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Current Issue of BDINews
Caring for the High Maintenance Child
By Kate Andersen.

Improving Fit. April, 2018.
Dear Kate:
I have trouble explaining why I am so drained and stressed by our four-year old daughter.......
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Improving Goodness of Fit


Kate's Answer

Dear Feeling Judged and Blamed:

Let's take a very practical approach to the issues you raise. You are obviously well-informed and have gone to the trouble to take your daughter to a professional person to figure out what is going on. I am going to assume that the assessment is accurate and that your daughter has the five temperament traits that research has found challenge middle-class, Western parents. As you know, it is not the temperament itself but the 'fit' between the temperament and the expectations of the environment that creates the stress.

I don't know enough about you, Melissa and your family to give you a lot of specific advice. However, here's a hunch you might consider. I think that the problems of fit in the home environment and Lissy's temperament may be coming from the demands of contemporary family life--at least, from your approach to those demands. You mentioned that you work full-time, run a household and take care of a yard. The areas in which you struggle with Melissa seem to be related to the busyness of your life. While you understand in theory the importance of being patient, preparing Melissa for changes, and keeping things as consistent as possible, it seems that this is not as easy for you to achieve on weekdays as it is on weekends. Your competence in preventing problems with Melissa is very clear on the days that you visit the grandparents. It seems that you fear their criticism more than you worry about the chronic daily stress in the interactions between you and Melissa during the week. Can you think a bit about why that might be the case?

It seems that your husband increases your stress by effectively invalidating your difficulties and setting you up for criticism from his parents. Could there be a marital dynamic here that needs exploring?

I'd sure like to see you try to turn things around in your family by switching your priorities for a week or two and seeing what happens. First of all, consider whether your husband feels more a part of his family of origin than a loyal spouse. Make some dates to spend time with him without the children and don't complain about his parents. Do tell him how hurt you feel when he talks about you to his parents. Ask him if you can be the one to discuss your relationship with Melissa. Then take responsibility for getting the picture across to them as honestly as you can. Don't worry about their reaction at this point. Worry about your own part in being clear about this.

As well, is it possible you manage too much at home and don't leave him with an area of competence? You're doing too much work! That in itself is bound to wear down your patience with both him and the children. He needs to either do the housework or the yard work (or to pay someone to do either or both). Get some balance there, please.

Then, I'd like to see you treat the weekdays like Sunday and exercise as many of the prevention principles that you use on Sundays as you can. Then, stop going to your in-laws on Sundays and see if you can drop by during the week after day care. Don't set Melissa up to fail but do let your in-laws REALLY get to know their granddaughter. They cannot give her the unconditional love she deserves if they don't really know her!

The person who is really judging and blaming you is yourself. By presenting a false picture to your in-laws, you put them in an unfair position. Be kinder to yourself and let the reality of your life show itself in full force. While your husband and in-laws may not like what they see at first, reality does have a wonderful way of teaching people what is going on and what needs to be done. You never know, they may even offer to help. I am hoping that you will not be too proud to accept that help.

I asked Dr. Sean McDevitt, Editorial Consultant, to comment: "The 'goodness of fit' here is almost certainly impacted in part by the demands that Mom needs to make on Melissa to function at home, day care and school. This would include having to get her up and dressed and off to her daily routine. Certainly there are standards and time limits that are part of the expectations. Visiting in a nurturing environment where Melissa is the center of attention can't be compared to ongoing management 'grind' of raising a high maintenance child. This contrast is often seen with divorced parents, where visits to the nonresidential parent are set up with special expectations and offerings that aren't realistic part of daily functioning. The residential parent often feels unfavorably compared, when the real difference is the aim of the time spent! Nonresidential parents have to pack a lot of quality time into a few days a month; hence, the so-called Disneyland parent. Grandparenting can sometimes be a similar situation."

If, over time, letting Melissa be herself at your in-laws makes things worse and you find yourself the recipient of real and damaging criticism, it may well be time for some family therapy and/or marital counseling. One final comment: read the article on parent-blaming below and take heart.

Best wishes and good luck!

Sincerely,

Kate

 
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