I worry I'm unfit to be a mother.
July 13, 2010 6:25 PM   Subscribe

I always thought I wanted kids. Then I spent ten days alone with my niece, and now I am pretty sure I would rather have a hole in my head. Am I rightly discouraged? Or am I just getting cold feet?

I'm 29 and have been married for 3 years to a great man. We've enthusiastically discussed having kids and decided to start "trying" in the next year. Then my brother and sister-in-law had to fly overseas to care for my sister-in-law's very ill mother. They left their two year old in our care for what was supposed to be a week and is now turning into two weeks, maybe three, in the event of the mother's death. I'm in between jobs, starting a new a job in another month, so I'm staying home all day with the little girl.

For starters, I adore my niece, but I was worried about caring for her for a long period of time because I do suspect she's quite spoiled by her parents. Now, I know parenting is loads easier said than done, but I'm always surprised at how, well, lenient her parents tend to be. They allow my niece to determine when dinner happens, when she goes to bed, and let her get away with (what seems to me) bad manners like throwing food and hitting people with no reaction except hugs. It seems to me like my SIL just doesn't like telling her daughter "no." My brother employs distraction tactics, like offering her treats to stave off fits. While I know toddlers will test boundaries and misbehave, it struck me as simply exhausting that this one shrieks, flails and screams in the rare instance that she doesn't get her way.

Unsurprisingly, this week has been hell on wheels. My niece hits me or herself if I move the laptop out of reach so she won't bang on it. She screams and goes stiff when I cross her in some way. Today she shrieked until her voice was hoarse because I wouldn't buy her a toy at the pharmacy. She shrieked all the way home in the car, shrieked during lunch and bottle, until finally I left her in the crib and shut the door on her because I actually feared for my safety and hers. I was shaking all over and felt truly scared of my anger. I called my husband on the phone in tears and made him come home from work early because I could no longer stand it. Obviously my niece is acting out against the extreme change in home environments, but I've seen her act much, much worse with her own parents, so it's not just a case of "You're not my mummy and this isn't my house!" And I don't know if I could handle these rows even if it were my own child.

I am partly frightened because my niece has behaved so violently, but I am mostly scared by how easily my temper gets away from me. My patience snaps when she throws things, slaps me, bites me, howls and fusses. I picked up Happiest Toddler on the Block and tried their methods of caveman talking, but she gets even angrier at me. Two times I have had to put her in the crib, where she grows even more agitated and hysterical, and stepped out of the room because I am actually worried that I'll slap her back, and this feeling all by itself makes me gravely sick to my stomach. I would rather suffer childlessness (and maybe a divorce, as my husband desperately wants children) than become a parent who hits her innocent children out of anger.

My husband says that I'm overreacting and too stressed out to think clearly, but I really think this has been an eye-opening experience. My brother and sister-in-law always seem to treat their daughter with kindness and empathy, and she's much more volatile for them. I don't know if it's because she's their daughter and they're biologically geared to love her unconditionally? Is it normal to walk away from an upset child? Should I be more like my sister-in-law and work at negotiating more, offering lots of distractions, and so on? Or should I really rethink parenting? Part of me still wants children very badly, but now I'm questioning my ability to really mother them.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (79 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This kid is a brat. Yours does not have to act like that. Every single parent on planet Earth has times when they feel stressed or overwhelmed by their kids, but I promise you that your parenting experience is not going to be anything like taking care of this kid.
posted by kate blank at 6:31 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Exactly. Your kid is YOUR kid - you don't even have to like kids in general to fiercely love your own children.
posted by pinky at 6:33 PM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

First off, good for you for putting her in the crib and getting a little distance. That is EXACTLY what a good parent does when they fear they're going to lose control and do something they will regret, because it happens to everyone. It sounds like you have had a huge burden put on you and it's remarkable that you're managing at all. And that you're willing to put the good of even a hypothetical child above your marriage says a lot about you as well.

That said, I'm not even going to address the kid you're taking care of. All I can say is that you have to know that all children are not like that. Obviously some are, of course. But don't make your decision based only on spending time with this one child. I won't give platitudes or promise you that it will be better if it were your own child, because there are circumstances when that might not be true, though I do think probably a child given more consistent discipline and guidance would not act like you've described.

But what you need to do is see more than one example. Volunteer at a church nursery, maybe. Offer to babysit for friends. Find ways to be exposed to children of various ages. And keep in mind, you start with an infant - they sleep a lot and their needs are not too complicated. You start with that, and as they grow everything grows more complex - and you gain experience as they grow.
posted by lemniskate at 6:35 PM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

Other people's kids (even family) - especially at 2 are much harder to deal with than your own. Don't let this experience scare you away. Parenting can be hard, but mostly (from my informal survey of parents) is rewarding and fun.

Also, don't discount the fact that this 2 year old is probably scared to death given the absence of her parents. She is probably more prone to outbursts and testing the waters given the situation...
posted by NoDef at 6:35 PM on July 13, 2010

This kid sounds like an undisciplined brat. I have never cared for a two-year-old, but I was one once, as was my brother (whom my parents considered a "difficult" child), and there was no hitting, screaming, or throwing food.

Your kids, I'm sure, will give you some serious headaches. Even my mother has admitted to me, ashamed, that every once in a while she understood how frustration can snowball and parents can end up seriously harming their kids. But she didn't do that, she was a great mom, and we turned out to be happy, healthy adults.

Like I said, I don't have kids so maybe I can't really talk, but while I understand the background of all this "negotiation" philosophy of child-rearing, I think it can go too far. Your brother and SIL have let it go to far and have given their daughter all the power. Expose yourself to a variety of parenting techniques, talk to your own parents, and learn lessons from what you don't like about how other people are raising their kids. You can do it!
posted by olinerd at 6:36 PM on July 13, 2010

Two-year-olds are like crazy North Korean despots trapped in tiny, powerless bodies. It must be very difficult to be two years old. You believe that the world revolves around you - you know this to be a fact! - and yet tall people are constantly thwarting you and telling you not to lick that outlet.

It's also very difficult to deal with two-year-olds. You are not the only person to find a child that age infuriating. I would not necessarily infer things about your ability to parent based on this experience.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 6:37 PM on July 13, 2010 [47 favorites]

You are not going to give birth to your niece. You are not going to raise your niece.

It is flat out remarkable to me how differently I feel about my own children vs other people's children.

Your niece is being raised terribly. Your child will be raised with loving boundaries and firm loving non-violent discipline. The difference is amazing.
posted by SLC Mom at 6:38 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

Do you have to arrive at a conclusion right now? Or can you sit with it a bit and see where you end up in a month or so. That's what I'd need to do, personally. Time can help gain perspective.

Good luck - the decision whether/not to have kids is a difficult and complex one.
posted by hapax_legomenon at 6:40 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

See, you're caring for your niece during her "terrible twos". You missed the cuddly infant phase and haven't yet seen the "let's play together" phase when she's older. It gets better.

Also, your niece is stressed because mommy and daddy aren't there and she's not in her own house. She's expressing it the only way she can, like a two-year old.

So while your niece is there, calmy but firmly lay down the house rules and gently stick to them. She might still fuss but that's the best you can do in this situation.

Don't frame your own decision to have kids based on this one week or so, this is a very unusual circumstance for both you and your niece.
posted by shino-boy at 6:43 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone who always hated kids when I was younger, but successfully had three whom I love and raised to adulthood, remember this:

It is MUCH more fun dealing with your own kid. Even changing the diapers for your own kid is nowhere near as bad as for someone else's. When I had mine, I was delighted to discover I could train them to be pleasant children who for the most part behaved (no one is perfect, but a little mischief comes with the territory.)

