Parenting dilemma:

We try to be all gentle and attachment parent-y and respectful and non-carrot-and-stick-y here at Chez Naptime, and we’ve found ourselves perched on a parenting dilemma. We don’t do the authoritative parenting thing; it’s really not our way or the highway. We’re here to teach and we’re here to learn. There are some inviolable rules, but most things, when they don’t deal with safety or or treating human beings gently, are open to negotiation. I’ve posted here before about how open we are with language, with profanity, with ideas.

We try to respect our son as a person (no such respect for the soon-to-be child because that bugger will get way more say in our lives than we want, as it is, so for now it just gets giggles for its spleenectomy skills and and is otherwise ignored) and demand the same respect from Peanut. We’re not his servants. We’re people. We respond to polite talk and ignore grouchy talk. We respond to all manner of emotions and honor them without correction, but won’t listen to whining. Cry if you’re sad, ask for a hug if you’re angry, laugh loudly and unabated if you’re happy. Find an alternative to hitting and yelling. And we try to practice what we preach. Try. The yelling part is hard.

Blah blah, blah, Nap, get to the juicy stuff.

Fine. Preschool has been an interesting lesson in other children, a really informative lesson on gentle parenting options (Bev Bos inspired co-op means there are lots of great parents there all the time and I’ve learned from them), and a crash course in crappy child behavior. Several whiners, a few takers, and lots and lots of exclusion and surliness. All age-appropriate, all carefully handled and redirected, all exhausting. Most of which is coming straight home for practice.

So Peanut spent a week or so sticking his tongue out when he was displeased. I didn’t want to make too big a deal out of it (grand scheme of things, a universally recognized sign of displeasure, freaking hilarious, pretty innocuous; but not something I’m gonna put up with long term because I find it offensive and don’t want to be the mom whose kid does that to grandparents.) I mentioned each time that we don’t do that because it’s just not friendly and if you disagree it’s time to use your words. Fine. Tongue is mostly gone.

What we have now is “poopy.” As in “NO! You’re a poopy Mommy!” Or “Get out of here you poopy Daddy!” And my favorite: “Why do we have to have cats? You’re poopy cats and I’m gonna flush you down!”

Now, I don’t care about the scatalogical reference. I’m one of those Moms who plays along when he says he’s making a stew of squirrel eyeballs and whale poop in his pint-sized kitchen. I grab a bowl and pretend eat and tell him how disgusting it is and can we please add worms for texture. I don’t mind honoring his need to tell me off and to distance himself from me when I’m saying something he doesn’t like. he’s allowed to his opinions, even if they’re strong and anti-Mom.

But I don’t particularly like being called poopy. Not in the “I’ve sacrificed everything I am and want to be so I can take care of you, you ingrate, so show some respect” kind of way. Close, though.

I also think I need to manage the beginning of the name-calling phase. Calling people names isn’t nice. It’s hurtful. Poopy is not a big deal, but it’s teaching him about power and language and derision, and I think I need to parent here instead of hoping it goes away if I ignore it.

So, I ran it by my “how would you feel if he did that in front of your sister-in-law” radar, which is a pretty accurate measure of how I judge acceptable versus not acceptable (I can’t use the older generation, because they disagree with just about everything we do, and we don’t particularly agree with their parenting values, either. My s-i-l has a similar parenting philosophy about most issues and a lot more experience, common sense, and patience than I do, so that’s where I go).

And my sil radar is befuddled. I don’t know what she would do. She might laugh (though she’s one of those awesome parents who’s smart enough to turn away or leave the room before laughing so the behavior could hypothetically be corrected at some point). She might casually say there are better ways to tell Mom no and let’s try some. She might ignore it. She wouldn’t yell or punish him, which some of the parents who I respect would. I don’t judge that impulse. I just don’t want to pick this, Battle No. 367 of today’s 928 battles for time out or yelling or general stakes-raising.

So I don’t know. Do I ignore being poopy? For, let’s be honest, I’m a grouchy pregnant woman facing her last few weeks of productivity with a list of things to finish a mile long, and am quite often a scatalogical word that he doesn’t even know yet, but that might correspond with “poopy.” Do I use “poopy” as a springboard for discussing how to talk to people and how to disagree in ways that wins friends and influences people? Do I let it run its course without the reinforcement of attention? Do I send him to Grumpa’s house for the beginning of his medieval training in “back in my day”? (Yup. Just called Grumpa several names, but in a way that seems simply delightful. See how much I have to teach a child? I can’t let “poopy” go without teaching Peanut to push real buttons, right?)

