Q&A: anonymous/crying/poop/sleep/toilet training/stomach ulcer (mine)

Whoa--this post recovered itself!

If you missed the post, I'm running a new, shorter "Release the Yelling" class starting next Wednesday, July 15 (through July 28). Details here. The last one got raves, so what do you have to lose?

Anonymous writes:

"I am having a hard time, and I'm not quite sure why. I have a bad feeling that this email might be several pages long, but it feels soothing to even have started typing it, so I'm going to keep going. I am a stay-at-home mother of 2 girls, 18 months and almost 3 years. I have a busy husband who travels a lot, and no family in town. We have teenage babysitters on hand if we want to go out for dinner, which we do a lot, but no help other than that. My husband is great, we're all healthy and strong, it's summertime, la la la. Now, what am I asking... I guess what I'm asking is: Are everybody's kids basically fussing at them all the time? Is everyone else spending their early evenings sitting outside their kids' bedrooms with their stomach in knots, listening to their kids fuss themselves to sleep? Or getting that kicked-in-the-stomach feeling every afternoon when their kids wake up from their naps way too early? My kids were both bad sleepers as babies, and I really feel like I've spent the last 3 SOLID years of my life trying frantically to get them enough rest to enable them to be pleasant to me. And failing. But this isn't a sleep question, because my kids go to sleep by themselves after varying degrees of fussing (sometimes no fussing--it depends on the phase), and might wake up once each for a bad dream or a bit of milk, but nothing I can't handle. I don't really feel like there's much more I can do about sleep; our schedule is regular and my husband and I are getting enough rest. If my kids weren't so chronically cranky, I'd consider it all all to be fine--they are getting enough hours of sleep according to the pundits, blah blah blah. They're just grouchy. Why? Is that my question? Dear Moxie: Why are my kids so grouchy?

Or maybe I'm asking about poop. My almost-3-year-old withholds her poops, usually having a bowel movement every 4-5 days, and it's hell. She eats well and fibrously, and her stools are lovely and soft (did I really just type that?) so I don't think it's physical. But once she goes a few days without a poop, it all just falls apart. She is clingy and sad and we can't do anything--it's basically like she's giving herself a stomach bug every week, and it's awful. I've tried talking about it, and not talking about it, and not talking about it works a bit better. I'm scared to toilet train her in case it makes it worse. But I wonder if it would make it better if she had a ritual and a place to go to the bathroom, instead of wandering the house sobbing and saying "I have poop in my tummy and it's making me feel sick." But even though she's peed in the potty a few times, if I suggest it she flips out. Is this a poop question? A toilet training question? What am I asking? My 18-month-old is a charismatic, sassy and chronically grumpy kid. Nothing unusual, but on top of the no pooping and the chronic tiredness and the travelling husband it feels awful to me. What is my question? Maybe it's this:

How can I make these years more bearable? How can I get my children the rest they need in order to be kind to me, at least part of the time? How can I unclench my stomach? How can I help my child to pass her stools? Are other women feeling as if they are being cried at all day, every day? Are they handling it better than I am? For how much longer will I be able to repress the urge to scream, "STOP CRYING AT ME!" in the faces of my beautiful little girls? Will I get a stomach ulcer? Why isn't this more fun? I really feel like I was realistic about my newborns; I fully expected the exhaustion and the colic, and I'm proud of how I handled all that. But why isn't it stopping? Why is everyone still crying all the time? Wait, is that my question? Dear Moxie: When do children stop crying all the time?

Lots of love,
Anonymous today"

I am so sorry. Your life is crappy right now because you're basically alone all the time with two little kids.

It's not natural, and it's not reasonable. At some point we got this idea that we're supposed to be alone in our little houses with one adult and one or two or three or more little kids, and that somehow that's supposed to make us feel fulfilled. But the problem is that adult humans need other adult conversation and companionship. And they need a break from the emotional vicissitudes of little kids. 18 months is an unbelievably tough age--the kids are either super-cranky or super-giddy, and everything's a struggle for independence and control. It's exhausting physically and mentally to be with an 18-month-old. Add another child on top of that, especially one who isn't even 3 yet and who's having pooping problems, and it's a recipe for extreme emotional duress.

We're supposed to be doing this together, not alone, when the kids are that little. One adult could be watching while three or four kids played together for a little bit, while the other adults did work or caught naps or whatever. Then someone else would take a turn. And we'd all share the load, and no one would be held hostage to the biorhythms of the kids, and no one would feel isolated and alone all the time.

But instead, we're convinced that we're supposed to be playing with and teaching our kids all day, and they're supposed to be happy and well-behaved (and so are we). Which is just unrealistic, because little kids have endless emotional needs and all kinds of mood swings, and they can't help that they just don't know how to deal with things some of the time. It's a tough, brittle situation to be in unless you have a ton of physical and emotional support from family and friends.

There are plenty of things that could be adjusted about your situation and maybe one or more will have a positive effect. So I'm going to suggest them. But I think what I really want you to know is that you aren't alone. It does suck. It sucks a lot. Charlotte Perkins Gilman knew it and Betty Friedan knew it. Hell, even the men know it--The Rolling Stones wrote a song about it, and Matthew Weiner's got it down.

That's the larger issue. I think there might be something else happening specifically with your kids, but I know lots of women are reading your letter and feeling like it sounds all-too-familiar to them.

So here are my suggestions. They aren't going to fix things, but they might give you a little more mental space:

* Get a babysitter or mother's helper to come in for a 2-3 hour chunk of time two days a week. The kids will love it, and the babysitter will love it. It will give you the time to spend *by yourself* (not with your husband) that you need. Even if all you do is go to the grocery store and walk around thinking your own thoughts.

* The crying plus the chronically tired plus the poop withholding makes me think there might be something physical going on with your kids. I'm wondering if they have sensitivities to something they're eating. Which means (drumroll please) you get to start eliminating things to see if you can figure anything out.

I would start by eliminating wheat and gluten-containing foods. You can take one of two approaches: 1) eliminate anything that would be made of flour and just feed other foods entirely (go to rice and corn as grains, etc.), or 2) buy gluten-free (GF) versions of all the stuff you usually feed (Whole Foods and Trader Joe's have decent GF selections, as does your local health food store). Stay off the gluten for at least 2 weeks and see if you notice any difference. It would definitely explain the sleep stuff and the poop stuff, but there's no way to know until you try eliminating it.

If the gluten doesn't seem to have any effect, then try eliminating, one at a time, dairy, soy, and corn. I would be *shocked* if eliminating one of these things didn't have a positive effect on the kids.

* Independent of the food and crying and poop stuff, start being super-nice to yourself. Take the time to cultivate some friendships. Exercise. Get a pedicure or whatever will relax you. You are doing a really important, really tough job under difficult circumstances.

* It's not just you, or your kids. There are tons of parents white-knuckling it during these early years.

Anyone else? Support? Commisseration? I know a couple of you have just gone gluten-free and may have some input on that.