Don't let this experience scare you. If it makes you feel better, I babysat for a friend of mine when I was pregnant with my first and let's just say it made me fearful that getting pregnant was a horrible horrible mistake.

It wasn't.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:45 PM on July 13, 2010 [7 favorites]

PS. Your relatives have successfully raised a BRAT. As in they have TAUGHT her to behave this way.

You don't have to do that.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:47 PM on July 13, 2010 [5 favorites]

Can you get to know other kids? It sounds like your niece might be an outlier on the "brat" end of the scale, and if you were to take care of a more easygoing/disciplined child things would go well.

On the other hand - it is NOT necessarily "different when it's your own." Some people don't have the patience for children and don't deal well with ordinary kid stuff - even an ordinary, unspoiled kid is going to have meltdowns and poopy pants and say "NO!" at the top of her lungs in public. And some parents find out, too late, that this is something they just don't want to deal with and want their old childfree lives back, and resent the kid, and...you get the picture.

Chances are you'd make a perfectly fine parent and just had a bad experience with a bratty kid at a difficult age. This is why I suggest babysitting for different kids at different ages. If every kid you babysit gets on your nerves, you might want to think twice and maybe see a counselor about whether you really do want kids or not. The consensus seems to be "you'll just LOVE your own kid no matter what!" but I have to be the skunk at this picnic because a) I'm not a "kid" person and this is one big reason why I'm childfree and b) parents don't always love their own kids and c) even if they do, the genetic lottery can land you with a kid who is "difficult" or high-special-needs - you aren't guaranteed that easy-going, sweet-tempered angel.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:48 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


First, I'm a parent and a foster parent who can assure you that I'm ready to run screaming into the night after 10 days with my kids non-stop. My kids are not allowed to behave this way and yet they drive me to tears some days. Hang in there. You'll be with this child only a short time.

Second, this child needs boundaries and discipline. A two year old should not be dictating dinner time or anything else that you describe. It sounds like her parents are way too permissive and find it easier to give in than to consistently set rules and consistently give consequences.

If you have a rule, you need to be consistent in the application and the consequences. For example, if you throw food on the floor, you get a time out. If you hit, you get a time out. Time outs for a 2 year old should last 2 minutes. If she gets up during that two minutes, you put her back in the time out spot and start the two minutes over. Rinse and repeat. If she's not used to this, it will take multiple applications and and you should not let her dictate when the 2 minutes is up. When she's in time out, do not make eye contact or engage with her. Do not smile. Do not react. If she gets up, you just put her back in the spot. She is perfectly capable of learning very quickly that her actions will not get her what she wants. IMPORTANT NOTE: When you let her up from time out, you need to tell her she want in time out because she did X and that was not nice. Then assure her you love her and give her a hug.

The next time she's got a screaming fit that just goes on and on, tell her that she's obviously too tired to do whatever and put her down for a nap. IF this happens before lunch, she can have lunch afterward.

If you need her to hand you something, do not snatch it. Put your hand out and ask her to hand it to you. If she does not, ask a second time. If she refuses again, start a count down that goes something like this:

You: Give me the remote. 3.
wait 30 seconds so she can respond.
You: Give me the remote. 2.
wait another 30 seconds.
You: Give me the remote. 1.
wait 30 seconds.

If she gives you the remote at any time, you thank her. If she does not, you gently take it from her and put her in time out.

Finally, you're right that her parents have allowed this to happen. However, you can actually impact her behavior now and have her responding more appropriately before they return. She can also learn that there are different rules at her home than at yours.

This is not personal. She's used to getting her way. She's used to being in control. At 2, she's not got the life experience to make good decisions. She's a mini-tyrant who needs to be stopped.

MeMail me if you need more specific ideas.
posted by onhazier at 6:50 PM on July 13, 2010 [32 favorites]

Well, I wish EVERYONE would do what you're doing (spend time with a difficult, unlovable child before having a child). If more people did this, fewer people who should not be parents would be parents. Yes, your child might not be as hard as this one. There's also the possibility that your child could be WORSE. There's no way to know. If you're not okay with this possibility, you probably shouldn't have kids.

(Disclaimer: I am vehemently childfree and don't understand why anyone ever has kids.)
posted by Violet Hour at 6:51 PM on July 13, 2010 [8 favorites]

I have two kids. 5 and 2. I love my kids. They are, overall, good kids.

Sometimes they make me totally infuriated---shaky angry. Then one of us needs to be in time out.

It sounds like your neice is a handful. Two is hard, being suddenly without your parents is hard. And maybe she hasn't had the kind of discipline you (or I) think is appropriate.

But don't make your decision based on this visit.
posted by leahwrenn at 6:55 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

If people had kids based on two year olds, the human race would come to an end. Especially two year olds like your niece.

If you don't want kids, that's one thing. But not being able to deal with this particular two year old does not mean you would be an unfit mother. My god, just posting on here asking this proves that.
posted by pyjammy at 6:57 PM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

There is a broad consensus of research indicating that having kids makes people unhappier overall, and that the joys of children does not balance that out.

Few are ever in the position of getting a temporary trial-run with children though - you're generally either in it all the way, or you're not in it at all. So be thankful for the sneek peek.

The flip side of that is that you'd ease into the relationship with your own toddler as the baby eases into that age range. It wouldn't be the shock-and-awe sudden slap-in-the-face transition you just experienced. And you'd love the kid more, and be more willing to put up with more.

So one question is, what are your reasons for wanting a child? If happiness is a prominent reason, then be very careful. (On the topic, some theories on the happiness angle here.)
posted by -harlequin- at 6:57 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

You are doing an amazing job. Putting the child in her bed and walking away is EXACTLY THE RIGHT THING TO DO. Calling your husband for backup is EXACTLY THE RIGHT THING TO DO.

It sounds like this child needs to know that the rules are the rules. Decide what your rules are (for our house the rules for everyone are Be Kind, Be Gentle, Be Safe) and what the consequence is for breaking them (time out for 2 minutes?) and then be consistent and follow through.

Parenting 2 year olds is hard. Parenting 2 year old who are not yours, in an unfamiliar environment (to her), is insanely hard. Instead of seeing this as a reason you should not be having children, you should look at it as reason you should. You know that your gut response to extreme stress is to put your child and yourself into a safe situation and calm down. This is what good parents do.

Good luck with the next week or two. Try to get out for a break with your hubby or at least rent a movie and enjoy a bottle of wine after bedtime.
posted by Abbril at 6:58 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Good parenting often involves the ability to emphasize with what the child is thinking or feeling and then outwit them around problems. After all parents are supposed to be smarter than children.

It seems like your brother's family little experience with this approach and instead have let her become the boss and decider with no skills to listen to talk that steers her in an appropriate direction.
posted by MonkeySaltedNuts at 6:59 PM on July 13, 2010

I nth the responses that this kid isn't your kid, and she represents the worst of the world of parenting you'd be in for. I did not like any children in my family because they were all terrors, but did have my own (and even decided a second one would be tops).

When it's your kid, you have an insane vested emotional interest in the little bugger. Of course, even with that, you'll get really irritated at their behavior. But I just bite my tongue and get around it. I have put him in his crib and walked away to get my wits back. So you're doing things that yeah, even if your kid was perfect you'd have to do.

My son dislikes when I'm on the laptop and will try slamming it shut, or whipping a toy truck at it. So there's that. But honestly, that means I need to shut the laptop and hang with him.

