Time for a Truce


Inquiring minds want to know: Does your child use bodily fluid as a means to communicate low parental approval ratings?

We finally are nearing the end of an insane two-month stretch where every weekend has involved travel, visitors, or (least fun of all) Jon being away. Not surprisingly, Laurel has not been happy about Jon’s weekend absences, and it appears that she also hasn’t been oblivious to the tight lipped tension or petty squabbling that has occured when my grumpiness and his guilt about these weekends have collided.
Coincidentally, as we have navigated the family through this period, Jon has been reading up on the family systems and dynamics literature for a class. And we’re now completely convinced that indeed, if there’s bad mojo somewhere in the family system, all members are affected. (This follows the idea that kids sometimes act out in the face of family conflict.)

In our case, it seems that Laurel has chosen to act out and call for our attention in messy ways. One instance occurred over the first of Jon’s series of weekends away. However supportive I tried to be externally, in reality, I was feeling sorry for myself and pouty. In turn, Laurel was edgy and gave me a hard time all weekend, including refusing to use the potty (literally, she’d kick and scream and make it physically impossible for me to put her on the seat), instead opting to pee intentionally all over the house. (She’s been potty trained for months, so this isn’t the way things normally work.) The second example occurred last night, where Laurel woke up crying for both of us in the middle of night (again, this usually never happens), complained of a mysterious stomachache (she and I had eaten the same food all day and I felt fine), and then we all spent a couple of hours in the bathroom together, alternating between Laurel clearing out her system and us cleaning up the associated mess.

Ironically enough, while Jon and I have struggled to rationally and intellectually communicate well and keep grounded as a family over the last several weeks, we were at our absolute best last night in the trenches; lightheartedly working as a system, helping one other, being soothing and calming for Laurel and to each other, and not allocating blame anywhere.

During that first potty revolt weekend, Laurel and I finally made it over our grumpy hump when I took a minute to breathe, then told her that I always love her even if I periodically get mad or frustrated about things and can’t figure out how to handle them. She nodded vigorously as if she understood. I then asked her if we could declare a truce, she asked me what that was, and I paused (thinking that maybe I was getting in over my head here…) then responded with, “A truce is when we decide to stop being mean to each other and start having fun again.” We shook on it, and miraculously, after that declaration, the tides turned (including those of the potty nature). And now I wonder whether last night’s otherwise unexplainable stomachache was Laurel’s way of getting Jon and I to come together and declare our own truce.