I know I don’t want to cut him off and make him think it’s not okay to disagree with me. I want to honor the independence without approving the fecality of this recent phase. I want to stop overthinking the small stuff but want to catch the big stuff early when it’s manageable.


15 thoughts on “Soothsayer

  1. I totally get your dilemma (and really, I envy your patience), but in my experience, my kids are looking for me to react, looking for the boundaries. “What’s going to make Mom to finally say something” or “Will this get me in trouble?” I know it’s cliche, but I think kids really do push those boundaries just to test us.

    I think you need to decide if the word “poopy” used as an adjective bothers you. If so, tell him. Would it bother you if he called his friend or his teacher poopy? I think it might bother them. Most of the time, I think kids aren’t aware of the true meaning behind the words they are trying out. Sure, he probably knows what “poop” means. But “poopy Mommy” does not mean you crapped your pants, and maybe he needs to understand that. I know you want him to feel that he can disagree with you, and I get that, but I think this is a little different than being able to express his mind freely.

    (For instance, my KDGer overheard the word wiener from a 1st grade boy and decided it was her new fave word. Of course when I asked her if she knew what it meant, she had no idea, but knew from the way the boys were saying it that it was probably not good. I told her that I didn’t think it was a nice word and that was that, she stopped using it.)

    Did that make any sense? I’m kind of all over the board today. It’s been a poopy day. :)

  2. Maybe go the “how would it make you feel if somebody called you poopy, and don’t you see how that makes me feel?” route? That can always backfire, I guess, since he’s in fact trying to make you feel the way you feel about it. Still, kids with lots of empathy respond well to that tactic sometimes, I think.

    We’re dealing with a lot of whining and crying about things lately from both of our kids. It’s a different manifestation of what you’re struggling with here — inappropriate communication of a desire or emotion (we did also have the poopy mommy phase). Maybe it’s kind of hard-ass of us, but when our kids whine and cry for things lately, we just tell them over and over that we don’t understand what they’re saying. It’s actually kind of fun sometimes (if, frankly, a little wrong) to make a big show of not understanding. “Why gracious me and mine, I so desperately want to help you get what you’re asking for, and my ears are just pricked and quivering to pick up what you’re saying, but all I hear is a high-pitched whining sound…”

    So maybe you can find a way to simply not acknowledge the statements he makes in which he calls you poopy, or to help him understand that the poopy he’s talking about renders his statements meaningless to you. Tell him that any time you hear the word poopy, your brain turns to mush and you can’t process the rest of the sentence you’ve heard. Make it an impotent utterance, so that it doesn’t get him what he wants (even the satisfaction of making you feel frustrated or hurt). Maybe once he begins to see that the only reaction he gets out of it is one of bafflement and lack of understanding, he’ll cut it out.

    Who knows, though. Kids’re weird. Trial and error is your friend.

  3. Gibby, that’s pretty much where I am, I think—you need to disagree but that word doesn’t say disagree. It says something that makes me feel sad.
    Daryl, I *love* that you do that, too. I always refuse to hear anything that is whined, and offer the “as soon as you can say it in your normal voice I will hear you, but my ears just don’t understand that voice.” What a fabulous idea to make poopy just like whining. It greeks all subsequent text. Love it. (Also falling over myself picturing you saying effusively that you’re ears are pricked and excited but thwarted by the whine. Freaking image of the week.)

  4. Daryl, thanks for sharing your thinking cap! I will design an experiment to see if the “I don’t hear high pitched whiny poopy crap” non-reaction works on 1) undergrads 2) tenured professors and 3) relatives.

    *rubs hands together mischieviously*
    This is gonna be juicy.

    • jc, I know undergrads would respond to “if you begin your excuse with ‘I didn’t know it was due…’ then my ears can’t hear the rest of your lie.” Tenured professors cannot hear anything, even if it’s you telling them you can’t hear them. Relatives? Meh. Those f—ers are bound and determined to make life hell, so telling them you can’t hear them will just make them use poopy whiny back channels.

