Sometimes I have to wonder if we actually adopted three children rather than the two I thought we had.
We have one, Eldest, who is fairly consistent. We can predict how he is going to behave at any given point. He has a fairly strong sense of justice, so he knows when things aren’t right and will report (often over zealously) to us when he feels that something isn’t going the way they should. He tells tales on his brother quite often but at the same time he has also spotted him doing something dangerous that we miss, and so has saved his brother from being hurt. We try to discourage him telling us things simply to get his brother into trouble, but at the same time his tale telling is an invaluable resource that compensates for the distinct lack of eyes in the backs of our heads.
Then we have our other son, Youngest, who is an absolute angel. So much so that I’m fairly sure that butter truly wouldn’t melt in his mouth most of the time. He has a wonderful smile that could melt the hardest of hearts, and at times is the most helpful person in the world.
Except, sometimes he’s not. Sometimes he reminds me that Lucifer was an angel before he fell from Grace. Maybe that’s an extreme analogy but his shear ability to manipulate us is astounding. We are of course aware he is manipulating us most of the time, so he doesn’t get away with it, and that in itself can result in him turning from angel into devil.
For each positive action, such as using quick thinking to pass a potty to his brother to stop him wetting himself or, without being asked, helping to guide a child with cerebral palsy around a play area, there is a negative one, such as pushing over a 1 year-old completely unprovoked.
For every time he does something nice, he counters it with something horrible. When he’s in a bad mood there is no convincing him he’s a nice boy (which he really is). I’m half convinced he does some things that he knows will result in some ‘quiet time’ simply because he wants to sit on Daddy or Dad’s lap for a few minutes to cool off. He protests every time, sometimes quite violently, but it has just become part of the routine.
He hurts his brother, he is warned, he hurts him again, he has some quiet time on Dad’s lap, he screams in protest, he is held gently but firmly and he is ignored until he calms down, he is given a talking to about what the quiet time was for, he agrees not to do it again, he has a cuddle, he apologises (if appropriate), he carries on.
The two sides to Youngest seem like two completely different children, almost totally opposite each other, except they probably aren’t. Both positive and negative behaviours result in him getting attention. He knows this, his grin from being congratulated for doing something good, is pretty similar to the grin he gives when he knows he’s about to be told off.
His constant manipulation to garner our attention is tiring to say the least. Every time he shouts at me “I’M NOT A NICE BOY” it breaks my heart, and he does it because he wants me to shout back. I have given up trying to convince him that he is nice as I know he is. Instead I tell him that it doesn’t matter if he thinks he’s not nice because I love him regardless and I leave it at that. Anything else results in a grown adult having an argument with a not quite 3 year-old.
Youngest is getting much better at expressing his emotions using words, which we have been encouraging. Even that though is now being turned into a way of manipulating us. Telling us that we aren’t his friends any more, that he’s not happy with us, that he is angry or upset with us (because we had the audacity to stop him hurting himself or something similar).
I have no idea if what we do is the right thing for him. It is all uncharted territory. He might be the second almost 3 year-old we’ve parented but they are not the same. They are so different and require such different parenting techniques that we have to, yet again, make it up as we go along.
So, no I don’t have three children. I have two. One that accepts our positive attention because it is what he craves, and one that does his very best to convert the positive attention he gets into something negative. Sometimes, I am ashamed to admit, he succeeds.