It's hard. Some months are harder than others. I won't lie. There are times I wonder what the hell I'm doing. But then there's equal or more other times I'm like "oh goddamnit, he is so freakin' awesome."
posted by kpht at 7:00 PM on July 13, 2010

You have taken care of a difficult child, going through difficult changes, at a particularly difficult age, without any prep. Having ANYONE'S child dumped on you suddenly is exhausting -- when you start with them from infancy, they have plenty of time to get the Stockholm Syndrome going so it all seems like such a GOOD idea. When it's suddenly someone else's kids, it's like, "Hello, this sucks!"

I have a 1-year-old; I trade babysitting with a friend of mine who has a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old who are both charming, well-behaved, creative, imaginative, friendly children. After five hours taking care of her two, who are MILES easier than my one as they can feed and dress themselves and do not poop constantly? I am EXHAUSTED. Because they're NOT MY KIDS and I don't have the routine in place to cope with a 4 and 8 year old. Even if this child were an angel, you'd be strung out by now.

Side note, you're going to turn out being this kid's favorite person because you create boundaries for her. I used to nanny for a two-year-old who constantly had shrieking, screaming tantrums like the ones you describe because it got his parents to cave. I just watched him calmly and told him he could scream as long as he liked, as long as he stayed where I could see him. And then I'd just pick him up and take him with me when I went in the other room to make his sister lunch. After a week he would walk along behind me, still screaming at the top of his lungs, to change rooms. After two weeks he completely gave up and never threw a tantrum for me again. He'd be screaming hysterically at his mother when she left over some perceived injustice, and stop as soon as she shut the door.

(Personally I would let her scream and flail as much as she liked, but whenever she started hitting me or hitting things, I'd put her in a playpen or crib or other restricted environment while saying calmly, "we don't hit." Or "I know you're angry, but you can't throw things at the TV." If she's not hitting herself very hard (with most tantrums it's theater) I'd ignore it, but if she is actually hurting herself your bro and SIL probably need to talk to a doctor for advice on coping with that. I'm of the school that you can say/vocally express/physically express (flailing, angry dancing) anything you need to, but you can't physically act out; liberal about expression, but strict about actions. It's actually a very easy guideline to follow and helps me know what to react to and what to ignore.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:03 PM on July 13, 2010 [4 favorites]

Violet Hour, nobody's okay with that. That's why most people try to raise children with some discipline, and sometimes it . . . doesn't take. Or not until the late teens. But more or less it does.

Children are people. This one's headstrong and difficult and needs more limits than her parents have given her. That's not her fault or yours. The person you produce will be someone else entirely. Better? Worse? Who can say? But it will not be this child.

(And don't give up on this particular spoilbert in the future. Insufferability can mellow out into spiritedness in older children.)
posted by Countess Elena at 7:03 PM on July 13, 2010

Parent of toddler here. Goodness. If that's their typical parenting then they are not doing the kid any favors. You are getting an object lesson in the necessity of boundary-enforcement.

FWIW, I was completely ambivalent about kids until I was about, oh, 6 months pregnant. Mine is different. Yes, I'm a cliche. Mine is also a kid that knows about limits of behavior (insofar as a kid her age can.)
posted by gaspode at 7:03 PM on July 13, 2010

It messes kids up when they are taught that they are the boss. It's frightening, and they do not actually want to be setting the terms for their lives and for those of the adults in the household, too.

The Happiest Toddler stuff is gold in this house, by the way; my guess is that your niece is just so incredibly angry that her tears are not dissolving all obstacles, as usual, that nothing would placate her.

As long as you don't make your toddler the boss, she will not be so agitated and anxious as this poor baby is. (And she's still a baby, whose parents have left for an amount of time that, to a 2-year-old, is basically the same as death. She's not a brat -- or at least, her behavior under this extremity doesn't make her a brat.)

One thing you should consider, though, is that good parents sometimes get very difficult children. An autistic child, for instance, can be easily as frustrating and unreachable as your niece. All of us who sign up to be parents have to accept that possibility.
posted by palliser at 7:11 PM on July 13, 2010

Today I read a blogger's account of her dog pooping all over their new house and I thought, "Ew, dogs, what kind of idiot keeps such annoying pets?". Then I smugly turned back to pet my two beautiful cats, who have: pissed in my expensive leather bag, pissed on my celphone, and ripped my most exquisite silk dress. Every day I leave the house literally coated in fur, and my eyes get puffy because I'm a little allergic to them. The litterbox makes my apartment smell like manky cat ass a few times a week, they track gravel and food and hair all over the house, I feel guilty when I travel, and they get in my way and sneak bites of my dinner and scream loud meows in my face at any opportunity.

posted by pseudostrabismus at 7:15 PM on July 13, 2010 [67 favorites]

I have a short temper, especially when I am tired. I also have a seven month old, who is not a big fan of naps and wakes up 1 out of every 3 nights. So I'm tired. There is absolutely nothing wrong with walking away from an upset child (safely secured) when you find yourself losing control and need time to compose yourself. There have been moments (already!) when I have placed my little darling in the crib and sat in the bathroom for several minutes to regain my sanity. The bonus is that I have found that if I am calmer, then it is much, much easier to calm my child.

Is there anyone you can enlist to help you in caring for your niece during the day, if only for an hour or two to give you some respite and adult company? I love my child, but 10 days straight without some outside help would make me insane.

As for rethinking parenting, the suggestion that you spend time with lots of different children of different ages to get a sense of their different personalities is a really great idea.

Please also consider that not everyone is great with handling kids at every age/stage of life. The first months with baby theBigRedKittyPurrs were doubly hard because I am not, and never have been, very fond of taking care of babies. I start liking them when they hit around 2 years of age. My partner, on the other hand, loves babies and can't get enough. You are doing a great job with your niece, so be gentle with yourself.
posted by theBigRedKittyPurrs at 7:17 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

It's 100% different when it's your own kid. I've never been a real "kid person," and yet I love, love my own child beyond all reason!
posted by BlahLaLa at 7:21 PM on July 13, 2010

Oh yeah, let me add to the chorus that by putting her down in a safe place and walking away you are doing absolutely the right thing.
posted by gaspode at 7:22 PM on July 13, 2010

You're not unfit to be a mother, your brother and SIL are just lousy parents. Procreate away.
posted by Dasein at 7:25 PM on July 13, 2010

FWIW, After a similar experience--brats that made me fear I'd do grave bodily injury--I asked my pro-child husband to agree that if we had a baby and I failed to bond or it wasn't the joyous experience everyone raves about that we could either a) go our separate ways (with him getting custody) or b) put our offspring up for adoption. Had I ever actually gotten pregnant, I'm sure it would have worked out fine, but I really needed the reassurance that I had a way out before taking the plunge.
posted by carmicha at 7:27 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Also, keep in mind that she's probably a little wigged about where her Mom & Dad went. Yeah, kids can be utterly insane and stressful and weird and awful, but I think you've gotten a triple dose of the bad stuff here and none of the good.
posted by GilloD at 7:30 PM on July 13, 2010

Fabulous lesson in discipline. You'd be surprised how few time outs are necessary when the kids know they will absolutely get one for breaking the rules. Every time. No matter where we are. I mean every time. I have learned a lot and gained a lot of confidence from watching Super Nanny. That show often demonstrates how terrible it is for a short while when you begin to impart discipline, and how quickly the kids learn the new reality. If you stick to your guns for the next two weeks I would bet you'll see some real improvement.
posted by huckit at 7:39 PM on July 13, 2010

They're called the terrible twos for a reason. There's waaay too much judgement of the parents in this thread. Any kid, even perfectly raised, can be like this, especially at this difficult age. All I can say is that there's good as well as bad, and the highs are much higher than any of the bad you've just experienced.

