WHEN it comes to talking to two-year-old boys, the most useless words in the English language are: "Stop it."
The second-most useless words are: "Don't cry."
At least, that's from my current point of view, since I am now constantly faced with my once-cheerful son who has turned from being a blithe, bouncing soul into an emotional pile of jelly seemingly overnight.
Having recently returned from a 10-day trip to New York, my first few days home were marked by screaming tantrums as Julian refused to change his diapers or take his baths.
Meanwhile, the Supportive Spouse – who held the fort for a week before jetting off to Paris for a short trip, leaving Julian in my in-laws' care – has taken to bellowing "stop it!" whenever our son acts up.
Now, I can tell you that Julian hardly stops doing anything just because you tell him to. He might slow down for two seconds, but will quickly return to doing the very thing that you've asked him to stop doing.
Meanwhile, he has also taken to crying at every little thing.
When he wakes up from his nap, for example. He looks at me, and starts bawling for no reason. Or, finding that his favourite new toy is out of reach, his little face screws up and the meltdown begins.
Instinctively, the Spouse and I ignore him. I stare balefully at Julian as we wait for him to calm down, and hear him out as he struggles to tell us what he's upset about.
I suspect he might be protesting against his parents' absences, and that the tears are simply an attention-grabbing scheme. Then again, perhaps he is just going through a phase. My head tells me it's counterproductive to harshly stem this outpouring of feelings – but my ringing ears are sending me other messages.
My niece, who is three, is similarly weepy. But whenever her waterworks start, I immediately take her in my arms, offering sweet charity. Thinking about that reaction and the Medusa-like stance offered to my own son, I see shades of gender bias – it's okay for little girls to cry, but boys are meant to be tougher.
If this were The Lion King, I'd be commanding Julian to shape up and prove he was worthy of his father's throne.
Writer Alexander Waugh – grandson of esteemed author Evelyn and son of journalist Auberon – pointed out in a recent interview with The Guardian in London that fathers lay more intense demands on their sons. "The thing is entirely Darwinian, it's evolutionary. It's absolutely right that a son should grow up to battle with his father and resent him and try to overpower him to some extent," wrote Waugh.
So, knowing that a father is to be harsh on his son and that the son will inevitably rebel against the father, where – as a mother – do I stand in the face of a child whose unhappiness is unfathomable to me?
I know now what I have to do: Steel my ears, mine the depths of why my child is upset and be prepared to really listen, and, finally, to reassure him when he cries.
I might as well try something new and see if I can make something magical happen.
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