBob umbrella. Can you get it for me now???"

"Shane," I said calmly, "I just walked in and I don't like getting a list of demands the second I see you. Let's play a game or read a book together."

He gave me his best scowl and puked out a day's worth of latent frustrations and stifled feelings: "I don't want a book. I don't want to play a game. Just give me my Popsicle."

I firmly replied, "No Popsicles before dinner."

"Then you're not my mommy anymore. I don't even love you!" he screamed, and ran to Daddy's office.

Mom equals garbage can.

next: I Married Mr. Anal
6 comments so far | Post a comment now
MarMar November 20, 2009, 8:10 AM

Thank you! It’s not just me! And my best friend and her four-year-old son! Our children are normally sweet, good kids - even with us - but get them alone with only their mommies and they act horribly sometimes! I once read somewhere that it’s because they feel secure enough with Mom to know that even if they’re “bad”, Mommy will still love them. I’m flattered, but can’t they find an easier way to show it?!

Tracy Hahn-Burkett November 20, 2009, 12:53 PM

We live this contradiction every day. It’s become a standing joke with my daughter’s preschool teachers that we come in for parent/teacher conferences, they describe the angelic, obedient, quiet, well-mannered child they teach, my husband and I burst into laughter and make sure we’re all talking about the same kid, and then once he and I recover, we inquire with wonder about this cooperative girl we rarely see.

When it gets really irritating, I cling to something more than one person has told me about this: that this Dr. Jekyll/Mr. Hyde behavior means that your child feels comfortable and secure with you above everyone else, and that you have actually succeeded in teaching them some of those good behaviors you work so hard on. They know how they’re supposed to act and they work like crazy to do it in a public setting, but then when they get home they need to let loose. And they do, because they know you’ll love them no matter what.

We think about that a lot around here!

kelly November 20, 2009, 4:48 PM

I think it depends on the child too. My oldest (who is a really great kid) does nothing but complain to me about EVERYTHING, where my middle child is very sweet and always wants to please me. My youngest is going through the terrible twos at the moment, so I can’t really tell how he is going to be with me yet.

anne November 21, 2009, 11:40 AM

OMG…I so am my kids dumping ground. When teachers tell me how pleasant and polite my tween is I respond”Well she must leave her halo at school”.

Tricia November 27, 2009, 9:24 PM

Maybe it’s because you’ve taught him that you think he’s so important he should get to eat peanut butter if he wants it, even it if puts other children’s health—and possibly lives—at risk.

quesadilla January 21, 2010, 12:20 PM

Did it ever occur to you that YOU created the monster your child seems to be in front of you and only you? (I hate to even say that a child “seems to be” a “monster,” especially because to be a monster, an individual has to have a lack of ability to feel remorse, but for the purpose of this blog entry, I will only diminish the term “monster” with the word “seems.”) A child so young cannot be reasonably held responsible for vomiting on you; it is clear that a sick child should not be shamed for throwing up wherever the spew happens to land. Furthermore, how can any mother — mother, especially, over father — not see that if her child, a son especially, behaves poorly (especially toward her) that she has done something that would lead him to do so? Whether the mother is short- or even medium-tempered with her child, or she holds him responsible for spitting-up in her hair during his infancy, etc., children are sharp enough to notice these things and respond accordingly. If your child behaves this way, you, SO clearly, screwed up…and you just proved that you’re a bad mother by holding baby-spit-up-in-your-hair against your child until he is four.
I actually had a decent amount of respect for you until I read this article.

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