My advice is that you stop trying to discipline your niece and correct her upbringing. Even if you're right that she's been spoiled, you aren't going to fix it in one week. At any rate, that plan is almost guaranteed to make for an unpleasant situation. Instead, do some things with the kid that they will enjoy: bake a cake, have tea and crumpets, play a game. You might even want to try buying her a toy or two.
posted by xammerboy at 7:39 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

i was a portrait studio manager for 10 years. at the beginning of it, i was positive i wanted children. by the end of it, you couldn't pay me to pop one of the demons out.

people always say - oh, yours are different. oh, don't base wanting kids on babies, they're terrible. don't base wanting kids on toddlers, they're terrible. don't base wanting kids on 6 year olds they're terrible. don't base wanting kids on 10 year olds, they're terrible. don't base wanting kids on teenagers they're terrible. see where i'm going with this?

i think there's a reason so many kids are accidents and so many kids are born to those under 26.
posted by nadawi at 7:49 PM on July 13, 2010 [13 favorites]

Nthing that your niece is a brat; You should send you brother a bill for the emotional stress she's putting you through.

Two year olds are monsters. They are like warped little dictators. They will push every boundary they see, just to see how far they can go. They are balls of stubborn energy. I have a very happy two year old. Even though he's well behaved he not only exhausts me but often his two older siblings as well. They call it the Terrible Twos for a really good reason.

Your niece doesn't get discipline at home, she's used to running the show. The problem is that she doesn't know how the show is supposed to go, she's been winging it for two years. If somebody threw you into a new situation and told you that you're in charge you could at least try to communicate and figure out what you needed to be doing. Nobody has taken the time to teach your niece what it is that she needs to be doing. They let her be in charge of the restaurant when she should just be sitting down and eating.

Your own child will be a fresh lump of clay for you to mold. You will be able to teach manners and coping skills from a very young age so that those things will be second nature to your kids.
posted by TooFewShoes at 7:50 PM on July 13, 2010

I think there's a post ok the blue about children who are bad seeds which might give you a better feel for the downsides of children. I know parents are cultishly positive about how amazing and rewarding it is to have kids.
posted by anniecat at 7:52 PM on July 13, 2010

I'd also point out that having a two year old all of a sudden is a lot different from having your own two year old. With your kid, you start with the tiny adorable baby phase. And it gets harder as they get bigger (for a while, at least,) but it's like jogging. You start by jogging for a block and then feeling like you're going to pass out, but three years later you're going fives miles at a stretch and liking it*.

*Or so I'm told. The only goddamn jogging I'm doing is if there's a bear chasing me.
posted by MeghanC at 7:54 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh possum, I'm so sorry you're going through this. She's not normal, she's a little shit.

Here's a little something I wrote to someone else on AskMetafilter a while ago

kids are like poo.
everyone elses is disgusting, but yours isn't so bad.

i have never met anyone who said they regret having children.
or pooing.

i hate kids.
but love my own.

have 'em. and if you don't like them, eat them.

but serioiusly... the great thing about your own kids is that you can modify their behaviour. if something about your own kid annoys you, you can beat them till they stop.

you're not allowed to with other kids, so that's why they're so annoying.

your own kids rock. really

from this thread
posted by taff at 7:55 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

i have never met anyone who said they regret having children.

i have. loads, really. moms and dads will say all sorts of shit to the lady taking the pictures - i felt like a shrink at times.

but, it's also just not socially acceptable to say that and there's some evolution stuff happening where even if you hate their guts, generally you feel like they're part of you.

some people manage kids wonderfully and their marriages are strong after and they don't have to give up every single one of their dreams and they stay financially solvent and their kids are little darlings. this is the exception.

around the time i started questioning whether i wanted kids or not i started to realize that a majority of the "my marriage is falling apart" questions that pop up here and other places on the internet seem to start with "things were great until we had kids - and i love my kids, but..." and i stopped caring that it sounds utterly selfish, but i love my husband too much, i love our independence too much. i love staying up all night on a lark and deciding one morning that i just want to be drunk and watch sports all day. i love walking around naked and fucking when i want to and the idea of putting all that on hold for 18+ years for a little shit that's going to hate you anyway...i'm just too selfish.
posted by nadawi at 8:07 PM on July 13, 2010 [12 favorites]

Your kid could be easier.

Your kid could be harder.

My thought is always to err on the side of NOT having kids. However, your marriage complicates this decision.

I suggest some soul-searching and, if you do decide to have children, a lot of research and planning so that you'll have much more support and hands-on assistance than you do now. You don't have to be a full-time parent. There's nothing wrong with having help if it keeps you sane. (Of course, you have to be able to find/afford it...)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 8:08 PM on July 13, 2010

You've gotten good advice already.

All I would add is; have compassion for this kid. She's in a strange place away from her parents, who, to top it off, have not given her much in the way of coping or self-soothing tools. Or possibly, just don't know how to do so and are simply hoping she'll improve on her own.

Also, them dropping her with you might have pushed some panic buttons, deep down. She may feel abandoned. And even spoiled kids seek routine, and now she doesn't have one.

What kinds of things are you doing together? Is she getting enough physical play? Does she seem inclined to hide/cling or to run away? Try to get a feel for who she is, underneath the temper tantrums. It won't mean you are able to change her in 2 weeks, but maybe it will help you to see her in perspective. Try to find ways of making her feel safe, and protected, and that someone is paying attention (it doesn't have to always be you, does your husband connect w/ her at all? Can he take some days off to give you a break? Even with an "easy" child of your own, 24/7 is a bad idea. You need others to help).

Parenting is risky. Your kid might come out a real challenge, or be laid back but stubborn as a mule, or might be fine till they're teens and then hate your guts. It's hard and sometimes thankless. Without biology prompting us, probably very few of us would bother.

But it is an amazing thing to see a little newborn blob become a person, and it does force you to push your own boundaries in ways you never imagined. If you're lucky, in the end you've created a new, good, interesting person who makes the world a better place. That's not a small thing. But it's not a sure thing either.
posted by emjaybee at 8:14 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

We have a soon-to-be 8-year-old and a 16-month-old. I certainly don't regret having kids, but even if I did, what good would it do? Regret is hardly a helpful emotion to bring to parenting.

Although it's possible to "discipline" a 2-year-old, it's not easy. All children are different. Our younger son is completely different in temperament than than his brother - the younger one is constantly messing things up, poking things, licking things, playing with the gas, and poking holes in the paper shoji sliding doors (we recently spent some time in Japan).

I have noticed that he does respond to "no" and will hesitate, at least for about 10 or 20 seconds, before resuming his mischief.

So, as a parent, you become used to the challenge of constantly modifying or even predicting behaviour. However, it's a lot of work, and there are only so many brain cells and so much energy. So you tend to develop a tolerance for chaos.

As for marriage, things do change with children. I can totally understand why marriages might break up.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:16 PM on July 13, 2010

...she represents the worst of the world of parenting you'd be in for.

