I’m used to individual parenting. I mean, I’m home alone with the kids most of the time and I’m fine dealing with random tantrums and epic breakdowns with no logic behind them. When I’m on the road though and I’m staying in somebody else’s house, yeah no. At home I’m the epitome of patience and have all the time in the world. In somebody else’s home all I want is for the madness to end…five minutes ago. Especially after a crazy drive in puke weather.
What can you do when you are a parent in a strange land…without your backup? The reason I pose this question is this:
If you’ve driven to your destination and there just isn’t the cooperation that is required to function in a happy manner, when is it the right time to just pack up and head home? Is it letting the child win to call it a wrap and pack up? Is it positive parenting to show your kid that bad behavior prevents fun? How should I try to see it or help the situation without negatively impacting everybody?
I have no idea. So, here’s how I proceeded.
Captain’s Log, day 1: Panda wakes up from nap with a scream. His nap was full length. He was not injured during sleep and nothing tragic occurred during said nap time. He could not stop crying…without tears. So, I asked him if he was awake or asleep. He says he is indeed awake. I asked if he didn’t feel well or was sad. Nope. Did he want to stop crying? No. Did he need help making something better that was making him sad? No.
Resulting conversation: “you need to figure out what’s wrong and tell me so that I can help fix it or you need to stop crying. I’ll be back in five.” Did it work? Yes…after I left and came back three times. What did we determine? It was just general unhappiness that he needed to work out on his own.
Unfortunately this theme continued through the evening. When it was time to call Papa he wanted nothing to do with the process. When it was time for PJs: “I don’t know how to put them on” and then to the floor he falls. Time to put away the last toys that are still out: “just one more thing….I’m doing just one more thing…and one more…” and listening and cooperating was out the window.
When we finally are getting into bed we had a talk, some final thoughts to ponder in a his dreams. I told him that he needed to wake up happy and ready to listen and have a good day. He said that he could do that. I then added the following: “if tomorrow is like tonight, we are packing up and going home.”
Was that the right way to approach a disciplinary issue? If it’s just me present I can’t sustain a relaxing trip and battle a wailing three year old. I’m a pretty chill dad and I’m okay parenting in front of others, but uncontrollable behavior in somebody else’s home… What if I change my mind about all of this tomorrow but I’ve already put out there what the discipline will be if things don’t improve?
Captain’s Log, day 2: Spirits were high to start and the day fared well for most of the journey. Rough seas hit midafternoon turning into squalls and gales before sunset.
Basically, we were right back in that same spot as the previous day. We’d made some slight alterations to our nap to ensure for the happiest wakeup available, but this did nothing. As the emotions ran higher and higher, I reminded the Panda that he was making a choice to have this ongoing tantrum with no apparent reason. He continued to scream/sob uncontrollably. I again confirmed that he wasn’t in pain or sick and wasn’t sad.
[pause] As a parent I struggle with when to reel back my disciplinary track and when to execute it. I’m all about mercy and getting second and third chances. I mean, it’s a three year old we’re talking about here, not a grown up. [unpause]
In an attempt to give one more chance, we went for a walk. Fresh air does a world of good for me, so why wouldn’t it make things better for my son? Well, the walk happened. There were tears. They stopped. We walked more. The tears found us again, this time accompanied by spaghetti body. We recovered. Tears. Walked more. And again.
**If you haven’t had a three year old, this might seem totally strange to you. ***If you have had a three year old, why does this happen?
We ended our walk, still angry at the world. I told Panda that we were going to get our things together and head for home (5 hour drive). This was also a world-ending thing to say. And here is where my parental struggle happens: stick to my guns and have a car ride with what sounds like a dying humpback whale or tough it out and abandon my post?
What’s your guess? What did I do?? I went and lay in a hammock.
Upon coming back into the house, there was a show on and a calm child. I use TV as a reward for doing an awesome job at listening and showing patience with one another, so seeing this triggered the “Oh no! What’s he going to take away from this whole situation?!” But then I was like, “well, he’s calm and we can talk about what was going on and what should’ve happened.” We talked, he still wouldn’t/couldn’t tell what was wrong, but we talked. We did get to spend one more night with our friends. We did get to have a fun morning.
Moral of the story: in circumstances when you’re the lone wolf leading your pack, be flexible with your parenting. That doesn’t mean to give in and let the cubs set the rules, but to try something new or trust somebody else’s experience. Sometimes what works at home in daily life doesn’t work where there are fun people and things to be distractions.
The road trip home: see future blog post titled “OMG, Kill Me Now” or “Crying Because I Fell Asleep During Tarzan”.
Rob Taylor is the founder of 2TravelDads, the original LGBT Family Travel blog. Focusing on ecotourism and education, 2TravelDads inspires LGBT families (and traditional families also) to go beyond their usual getaways and use travel to learn about and be part of a bigger world. “Traveling the globe and giving the kids a broad worldview.”