John and Benjamin had a bit of a falling out over our Christmas vacation. And if you think a three-year-old and a thirty-year-old can’t be at odds, than I’m about to enlighten you.
In October, I gave John permission to take Benjamin into time outs when he witnessed bad behavior, or when John found himself on the receiving end of the bad behavior. For example, if Benjamin took a swing at John while yelling something like “you butt picker” John had my blessing to take him into his bedroom for a chat and a time out. Then, in November, John took his discipline approach up a notch and started intervening when Benjamin was throwing a fit directed toward me, his one and only precious mama.
Soon our plan back fired and Benjamin started acting out toward John – not only on occasion, but very often. He began saying things to John like “don’t talk to me” and started crying at the idea of John watching him. It wasn’t pretty.
After a particularly bad night over the holidays we all sat down and then I channeled Mrs. Brady and started off our first “family” discussion with, “John can you tell Benjamin why you are upset.”
“Benjamin, tonight when you told me not to talk to you at dinner – you hurt my feelings.”
“Now, it’s your turn Benjamin. What do you say? Can you say I’m sorry?”
“No! Because John Bear hurt my feelings, too.”
“Why Benjamin? How did John Bear hurt your feelings?” I asked.
“Because. He did.”
“Well, John Bear can you say ‘I’m sorry for hurting Benjamin’s feelings?’” John looked at me like I was crazy because technically, he hadn’t hurt Benjamin’s feelings and I was talking like a way too chipper psycho mom. But I kept pushing and after they both apologized to each other everyone went to bed, for better or worse.
The next day John and I re-assessed our discipline strategy.
“It’s just not working, or I’m not ready for you to discipline him, or Benjamin isn’t ready. Whatever the reason – you have to stop now and just enjoy him. Get in with him first. Earn his love and then you’ll have the respect you need to carry out any kind of fatherly discipline.”
John was silent, just listening and taking it all in or, my paranoid relationship saboteur-self thought, deciding he had had enough of me and us.
“You’re not his father yet. You’re still my boyfriend. And we shouldn’t rush this part of the equation. And when you’re over at my place, you can’t pay so much attention to me – you have to be completely focused on Benjamin because in his world, everyone is there to see him, to be with him. He shouldn’t have to fight for attention.”
“Okay,” he said, “I’ll do it. I’ll try my best.”
“And I’m not worried about how you’ll be as a father, John. You are going to be magnificent. It’s just too much for us all to take on. For you, for me and for Benjamin. Let’s just relax. And besides, I have three years of practice on you.”
I must have gone on for 10 minutes straight. Just talking openly and honestly about all of these things and realizing that I wasn’t ready, quite yet, to co-parent.
The next time they hung out John immersed himself in having fun with Benjamin. [Remember the scrambled eggs? Same thing.]
And just like that, some kind of light bulb went off and Benjamin decided he was madly in love with John Bear.
Over the past few weeks John has had very little reason to discipline Benjamin because there hasn’t been a reason. And for me, as a single mom, this kind of scene is the stuff dreams are made of… this is my fairy tale.
And may I always retain my ability to channel Mrs. Brady when necessary.