No. Consider that any child you give birth to might have devastating health and/or behavioral problems that require lifelong care. It's a crapshoot; you have to be prepared and willing to deal with a life radically different from what you imagined if it comes to that.
posted by halogen at 8:17 PM on July 13, 2010 [8 favorites]

A trick that worked with my nephew when he was in temper tantrum mode. I'd let him know that I sympathised with his distress (while not giving into his demands), "That's really sad. I know I'd feel that way too. You just go ahead and cry. I'm going to go over here and play with these Legos."

Then I ignored his screams and cries, played with the Legos, and in a few minutes, he was bored, stopped crying and came over to play.
posted by marsha56 at 8:25 PM on July 13, 2010 [1 favorite]

i'm sending you a meta-hug...caring for a toddler is tough, especially in any situation that is out of their norm. just as most everyone has already stated, you are making good mothering decisions (putting her in a safe place, calling for emotional backup, seeking counsel) and i'm terribly impressed with your dedication to caring for your niece during this crisis time.

you are thinking about this emotionally because this is a stressful-in-the-extreme-time. it is possible you are over-reacting about your decision to have or not have kids based on your niece's behavior, but you are right that this has been an eye-opening experience...as in learn from your brother & sister-in-law's parenting tactics and set up your own boundaries.
parents are kind of hard-wired to respond to the distress cries of their kids (and they get to see said kids during times of heart-stopping vulnerability and loving gestures which help to make the intense moments a little easier to deal)
yes, it is normal to leave a child in a safe place while you can take a few minutes to calm yourself.
distractions worked well with the toddlers i nannied, but my own sprout is a stubborn little cuss and is more difficult to distract.

after rereading your question, i do feel like you are putting a lot of pressure on yourself based on this particular niece in this particular difficult situation. you and your niece are kind of in the same boat right now...neither one of you know how long this surreal experience will end, you have been thrown into the deep end and you both are struggling to find balance. i'd wait until some of the dust has settled from this care-giving stint before drawing a line in the sand regarding your own decision to raise a child.

good luck with the rest of your niece's visit and try to be extra nice to yourself...it will help with how you react to the temper tantrums and you deserve extra niceness!
posted by ms.jones at 8:26 PM on July 13, 2010

Two things -

As the dad of a 2 and a half year old, kids this age are put on earth specifically to test the boundaries of what they can and can't do, as well as what their parents can endure.

They are a real trial. It doesn't by any stretch mean they are bad kids - often it is a reaction to getting that first little feeling of independence - of being able to construct sentences, of being able to express clearly what they do and don't want, and being able to go from point A to point B around the house or elsewhere under their own steam.

My son - I love him, I'd do anything for him and the highlight of my day is coming home to see him. But at the same time there are days and times where I just say to myself and my wife - "I need a break from him right now."

He's not a bad kid at all - he can just try me and test me.

All of that said - I would venture to say that your niece is an utter brat.

Your child doesn't have to be like that - in fact, by the sounds of it, your child wouldn't be like that. It sounds like you'd be the sort of person who would put in place boundaries, who would instill discipline and who would actually say "no" when the situation called for it.

Don't judge all kids on the attitudes of just one kid. Each child has their own personality and their own way of going about things - and you as a parent would have the opportunity to shape them in the best possible way by being great parents.
posted by chris88 at 8:30 PM on July 13, 2010

Also, just further to the above.

When I mentioned the word "brat", I guess I should've explained more.

From reading what you have to say, the child seems to be a product of a home environment where there are no boundaries, lax discipline and where she seems to be running the show inordinately (rather than her parents).

If the child is a product of that environment in some way - well, it is little wonder the way she is. Adthat the strange environment and you have a perfect storm of potential troubles.

That's what I mean when I say that your child doesn't have to be like that.
posted by chris88 at 8:33 PM on July 13, 2010

Here is one more suggestion. Why don't you have your husband do the childcare for a day or two on his own (or half a day, even) to give you a break, and him a better idea of what is happening?

I don't know any parent who doesn't need a break sometimes. Many people trade off taking care of kids, or have a playdate, or some kind of alone-adult time. It's really important.
posted by annsunny at 9:19 PM on July 13, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have no idea if you will make a good parent, but I do know that your decision to have kids should NOT be based in your neice and this experience.

As for regretting having kids, I can say that I love my kids and so not regret having them at aall, but I don't think the bigger question of having kids in general is the same thing. I admit to wondering what my life would have been like without the expense and responsibility. The flaw there is in not considering all the amazing moments they bring.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:21 PM on July 13, 2010

If at all possible tomorrow, celebrate Take Your Niece to Work day at your husband's office, and then fix yourself a huge Bloody Mary.

Like others have said, you're grafting a lot of this unique arrangement onto your fears of being a parent. Your niece is unmoored from her home, without her parents, and too young to understand why. Yes, she's a terror with her mom and dad, but it's hard to overestimate how jarring these ten days have been for everyone, and she's probably still acting outside her norms. She's testing your mettle, seeing if she can goad you or anger you, because this is what toddlers do with their parents in order to define their independence and limitations, but times ten because it's you, a non-parent and maybe a stranger (it's hard to guess how well she knew you previously from your description).

Parenting magazines and websites and even moms on the playground often play this sanctimonious game where they preach that parenting is entirely about the kid. You never let a baby cry herself to sleep, you never raise your voice, you never put her in time out (it makes her feel bad!) you should never go to the store when the kid is tired, you don't scold the kid for hitting in front of her friends, you always let the kid climb up on the countertop because the kid needs to explore the world, you never let the kid skip her nap even when you're out to lunch with relatives, you never leave your kid in daycare/with sitters for more than twenty hours a week,... it goes on. And yeah, this is a perfect way to parent, set up for perfect people. There are entire books written about how this drives parents (well, women, the people who are more often expected to work and parent) absolutely insane. Everyone talks about the endless love and endless hugs that Baby Boomer parents never gave us, but few experts factor in how fucking exhausting it is to be an endlessly loving, selfless parent. Your niece sounds, according to you, pretty spoiled, but most two year olds come off as spoiled hellions to people who aren't intimately acquainted with their rebellious little mindsets. Maybe your sister-in-law is a too permissive parent, maybe your niece is a very willful child.

So here you are: you're really, really tired. You're parenting a fuhhhreaked-out kid in the height of her volatile stages when you have, as far as I know, very little experience prior to taking care of a toddler 24/7. But here's the thing: lots of mothers have been in the position where they've had to shut the door on a wailing kid - they often just feel too ashamed to mention this in mixed company. Toddlers are hardwired to push all of our buttons, and she's pushing yours. It's good that you knew enough to walk away for a few minutes, even if it upset her. It's better that you compose yourself alone than try to deal with a hysterical child while you're on your last nerve. These are the worst moments of childcare, the thing that makes parenting so unrewarding and stressful sometimes.

I don't think you sound like an unfit parent. It just seems that you weren't prepared to deal with a foreign toddler all day every day for weeks on end. You're not used to taking care of a kid 24/7, and no one really is until it happens to them. Most importantly, you need to discuss your own parenting situation with your husband. Like, tonight, if possible. Maybe you're a great mother who would go batshitcrazy as a stay-at-home parent. Maybe your husband will be more nurturing than you are, maybe you'll be a little less lenient. The fact that he dismissed your fears worries me a bit, because it's really important to be as ready and welcoming as possible when you take up parenting. Better that you wait a couple years to have a kid you're sure you want than rush into it now and realize you weren't ready.

