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Late night tantrums yet another 'joyous' part of parenting

My three-year-old son, Joshua, has decided that 1:30 a.m. makes for an excellent time to wake up, walk into the living room and scream until I get out of bed. He then proceeds to sob out irrational complaints like "my bed's not comfortable" and "my pajamas are too slippery" before finally settling down.

His random late night tantrums usually last for around half an hour before he peacefully returns to bed. Of course, dealing with a screaming incoherent child for half an hour in the middle of the night makes it essentially impossible for me to go back to sleep.

The middle of the night tantrums, however, pale in comparison to the pre-bedtime ones. The more tired my son gets, the more likely he is to view the suggestion that he goes to sleep as a horrifying insult.

This refusal to go to sleep quickly turns into another series of irrational complaints usually capped by Joshua being furious with me because I can't make the sun come back up. He also attempts to argue that it's already morning and that he has slept already.

He saved his ultimate tantrum for my wife, however, uncorking a nearly four-hour screaming, crying and yelling extravaganza while I was away on a business trip last week. This charming episode ultimately ended in Joshua's near exhaustion and return to his normal, perfectly sweet behavior, just as the cavalry arrived in the form of my father-in-law and his wife.

This exposure to extreme noises while being deprived of sleep has prepared me should I ever find myself on the wrong end of an FBI siege. The feds can park outside and crank up the death metal, but nothing they could unleash would be as unsettling as a three-year-old alternately calling your name and saying "daddy, I don't like you."

Nothing in any of the parenting manuals prepared us for this. In fact, most parenting books offer advice like "just ignore your child" and the tantrum will stop. While this proved ultimately true, I'm pretty sure the authors never envisioned having to ignore a three-hour yelling fit.

It's not just the parenting books that gloss over the less delightful details of parenting. I'm fairly convinced that the parents of older children withhold information from those with younger kids. They do this because pointing out what fresh miseries await you at each new stage of your child's development accomplishes nothing beyond creating worry.

Most parents know that having a newborn means not sleeping much and that two-year-olds can be a handful. Experienced moms and dads, however, leave out the fact that the "terrible twos" precede the - and this is a working title - "horrifyingly irrational screaming threes."

With my son being three I'm unsure as to what awaits me in future years, but I'm guessing the "flame-throwing fours" and "random destruction fives" can't be too far from what I should expect. It seems that all stages of raising a young child involve lack of sleep, endless frustration and constantly telling a child to not do whatever it is that he will blissfully continue to do.

It seems that if prospective parents understood that while parenting has its joys, it also has more than a few underreported pitfalls, very few children would actually be born. Keeping stories of multi-hour tantrums, random biting and other atrocities from prospective moms and dads, not only stops them from worrying about something they can't control, it ensures the survival of the human race.

Like all the other phases of childhood - which so far has included a refusing to eat phase and a crying hysterically when daddy gets home from work phase - I'm told that this too shall pass. Until then, I plan on surviving by ignoring the tantrums when I can, randomly falling asleep at my desk when I have to and offering my son any bribe necessary to buy myself a good night's sleep when I must.

Daniel B. Kline's book, "50 Things Every Guy Should Know How to Do," is available in bookstores everywhere. He can be reached at dan@notastep.com.

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