Saturday was rough, parenting-wise. For reasons I could not understand, Javi was mean. Mean. Mean! Over the course of one day, he bit me, hit me, pinched me, and head-butted me, each more than once, once all at once. The saddest part for me, as his mama, was the look in his eyes as he hurt me – he meant to.
My husband and I think of partner parenting like a relay, so he tagged me out often, but each time I headed back in, the mean-ness continued. By his bedtime, I was in tears (in no small part due to the whopping head butt he landed right on my nose) and so, so sad. We still cuddled as he drank his bottle, then I escaped to cry to my own mama.
“My feelings are hurt because Javi was meeeeaaannn to meeeee!” I wailed.
She made appropriately sympathetic sounds, then reminded me of a story I’d told her about Friday.
See, on Friday morning at his sitter’s place, I was playing with another baby, Vincent the ten-month old. He crawled up and used my body to pull himself into a standing position and laughed in glee. So, I played with him. The sitter and I laughed at how quickly Javi noticed and walked over, then at how he leaned on Vincent to casually push him away from me. Before long, Javi had his arm wrapped around my neck, his other hand twisted in my bra strap (it’s his thing), and a very definite, “You just better back up offa my mama!” sneer on his face.
Later that evening, we went for our evening neighborhood stroll and I ended up holding a friend’s newborn while chatting about the loveliness that is early parenthood. Again, Javi ran right over and whined until his dad brought him as close to me as possible.
I didn’t connect the jealousy with the meanness until my mom mentioned it. In her words, “Babies feel things just like grown-ups, but they have even less ability to manage those feelings than we do… and we’re not always great at it. His feelings came right out at you through his actions.”
That mama of mine is a smart one.
So, the day wasn’t great, by any means, but we sure learned a lot, my overwhelmed-by-jealousy son and I. We spent Sunday morning together while Joey went for a bike ride and I made it a point to be near him. For now, the meanness has abated, and I’ve learned not to laugh off baby feelings (argh, doesn’t it sound awful when you put it into words? But really, how often do we do this? Often!)….
For what it’s worth, here’s my strategy when dealing with bad behavior. Let’s say he tries to bite me. “OW!” I yell at the top of my lungs, loud enough to startle him and get his attention. When he looks at me, I furrow my brows and set my mouth in a classic but caricatured Mad Mama Face, and I keep his eye contact until he looks away. Generally, he’ll be pouting by now. Sometimes he’ll try to bite or whatever again, so I’ll catch his mouth or face in my hand and hold it still, repeating the stare down. By this time, the point is almost always made and he’ll cry a little. (Because he was stopped, not because I hurt him!) If he persists, then I say something like “That Was Very Bad!” over and over in my Mama Voice with my Mad Mama Face until he looks away. Most of the time, before this last step, he’ll act as though he was going to repeat the bad behavior but just before he does, he’ll look right at me and shake his head no. “Yes, exactly!” I’ll say with a smile. “You’re not supposed to do that!” and all is well. If not, Mad Mama has to stay around until he gets the point. What’s important is to give him a chance to do the right thing at least once on his own.