Also, and no offense to hardlining Attachment Parenting gurus, but I think this toddler's specific brand of crazy is exactly why AP's stuff about "all hugs, no time outs" can be dangerously misinterpreted.
posted by zoomorphic at 9:43 PM on July 13, 2010 [3 favorites]

Nthing everyone else's advice to not make any major life decisions based on this one childcare experience. It sounds like you're handling things admirably (caring for a difficult two-year-old dropped into your life is quite the undertaking). Please know that your own child will be nothing like your niece- your kid will be another creature entirely. I don't particularly like kids and find babysitting tedious at best, but my son is made of awesome. He's not any more well-behaved or cuter or sweeter than other kids, he's just mine. Somehow that makes all the difference. (And yes, he has screamed in his crib while I have cooled down outside his room. I think your instincts were perfectly right in that regard.)
posted by rebeccabeagle at 9:51 PM on July 13, 2010

it's different when it's your own kid, no question/no contest. other people's kids piss me off to NO END. my kid amuses me and is the be-all end-all, even when she has her feet in my face and is making some kind of a razzberry. it's biological, dude.

just be ready to sign on the dotted line.

this kid is two? there is no such thing as "discipline" at age two. just guidance. either they are coddling the shit out of this two-year old or she is just naturally Trouble. my humble opinion.

no worries. procreate if it feels really good. wait, if having kids just feels like something you are "supposed" to do. no big whoop either way, you'll figure it out. your relationship will survive and so will you, either way.
posted by lakersfan1222 at 9:57 PM on July 13, 2010

Everyone please stop calling this toddler a brat.

Please consider that this child probably thinls that she has beem desserted. 2-3 weeks is a really really long time to a toddler. I am the mother of a toddler and iknow she would be devestated if I left her for a week, let alone a few. When I read your post it sounds like two things:
1. Your niece is a child who has no routine, except the presence of her doting parents
2. She feels abandoned and is terrified that you will abadon her too

First, establish routine for her; second, make sure that it is clear ro her what is going on, and if you can as part of the routine establish a daily skype call with her parents. Her routine should have wake-up, brEakfast, nap, lunch, bath, parent call always at the same time everyday.

also, get out of the house with her - much as I love my girl, bored toddlers WEAR you out, so go find other toddlers for her to play with. Perhaps she has soe regular playmates she can hang out with? This will give you a break and make for much happier kid, it will also re assure her that life as she previously knew it has not ended.

Finally, this not what it would be like if you have your own child, this what it is like to step into the shoes of another parent and care for a bewildered, confused, grieving child. IT WIILL be different with your own child.
posted by zia at 10:28 PM on July 13, 2010 [6 favorites]

It's been covered that the kid is stressed out being in a new environment and not having her parents around. What you might not realize is there is always an adjustment period for you too, not just the kid. A friend of mine asked me to help her husband take care of her 2 foster kids while she went away for 5 days, and was extremely angry because she expected me to be Mary Poppins and do all the child care, cooking, laundry, cleaning, taking care of their 3 dogs, cat, 2 birds, and 2 fish tanks, all from minute one! I was still trying to learn which cabinet had the plates in it, and get to know the kids and their habits.

It takes a while to get into a childcare routine, and you've definitely not had enough time (plus letting the kid dictate dinner time and such kind of prevents a routine), so consider that in addition to the other great advice given to you here.
posted by IndigoRain at 10:32 PM on July 13, 2010

FWIW, I think two-year-olds are a little too young to be spoiled brats--her personality is probably just sort of difficult. Not that that helps you; she's clearly a pain, and likely feels abandoned by her parents, & etc. I'm just chiming in to say that you're doing everything as best you can, you're a saint for agreeing to this in the first place, you'll feel differently about your own children, and you shouldn't worry. Other kids are not your kids.
posted by timoni at 11:52 PM on July 13, 2010

Kids are like farts. You can't stand anyone else's but you quite like your own.

Your niece is how she is because she's been allowed to get away with it. This will, believe me, come back to bite her when she's an adult and discovers her sense of entitlement is not shared by everyone she meets. Your own child will be a blank canvas for you to begin good parenting and avoid the indulgences that have made your niece into a mini-monster.
posted by essexjan at 2:34 AM on July 14, 2010

Sorry for the massive spelling errors - that's what happens when you send from your phone!

Just to reiterate: You need to get her on a routine that is regular and predictable and you need to get her talking to her parents on a regular schedule, preferably with skype. Finally, if I were you, I would have a conversation about getting this child back to her mother (take her to her mother? have her mother come get her and fly back out?). This is too long a period away from her parents.
posted by zia at 2:39 AM on July 14, 2010

People, stop calling this little girl a brat.

She is not responsible for her parents for a start (but equally you have no idea how she behaves when it's just the three of them.)

Secondly, she is away from everything and everybody she knows and loves and has no idea that they are ever coming back. She's scared stiff and doesn't know why.

Show some understanding people
posted by A189Nut at 3:05 AM on July 14, 2010

I'm chiming in with the dislike of 'brat' for a two year old whose parents have 'abandoned' her, whose entire life just got turned completely upside down and who is staying with someone who isn't terribly close. Never ever underestimate the effects of change on people and that includes kids and this kid has had a really rough time. So have you. She's not a brat though. She's a little kid who probably feels abandoned, has none of the usual comforts of home AND looked after by someone with little experience. Distracting a toddler is NOT a cop out and is not spoiling them - it's developmentally appropriate. Walking away is the only thing you can do sometimes. Negotiation is a bad term but actually meeting their needs and helping them recognise their wants and how they fit in the world is absolutely required.

The experience of looking after a child whose life has just been severely disrupted and who you seem to have an obvious behavioural expectation of is nothing like parenting your own. Recognising that you can't deal with certain behaviours is important though because EVERY child misbehaves. Every child will yell at some point, or scream, or chuck food and they may do it for weeks at a time before they move to the next behavioural milestone. If you are unable to work within developmental needs for children then parenting is going to be much much harder.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:34 AM on July 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

I'm the opposite to you - never felt maternal instincts, and there are very good medical reasons for me not having children (high puerperal psychosis risk being one). Occasionally, though, I wonder what it would be like to have a mini-me that I could teach about the world and draw pictures with, until I remember that having children is actually hard. Really, really hard. But you kmow what? People have more than one, so they can't be that hard if you really want to do it.
posted by mippy at 6:20 AM on July 14, 2010

There's so much negativity towards parenting and children in this thread; I just want to say that I jokingly tell my friends, "If I'd known being a parent would make me such a better person, I'd have done it when I was 19!" (When of course it would have been a terrible idea.) But it's true -- I'm a happier, calmer, more centered person; more patient, much less of a drama queen; I have a lot more perspective on (most things in) life and I'm far more able to ignore the stupid and unimportant; I'm more compassionate, I'm more giving -- not just to my child, but to everyone around me. Plus I've learned to juggle in the long, long hours of trying to entertain myself with his baby toys, so that's exciting. I've always wanted to be able to juggle.

It's not easy, and people do lie -- I've definitely got those "sunshine and roses and unicorn poop" people in my facebook feed who post every day about how awesome it is to be a mommy!!!!!!eleventy-one!!!!! I've wanted to run away frequently the last two weeks because my husband broke his collarbone and being 24/7 single-parent-on-call plus all the disruptions of doctor's visits during naps and no daddy for daddy routines upsetting my child has been difficult. But for me it's not this horrible slog through a muddy swamp with ROUSes trying to eat you that some people are making it out to be!

