By The Piepers
Full-time mom with part-time job needs rest Q: My three kids, ages 5, 3 and 8 months, are often awake every morning before 6:30. Besides being a full-time mom, I also work a part-time night shift and I do not want to wake up at 6:30 every morning. (They used to sleep until almost 8.) Usually, it's the 3-year-old who wakes up first, and then wakes everybody else up. When I tell him to go back to bed, he screams and cries and there is no reasoning with him, which makes me scream and cry, and that is a horrible way to start the day. If I tell him he may play quietly in his room until the rest of us are awake, he makes noise anyway, as any 3-year-old would. I think I'm going crazy. I am exhausted and irritable all the time and feel like all I do lately is snap at my kids. My husband, who wakes up at 4:30 a.m. for work, has little sympathy for me or this situation. I am at my wit's end. What can I do to get my kids to sleep longer, short of keeping them awake until midnight? L.D., Chicago
A:With three children under 5 and a part-time night job you definitely have your hands full. You are accurate in believing that something in your life needs to change-you are not getting adequate rest, and this lack of sleep is affecting you in destructive ways. However, your kids are not the problem-they are acting like kids. It is not unusual for children 5, 3 and 8 months to wake up about 6:30. The real solution is to find a way to get yourself more sleep. Perhaps you have a neighbor or relative who could watch your children for an hour or two so you can nap. Or maybe you could switch to a daytime shift. If all else fails, when the 8-month-old is taking a nap maybe you could settle the 3- and 5-year-old down to watch a video and get a little rest.
Most important is to do something-these are important, formative years for your children and, as you clearly realize, you need to feel up to caring for and enjoying them.
What happens when Smart Love method doesn't work? Q:What do you suggest when the Smart Love approach doesn't seem to work? My husband and I have used your approach very successfully with our 1½ -year-old toddler. However, we have a 3-year-old who seems determined to provoke us. He continually asks for things he knows he can't have-soda, candy before dinner, to go outside when his sister is taking her nap-and then melts down when we say “no.” We try the Smart Love approach of recognizing that it's hard when he wants something and can't have it and try to remain friendly and find him something else to eat or do that he will enjoy. That works for a while, but then he goes right back to demanding the impossible and throwing a fit when he can't have it. Eventually we lose our tempers and send him to his room for a timeout, but that doesn't seem to help, either. He throws things around his room or comes out looking for another confrontation. Please advise. E.K., Kankakee
A:Once children have unknowingly developed needs for conflict, these needs tend to be persistent. Without realizing it, your son feels comfortable and cared for when you become angry with him. When you use the Smart Love approach and help him with his frustration in a loving manner, initially he feels relieved and happy. Inevitably, though, he will be driven to provoke you again in an attempt to satisfy his needs to make you angry and so he will feel loved and cared for. But when you become frustrated, lose your temper and send your son to his room, you are strengthening and perpetuating your son's confusion of anger and love.
On the other hand, if you respond to his provocations with consistent caring, eventually he will realize that closeness with you is preferable to conflict, and he will grow increasingly less provocative. We have found the Smart Love approach to be the most effective way to respond to children who have developed unrecognized needs for unhappiness, but you need to be patient. Your son developed these needs over the last three years, and it will be a while before he can turn away from them once and for all.
Will having a second child too soon hurt my son? Q: Could you address the issue of spacing children? I have a 13-month-old and have been thinking about getting pregnant again. I can see that my son needs me a lot right at the moment, but I assume that he would be ready for a sibling when he is around 2. On the other hand, I have friends who have had second children when their first was around 2 and they have found it very difficult to cope. My 13-month-old is very happy and easygoing, so I am hoping that it won't be a problem. E.W., Barrington
A:Ideally, it is best to space children at least three years apart. Until children are about 3, they are too immature to know that their parents love them even when they can't immediately respond to them.
As a result, children under 3 find it very difficult to wait when they want attention and their parents are occupied elsewhere (as with a younger sibling). Once they turn 3, children who have been adequately responded to pass a developmental milestone. In most cases they are able to wait for their parents' attention, secure in the knowledge that their parents love them and want to respond to them as soon as possible. This is the reason 3-year-olds cope better with new siblings than do younger children.
This said, we recognize that many parents need to have their children close together and also that sometimes babies just come along when the next oldest sibling is under 3. Parents who have two children under 3 should keep in mind that it is normal for the older child to chafe at the time spent with the new arrival and should make sure that they set aside sufficient time to spend alone with the older child. If the older child can enjoy the warmth of having his parents' undivided attention for some part of every day, his emotional development will proceed normally and he will not become unduly resentful of the new sibling.
Questions? Here's your chance to get some answers to your pressing parenting questions. If you're trying to figure out how to handle some aspect of your child's behavior, send your question to Chicago Parent Q&A, 141 S. Oak Park Ave., Oak Park, IL 60302; or e-mail it to SPedersen@wjinc.com. The Piepers will respond to three questions per month. Sorry-they are unable to respond to questions that they do not answer for publication. More answers For more answers to questions from readers since January 2000, visit our website, www.chicagoparent.com. Click on “Past Issues” and then “Smart Love.” For a more complete understanding of the Pieper's philosophy and psychology, read their book, “Smart Love: The Compassionate Alternative to Discipline That Will Make You A Better Parent and Your Child a Better Person.”Martha Heineman Pieper, Ph.D., and William J. Pieper, M.D., are the authors of Addicted to Unhappiness: Free Yourself from Moods and Behaviors that Undermine Relationships, Work and the Life You Want (McGraw-Hill, 2002), about helping adults improve their own lives. They also wrote the best-selling parenting book, Smart Love (Harvard Common Press, 2001). The Piepers have spent more than three decades practicing psychotherapy, counseling parents and supervising other mental health professionals. They have five children and live in Chicago.