Guest post: 9-year-old boys and their mood swings

The other day I was posting on Facebook about how my older son seems to be going through wild mood swings and outbursts of anger. Now, I know he's emotional (all boys are. all kids are), but the ways he's had of dealing with his emotions in the past (talking about it, getting physical exercise, hugs) don't seem to be cutting it anymore. I was bemoaning my bad parenting skills, when T, a friend of mine who's a dad of the kind of 14-year-old son you'd be proud to have, offered some advice. So I asked him to write an entire post for those of us who were really good with the "talk it out/run it out" method of emotion management for our little guys, but may be feeling blindsided by the sheer rage of our bigger guys.

So without further ado, here's the dad's eye view of the 9-year-old boy, from a survivor:

It’s Not You, It Really Is Him

Hey there, friend of Moxie here. Just like you, I’m a parent, and specifically, a dad.

Question for everyone: Do you have a son, between the ages of 9 and 12? Have you contemplated calling the FBI and filing a report that claims he was abducted by aliens and replaced with an irrational clone?

Put the phone down.

Children basically go through three phases before becoming teenagers or young adults. First there was the Terrible Two’s, where the child has obtained the motor-skills of mobility and speech. Every other word out their mouth’s is ‘no’. It’s simply them trying to shape and control their world with the new found abilities. They become more agreeable for a few years, and then the Ferocious Five’s appear. It’s usually triggered by them being influenced more by other children (kindergarten) and their need to establish some form of independence, i.e., I will not do what you say when you want me to. Once they get acclimated to attending large classrooms, being away from you for longer periods, things tend to even out and they are more predictable. You eventually know the right buttons to push, the right words to say, and the right disciplines to use to keep things on track.

So, for the next few years you think to yourself that while parenting is hard, you’re doing a good job, you’ve been blessed with a good kid, and all the hard work will produce a wonderful adult you can be proud of.

Then it happens.

Premonitions of phase three. You think the first two were bad?? Strap yourself into the rollercoaster.

Your little man, your pride and joy, this wonderful part of your family… turns into a person you’ve never met. It starts with emotional outbursts over the silliest things. There’s too much or too little milk on his cereal. Someone offers to do something nice for him and he goes into a flying rage. You didn’t lay out his favorite pair of socks before school and now he can’t go. Up until today, you didn’t know he had favorite pair, did you? The once polite boy who didn’t bat an eye when asked to take out the trash now rolls them. Confront him about it, and the smart-aleck remarks start to flow. He even starts calling you names you never would have imagined him doing. As a mom, you first instinct is to nurture and console him, find out what is bothering him. That just sets him into a further rage. As a dad, you try to assert some authority having witnessed the outbursts, which just causes him to challenge you further. You and your significant other are probably looking at each other, or in the mirror, and wondering, “How did I mess up so bad as a parent. What did I do wrong?! “

I’m here to straighten you out. You know what you did wrong? Do you? I don’t think you can handle the truth. You wanna know??!!

Nothing.  For once, it’s not you, it really is him.

Ladies and gentlemen, congratulations, you have a ‘tween’.  The word tween comes from the notion that they are in-between being a child and being a teenager, not primarily occupied with play time like small children and not having gone through puberty yet. They are facing a period of rapid social, physiological and emotional development, which culminates in going through puberty (a new level of emotional parent hell which hopefully we’ll discuss another time). In the early tween years, before puberty starts, most of the pressures they are feeling are from themselves. They are worried about how they fit into the world and being accepted by others their age. Remember when you could pick out all his clothes at the store and lay out what he would wear every day? Not anymore. In his mind he’s not a little kid, and he’s taking cues on what others are wearing and what they think about what he’s wearing. Those dreaded words have finally invaded his life… peer pressure. You’re probably cringing right now remembering your own tween and teenage years. Your once happy and balanced child is now an emotional wreck of self-imposed and societal expectations.

You’ve read this far and might be screaming, “Ok smart guy, tell me what to do to make this better!”

Impatient, are we? There is no magic answer, but like Moxie, I worship at the altar of common-sense. Up until this point, have you instilled values in him based on your family traditions, your faith, the golden-rule and good-old-fashioned ‘just do the right thing’?  Then keep doing it, only you have to modify your approach slightly. For moms, that might mean more listening to him and less trying to coddle him like when he was younger. Unfortunately, you can’t fix his current problems if all they really are is a bunch of jumbled thoughts in his head. No matter what logic you use or advice you offer, his brain will figure out a way to filter and distort it. For dads, you have to learn to not over-react to his confrontations, even though he’s going to push your buttons. Sometimes walking away is the best course of action, it doesn’t prove he won, it proves you’re the bigger man. For both parents, my advice is let him vent… but within reason. Explain to him that you understand he might be going through a rough time, and that you’re there for him, but that doesn’t give him the right to disrespect you.

While it’s not impossible he was cloned, more than likely he’s still your son. Continue to love him; eventually he’ll come around. But I won’t sugar-coat it, it won’t be for a while and it can get rough.

So. Sounds an awful lot like Ames & Ilg telling us just to get a babysitter to deal with our irrational 3.5-year-olds, doesn't it? Sigh. I've seen other people's lovely teen boys, though, so I know it's possible to make it out alive. Courage.

New and old

New: I'm writing for the Babble Voices section. A post about my move, and a post about running with my 9-year-old.