A very good friend of mine has been a single foster mother for years, often for very troubled children -- an INCREDIBLY difficult undertaking, but one where she routinely makes the CHOICE to be a parent each time DCFS calls her. She's getting married this year and can't wait to start a family; having cared for so many children, including many who were very difficult and many with serious health problems, she knows the worst of what parenting can be -- and she is eager to keep doing it. (Both for biological and for foster children.) She's a special person, not all of us could do that -- but for a lot of people parenting really is an overall happy and fulfilling thing, even if some days you think, "Good lord, child, how much poop can be in a person this small????"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:36 AM on July 14, 2010

I'm glad zia weighed in with the suggestion of a schedule. I thought of that last night but I was already in bed and half asleep. Getting up at that moment was not happening.

So, with regards to the schedule, here's what I'd start with:

Wake up and get dressed for the day.
Play time
Morning snack (2 yr olds tend to graze a lot. Consider leaving a small bowl of cheerios out.)
Go outside and do something, run an errand or find a community activity like stories at the library
Play time
Afternoon snack (If she wakes hungry from nap, then have snack before play time)
Play time
Bedtime routine: bath, books, songs, cuddles
Down for the night.

For my 3 yr old foster child, wake up is about 6:30 in the morning and bedtime is between 7:30 and 8pm.

When you know the date of her parents' return, circle it on the calendar and show it to her. Each day, mark off a day so she can see you're getting closer and closer to their return. As some of your play times, let her color or paint and help her save the pictures to give to her parents when they return.

If you have pictures of her parents handy, put one or two up by her bed and talk to the pictures. Tell them things like "Good morning", "Good night", "We love you", "We'll see you soon." If she shows anger towards the pictures, you'll have an indicator about how she's feeling. However, leave them up for her to see. This will help her understand that they're still part of her life. If you can Skype with her parents, that will also help her a lot.

As for the person who described her as unloveable, shame on you. Those who pointed out that she's probably scared and angry are right. Combine that with the permissiveness of her parents and you've got your hands full.
posted by onhazier at 6:59 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Every time my husband started to talk about kids, I'd offer to babysit for a friend's toddler for an evening. ("You want one of THOSE? Really?") Always made him stop asking about kids for a while ;)

Now, see, I *know* somebody else's kids are much more difficult than your own. I know that toddlers can be particularly difficult when they don't understand why Mom and Dad have vanished and they're alone with someone they only sorta know. I know that jumping right in with a toddler is crazy hard when you didn't start out with an infant. I have three younger siblings and watched/helped as they grew up. But then...so does my husband, so I don't think i's entirely unfair to borrow somebody else's kids to remind him how difficult kids can be.

What you're doing right now is something that I do *on purpose* to make parenting look as difficult and scary as possible. Except I only do it for a few hours. And I wouldn't even offer for a kid as laxly disciplined as the one you're watching.
posted by galadriel at 7:05 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know a number of people who say, "I don't like anyone's kids but my own," which echoes what people are saying upthread. You have been babysitting -- it's not the same thing, there's not the same bond, etc.

I do feel for this kid, because it sounds as if her parents are pretty ineffective, and all she wants is some boundary setting.
posted by sdn at 7:41 AM on July 14, 2010

One point that I think need to be further stressed -- you only wanted to slap your neice, you didn't actually slap her. That is not a cause for alarm. You had a perfectly normal feeling (from the tone of the comments, you can tell about 2/3 of the responders want to slap that kid) and you dealt with it in a non-violent manner. You're not Mary Poppins -- nobody is.
posted by rtimmel at 7:50 AM on July 14, 2010

I am not a parent, but I am the oldest of seven children, the youngest of which is 17 years younger than me. My mom was also a midwife when I was young, so I've seen my share of kids and childrearing techniques. My $0.02:

Does your experience mean you wouldn't enjoy having kids after all? No. What you experienced is a kid who has been trained to think that the kind of behavior she's exhibiting is acceptable. Obviously if she had been your child from the beginning, her upbringing would have been very different.

That does not mean though, that there's nothing to learn from this sobering experience. Even the best kids will be difficult at times, and you have no control over whether or not a child is born with some kind of developmental disability or other issue which may make them harder to deal with than you might have expected. Also, children go through different stages and may be more difficult at certain points in life. Most likely, you will not have a child you is spoiled and difficult all the time. But the things you experienced with your niece will likely happen at least every now and then. There is also a small chance that due to no fault of your own, your own kids may be more prone to this behavior due to some physiological problem.

However, what others have said is still true - it's very different when it's YOUR kid. Your emotions are totally different. Most parents have sort of "rose colored glasses" when it comes to their own kids. And the bond between mother and baby that starts in the womb especially makes a difference.

Bottom line: child rearing is more difficult than you might have thought before your experience with your neice. However, it is usually not as difficult as you might currently fear. Also, there are wonderful rewards that you haven't really tasted yet.
posted by Vorteks at 8:01 AM on July 14, 2010

Rather than rethinking parenting altogether, I would use this as an opportunity to work on any anger issues you feel you may have. It's normal to feel anger sometimes, but if your own anger scares you, particularly in the presence of a child, don't ignore your fears about that. I had a similar experience with my much younger sister when she was growing up. I would be furious with her and scared by the lack of control I felt over it. The thing is, even if you're not usually prone to anger, caring for a child can bring all sorts of past feelings, reactions, and family issues to the surface. That doesn't make you automatically unfit. The fact that you're taking this so very seriously actually bodes well, I think, because you're concerned and self-aware enough to work on any issues there may be here.

But I do agree that this is an especially stressful situation since it sounds like your niece has gotten zero discipline from her parents. Her parents react to her differently because they've developed a bad habit of giving her whatever she wants. It's easy to be the good guy. It's hard to be the good parent.
posted by spinto at 8:10 AM on July 14, 2010

Is your husband helping with the niece? What does he think of all this?

My husband says that I'm overreacting and too stressed out to think clearly
He's right

I don't know if it's because she's their daughter and they're biologically geared to love her unconditionally?
Maybe. Maybe they just handle it differently. Or maybe they freak out at home just as much as you are freaking out.

Is it normal to walk away from an upset child?
Yes, especially one throwing a fit. Do not reward bad behavior, even with attention and hugs. They learn quickly, and the niece has learned that fits get her what she wants.

Should I be more like my sister-in-law and work at negotiating more, offering lots of distractions, and so on?
With your own kids? Absolutely not.
With the niece? Sure. Aunts and Uncles spoil kids, just like grandparents. You shouldn't worry how she is raised, just do what you can to make it easier.

Or should I really rethink parenting? Part of me still wants children very badly, but now I'm questioning my ability to really mother them.

Speaking as someone who never wanted kids, but got them anyway (surprise!) - I absolutely love my 2 daughters. I would do anything for them. I am a much better person for having them in my life. And you will feel the same, just give it time.

Yes, I had these moments with my kids. I have lost it and hit (spanked, not slapping or abusive) them in anger because they would not stop something, but I have tried very hard to not be that father. And my wife helps a lot, she holds me back and makes me take space when I lose it, and she steps up and helps, and I do the same for her, including a lot of days walking in from work and being handed a screaming child. But you manage. You try and raise them with gentle discipline, and they respond. And the moments you get to play with them in the park, or teach them something new, or read them a bedtime story, or just snuggle up with them in a big chair, those moments make it all worth it. Really, they do.

And now my kids are older (9 and 14), and there are new sets of problems. I ask my parents "Was I this bad?", and they answer "Worse". But I take my kids out and people tell me they are wonderful, and so well behaved. And I see other kids, like your niece, who are holy terrors, and I realize that my girls are wonderful and well behaved, and I remember to hug them extra hard that night. It's all how you raise them. I don't know what, or how, but I did something right. A lot of things wrong, but something right. And so will you.

