Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Turning Point - Give Me Twenty

I know that I tend to turn most of these reflections towards the positive or to search out some type of personal learning.  I don't do that because everything is happy all the time but more as a way to practice looking for the good.  I'm not able to manage it most of the time but in my writing, I can.  There was a time in my family when I found it very hard to be upbeat.  My youngest son seemed to be angry and combative all the time, he fought with his brother every waking moment, called him terrible names, and I thought that maybe some type of intervention was going to be necessary.

Where was all the anger coming from?  How could I tell if he was going through a phase or showing some early signs of serious struggles?   My best friend gave me a piece of very sage advice.  She pointed out to me that my son wasn't acting the same all the time.  When we visited with friends for example, he didn't fight with them or call their children names.  He did have the ability to control himself and censure his behavior at times.  It helped calm my mind but I still didn't have a solution.  Our biggest response had been natural consequences, usually a withdrawal of some type of privilege that was linked to the offensive activity.  If he trashed his brother's room then he would have to clean it or do his brother's chores for several days.  Mostly though, his consequence was taking away TV time or time with his friend.  A favorite message in those days was, "You don't get to be rewarded with hanging out with your friend if you treat your family like crap."

an exercise of chest
an exercise of chest (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is also the son who could spend hours in repetitive labor (sanding, heavy lifting, gardening).  There were moments when I felt like I couldn't listen to his negativity or anger one more second and yet if he had a job, that he deemed important, he could be focused and helpful.  Over time I realized that when he was most agitated and most deserving of a drop kick, was the exact time that I needed to give him a job. I met with several teachers back then, suggesting that as counter intuitive as it might seem from his actions, more responsibility in the classroom, not less, would help his classroom behavior.  As much as he liked to feel responsible, he also liked to feel strong.  As he was repetitively harassing  his brother, I would shout from the other room, "O.K., you've got too much energy for me right now.  Give me twenty!"  He would drop to the ground and do push ups.  To my surprise, he never fought me on my boot camp inspired demands.  As miserable as we all felt around him in those years, he felt just as bad.  He wanted a solution to his out of control behavior as much as we did.

In the midst of the worst of his negative, argumentative behavior, I asked him to join me as my workout buddy at the gym.  I had to lie to the YMCA about his age so that he could be permitted to use the equipment but it was worth it.  About 6 months after our gym routine had begun I looked at him and didn't see the anger.  "Do you feel different?   You don't seem as upset or on edge as you used to.  Have you noticed a change?"  I asked him.  He shrugged his shoulders and gave an understated, "Yea, maybe."

His intense attitude may have subsided all on its own just by getting older and allowing all the initial prepubescent stuff to settle down.  Maybe it was the physical exercise.  Maybe it was the two boys being separated and going to different schools.  Maybe it was just the realization that we weren't in a battle with our son as much as we were wrestling with his out of control feelings and behavior.  Maybe it was just a super lucky alignment of the stars and all of the things I just listed melding at the right moment.  So here is my reflection that I'm trying to remember for other things in my life:
  1. When you are in the middle of a struggle it can be hard to see a solution.  Don't give up.
  2. Being honest about the hard parts of our lives/parenting is so much easier than pretending that things    are "fine" and it's a lot less lonely.
  3. When agitated, frustrated, antsy, or full out angry, push ups might help and definitely won't hurt.
Good luck with whatever your latest struggle is.  We all have them so you are in good company.


  1. Ha! Love it. You are right, push-ups never hurt. Great, practical advice.

  2. It was great to write about that time, looking at it in the rear view mirror.

  3. Parenting is hard as hell. It's so hard to know how to handle so many of these situations. Our kids challenge us every day. And thank GOD there is no parenting test, or I'd likely fail!

    1. Thank you Steph! I just checked out your blog and saw the link to mine. That was a very sweet surprise. It's great to have you checking in here. I will need to start following you since improving the food situation for my family is a major goal.