Old: A friend's husband killed himself yesterday. Don't do it. Don't don't don't don't. This, that I wrote for beautiful amazing crisp Ray, is still true, so I'm going to quote the whole thing again right here:

Don't go

You are important to someone. Even if that person is too little to say it to you yet. Even if you haven't talked to that person in years. There is someone who will never recover from the you-sized hole you leave if you go.

I know what it's like, the pain. Every minute of being alive tastes scorched; every breath hurts like the slice of a knife. Knowing that there isn't really anything good enough about being here, for any of us, to outweigh the bleakness. Feeling the hurt of the whole world channeled through the dull greyness of every 3 am minute.

How did any of us who've been there hold on until things got better? I honestly don't know. For some of us it was a choice. Knowing something was going to change, even a little bit, if we could just hang on. But for others it's just not going. Wake up, go to sleep. Eat. Repeat that enough times and one day it doesn't hurt as much. Who knows why.

You are not perfect. You may screw up on a daily basis. You may feel like your efforts don't do anything. Like everything you touch turns to crap. Like the people around you would be better off without you. But that is not the case. It's just not. No one is perfect. Everyone screws up. It's what makes us real and layered and interesting. You are as special for your faults as despite them.

Someone I loved and lost once told me, "It's no trick for God to work through someone perfect. The more broken you are, the more God shows his glory by shining through you." Whether you believe in a guiding force or not, the universe creates imperfection. You in all your weakness are exactly what we need.

Please stay. Even if you don't know how. Just keep getting up in the morning. Eat what you can. Drink water. Go to bed, even if you can't sleep. Go outside and turn your face to the sun. If you can, do this with Teresa for 3 minutes a few times a day. And tell someone how you feel. A friend. A stranger. Leave it in the comments here.

Don't go.

This post is for my friend Ray, who went.


Primal Scream Wednesday: Back to School edition

(Short update: Lots of things, including one big thing, came out in the inspection, so I am no longer buying a house. But I did buy a car yesterday, the first car I've ever personally owned. So things are not as I expected but just fine. Assuming I pass all my exams for school. But anyway.)

Everyone's either in week 2 of school or about to start school or starting school in three weeks, so I thought today would be a good time for a school-related Primal Scream Wednesday. Possible topics include: difficulty of finding and cost of school supplies, bad room assignments, screwed up bus routes, our own fears, social anxiety (our kids' and our own), and exactly how involved we want to be with the PTA.

Of course, non-school-related primal screams are also welcome.

I currently have none, as last week was one long scream. So you start.

Q&A: Hungry while breastfeeding

New mom A writes:

"I get so hungry while I'm breastfeeding my baby. Is this normal? Am I ever going to lose the pregnancy weight?"

Yes, A, it's totally normal. I can still remember how ravenous I was when nursing a newborn, both times. For me it seemed to even out after a few months, but think about it: You're producing enough milk to grow another human being. Your body is working hard. It completely makes sense that you need extra calories.

One thing to be aware of, though, is that sugar cravings can be masking your real needs. According to a lactation consultant who ran the new mom's group I went to nine years ago, sometimes a sugar craving is actually a sign of dehydration or lack of protein. So if you're craving sugar, drink a glass of water. If you're still craving sugar ten minutes later, eat some protein. If you're still craving sugar ten minutes later, eat whatever sweet thing you were craving.

And yes, you will lose the baby weight if you make it a priority (by that I mean eating decently and getting some exercise). Some nursing moms find that the weight all comes off right around month nine (it makes sense that it takes nine months to go on so it takes nine months to come off), while others find that they're always carrying around an extra 5-10 pounds while they're nursing, and then it comes off when they wean. If you start *gaining* weight while nursing (and you haven't changed your eating habits), pee on a stick, and then if that's negative, talk to your doctor about getting your thyroid levels checked.

Oh, and all the myths about exercise being bad during nursing are false. But watch out for low-carb diets, as they can make your milk supply plummet. So if you're cutting out starches, make sure to leave in some good ones (whole grains and vegetable and fruit starches) so you still have enough milk for your baby.

Who else was a very hungry caterpillar during nursing? How long did it last?


On Sunday the movers came and loaded all my stuff into a big 16-foot truck. Which sounds easier than it was, since I was in a fourth-floor walk-up, and I was still packing while they were there. Fortunately, @jen_talley flew out from Ann Arbor to help me do the truck drive, and she packed my whole kitchen and kept me as calm as possible.

We set out in the truck at about 5 pm, and started driving driving driving. Tried to stop in one town and the hotels were full. Tried to stop in another town and the hotels were full there. Called ahead to the Hampton Inn (fresh bed guarantee) in Clearfield, PA, and reserved a room and holy crap did those beds feel good. Also, the shower.

Finished the rest of the drive to Toledo yesterday, and a friend's teenagers unloaded the truck into a storage unit in Toledo, where my stuff will stay until the end of the month when I close on my house! The sellers accepted my offer. So I signed a bunch of mortgage documents today and we have the inspection tomorrow night and then I know for sure if we're moving in and can put up a blog with photos, because the house is pretty funny-looking right now.

The kids and I are at my parents' until the house closes. For the next few days, the kids' dad is also in my parents' house, which is weird but not awful, so we're all just trying to be nice to each other.