Best of luck to you with the niece. But your kids will be better. I promise.
posted by I am the Walrus at 8:12 AM on July 14, 2010

There's so much negativity towards parenting and children in this thread

I'm not surprised, otoh I can't count the number of times I've been told "don't base your experiences with other people's kids on whether you want to have your own. They'll be different." when they find out that the accumulated experiences I have had lead to deciding not to have kids. There was the kid, all of 10 or 11, who took a knife to his padded headboard and, then later sat on the window sill, one leg in one out threatening to jump from a third story window ... mouthy ones, bratty ones and, every so often ones that would seemingly be a dream to raise. The final straw for me was a 6'ish month old with separation anxiety who wailed the whole time mom was gone and, in the midst of it all I wondered what if in two hours I couldn't hand her over to someone else? What if there was no support for me to tap into? At about this time I wanted to throw the kid out the window and, walk out the front door. By the time mom got home I was in tears, I just couldn't cope with a crying baby. Ultimately I decided that I didn't like the odds, I didn't like the idea that (more than likely) I'd be the one who'd have to give up their pursuits to raise a kid and, when people tell me "don't base it on ..." I think, "sure, but if I decide I've made the wrong choice will you take my kid(s) off my hands?" For me it always felt like once I made that decision there was no way of backing out so, I opted to not give it a whirl.

That being said, I wouldn't base this one experience on whether you decide to go forward with kidlets yourself, what you're feeling (frustration and anger) is perfectly normal. It would be different insofar as your parenting style, their personality &c and, there's always the risk it won't be easy.
posted by squeak at 8:40 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think your husband should take at least a day or two off of work to watch this child. This will give you a chance to get out of the house and get some perspective. It will give him a chance to see if he's as sure about children as he thinks he is.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 9:36 AM on July 14, 2010

A huge thing that I've learned about kids and parenting (having been both) is that kids are so much like their parents.

Mostly this is genetics, but some if it is learned behavior (and, of course, there are exceptions). But, when I'm out and see 'bratty' kids: I see 'bratty' parents. Introverted, extroverted, analytical, showy, boisterous, modest, irritable, shy, pensive, territorial, social, status-oriented, physical, etc. - all these attributes seem so reflective of their parents. When my kids bring home other parents' kids, I can most of the time predict what their parents are like, even before I meet them.

Parenting became a lot easier for me when I began to think of my children as a younger versions of myself. I threw out a lot of conventional wisdom, and began tailoring my parenting style to what would be best for myself. I'd ask, 'if this was me, in this situation, what would be the best thing for someone to say or do?' It has worked wonderfully for me. My kid's brains are a lot like my brain (and their mother's), and they understand what I'm doing or saying. I'm just saying that because, parenting other peoples' kids is probably much different and much more challenging. It's not analogous and it shouldn't be the basis for your decision.
posted by TheOtherSide at 9:41 AM on July 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

I am surprised at all the people who are so very sure that your clearly troubled niece is the product of poor parenting. She may have a psychiatric or behavioral disorder. Furthermore, that disorder may have a genetic aspect to it that your child may share. Having children is a crapshoot, and people who are assuring you that *your* child will delightfully well-adjusted simply cannot know this. Have you talked to your brother and SIL about their daughter? They may well be aware that she has problems that they are managing the best they can. At this point, most people are sophisticated enough to know that problems like autism are not caused by poor parenting, but quick to point fingers when a child's behavior falls outside the norm in other ways. And that's not to say "don't do it."
posted by Wordwoman at 10:33 AM on July 14, 2010

will *be* delightfully well-adjusted, sheesh
posted by Wordwoman at 10:38 AM on July 14, 2010

Wordwoman: I am surprised at all the people who are so very sure that your clearly troubled niece is the product of poor parenting. She may have a psychiatric or behavioral disorder. Furthermore, that disorder may have a genetic aspect to it that your child may share. Having children is a crapshoot, and people who are assuring you that *your* child will delightfully well-adjusted simply cannot know this.

I totally agree with this, and with what NoDef said above: Also, don't discount the fact that this 2 year old is probably scared to death given the absence of her parents.

It is always easy to judge other parents and to think how much better you do it/would do it. Many parents think that everything that goes right is because of the things they do well, and everything that isn't so great about their child is just their nature.

But I do absolutely agree with all the people who say that your own child is totally different than other peoples children. Also: parenting is a skill that you can learn. There are a few often recommended books for "difficult" children, like The Explosive Child.
posted by davar at 10:59 AM on July 14, 2010

FWIW I work with severely and persistently mentally ill kids (fire setting, sexually assaulting pets and siblings, etc) but I still think my clients are okay kids with serious problems and I still want my own kids. Yes, I am afraid my kids will turn out like my clients but odds are they won't. Nthing the "you might be leery of other kids but you'll think your own kid poops whipped cream" comments. Good luck!
posted by ShadePlant at 11:29 AM on July 14, 2010

Kids thrive on routine and knowing what to expect. At her age, she may be acting that way because her parents are gone, her routine is disrupted, and she is trying to figure out the new rules with you, without being able to think about such things concretely. It's got to be hard for her. She's two, for God's sake.

This is absolutely not indicative of what your own kids will be like, nor is it necessarily indicative of what your niece will be like one year from now.
posted by Knowyournuts at 12:30 PM on July 14, 2010

I have a 20 month old and a 5 day old. I think I am a pretty good parent. I also think I am the worst baby-sitter in the world. Looking after someone else's kid is probably one of my least favorite things to do. I would honestly rather go to the dentist than watch someone else's kid. But you know what I like better than ice cream? Hanging out with my 20 month old daughter even when she screams. Sure it is hard, but there is nothing more rewarding than having her look at me and simply say 'Hi Daddy!'

Comparing the experience of being a parent with being a baby sitter is not a good way to gauge your parenting skills. Gauge your parenting skills by how much mastery you have over your own life.

As far as regret is concerned, what a horrible way to look at your life. When you become a parent, you burn the ships and never look back. Save regrets for stuff like marrying an asshole or working 60 hours a week for far too many years.
posted by jasondigitized at 6:31 PM on July 14, 2010

Jason, Mazel tov on your 5 day old. Agree with the regret theory too.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:13 PM on July 14, 2010

Just to offer something more concretely constructive, distraction is actually a great tactic for dealing with 2-year-old misbehavior. But when you say "My brother employs distraction tactics, like offering her treats to stave off fits," that's not really an example of distraction as a parenting technique. I'd call that bribery. Distraction would be suggesting a more appropriate activity: say she's banging her toy truck against the wall; you might suggest that you get some paper out and make a road for the truck to drive on, or that you two take the truck out back and run it in the dirt. The way you'd do this is to say cheerfully, "Oops, no, we don't bang the truck, let's take the truck outside instead! C'mon, let's get your shoes."

The other thing I noticed is that you say she bangs on the laptop and fusses when you take it out of reach. I personally find it's pretty much impossible to use a computer while taking care of a toddler; they're curious, and they want you to play with them. Possibly if you start her on something really engaging, like play-dough, you might get 5 minutes to check email, but other than that, I tend to do stuff that requires sitting and concentrating while my toddlers are asleep. I guess what I'm saying is that if you're sort of expecting her to spend a lot of time playing quietly while you go about your day as usual, that's waaaay too much to ask of a child this age; they're just needier than that, and you'll see them acting out to get your attention if they're not getting it in a more positive way.
posted by palliser at 7:00 PM on July 15, 2010

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