  5. My daughter goes through that from time to time. I just smile at her and tell her that when she wants me to reply she can call me by my real name. She gets her silliness out, has a blast – there’s just something about calling people poopy, I guess – and then she lets it go when she’s ready to be taken seriously.

  6. “then my ears can’t hear the rest of your lie” = I am immediately adopting this for professional use. ;)

    Re “poopy”: If a word bugs us for whatever reason, we call it a “bathroom word” and they have to wait until they are in there for baths or whatnot to say it.

    And yes, at first it was like a George Carlin sketch when they got in there and would run through the list but that seems to have passed.

    They seem to differentiate, too, to be able to use “I have to poop” as a solemn notification when appropriate but save the “You’re a poopy head” talk for playful bath time banter.

    Dunno what the future holds, but it’s worked so far. :)

  7. I’m trying Daryl’s technique, next time I hear whining.

    I totally sympathize with you, Nap. We’ve been dealing with that off and on here with different words. You know you have to nip it in the bud before it gets further, but you don’t want to make it a big deal. Depending on the word and intent, I’ve tried different techniques. If it’s a cuss, we sit down and discuss why we don’t use it with the punishment of time out if heard again. (Hasn’t happened yet.) If he’s discovered a new word like weiner, he can say it in his room by himself all he wants but not in company. If he uses certain words to upset his brother (and usually it’s “I forgive you” and yeah, I don’t get that either), he goes to time out for being mean. If he’s calling me a name (Other than a cuss word), I ignore it, telling him that’s fine but I love you anyways and you haven’t seen a mean mommy yet. That’s ten years from now.

    So good luck. Let us know what you end up doing and what ended up working for you.

  8. poopy, eh? i’m trying to skirt the ladies’ recent “fuckfuckfuck!” mockery of us, cursing a thousand poopy things during the day, and am trying to stop dropping the ‘f’bomb. don’t know that them saying i was poopy would bother me, tho. but if it bothers you, maybe call him poopy back. is that juvenile? i am becoming more immature as the days pass…ignore me.

  9. Medieval back in my day training. LMAO. Because it is so true. My dad is always telling me how differently he did things when he was raising us like 150 bajillion years ago. About the poopy thing? I dunno. I think it will pass if you just keep up with what you are doing. You are an awesome mom. Whale poop stew!? You son is very lucky. As is the little hatchling who is almost here. PS Yesterday Nino spent at least an hour saying over and over “I’m gonna eat your butt. I’m gonna eat your butt. I’m gonna eat your butt….” Until my ears went numb. All to the tune of Old McDonald Had a Farm. Xanax anyone?

  10. In our house we used to just get ‘kaka!’ whenever the mood struck, but lately it is diversifying. The monster likes to create his own swear words, often amazingly achieving some Spanish/English bilingual-sounding insult-like results. Current favourites are ‘panco!’ and ‘chanchudo!’

    He says them with such anger and frustration that it is hard not to feel their wrath, even though they are technically even less offensive than poopy. (Thanks to some darling friends, he’s also starting to incorporate ‘I’m going to kill you’.)

    So far, all our attempts at empathy-building have met with growls and hisses (he’s into jaguars). We are making no progress at all. Please please share any breakthroughs you stumble upon (or wisely and lovingly craft, of course).

  11. I really appreciated this post as a reminder that parenting is a learned skill. I feel so often like I’m just winging it, that rarely am I actively “parenting.” I always feel a little bit awed by your apparent ability to remain calm in the face of a crazy-assed little kid.

    • Macondo, I might start using chanchudo. That feels really cathartic to say. I’m trying the “I can’t hear anything you say after that” and the “bathroom words” angles right now. Will let you know.
      Kate, I’m totally winging it. I feel, weeks after something happens, ridiculous that there was a clear answer that would have helped a lot more than what I chose. Oh well. I do remain pretty calm, for me, but I’ll post soon some of my out of control behavior and my kid’s nonplussed reactions.
      Organic, I’m speechless. I have no idea what I would’ve done with the musical version of I’m gonna eat your butt. sing along, lose my mind…is there a difference any more?

  12. Calmly explain to P that anyone who feels the need to use “poopy” or other curse words simply has no mastery of the English language. Natch.

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