Tough love

Remember when I said Fenner seemed happier lately? Well, today not so much. Lots of ups and downs and some nasty, nasty fighting. In a nutshell: Stop!/Go away!/Shut-up!/Stupid-head!/I hate you! And hitting and shoving, etc. … (And on top of that I couldn’t seem to figure out what it would take to get Charlotte in the bath. Oh well, another day, another greasy head.)

On the upside, Charlotte, Ellen, and I managed a fun game of Frisbee on a truly spectacular spring day. That felt great.

But Fenner seemed to be struggling. So before bedtime I asked her to show me her new gymnastics moves in our basement exercise room. We went down and she showed me her back walkover and then she slumped down on the floor. I sat down with her.

“Mom, why did you have to have Charlotte? She’s not a good addition to our family, because Charlotte and I don’t really get along.” “Mm. Yeah, I remember when Sloane and I had a hard time together for a while,” I offered. “And why did you have to take that stupid parenting class? It makes it seem like you don’t care what we do. … And I don’t like that you don’t help us anymore,” her eyes filled with tears. “I see. … Do you understand why we’re not helping you as much?” “No.” “Well … you and I won’t always be living together. Someday you’ll be out on your own and I won’t be there to help, so you need to know how to do stuff by yourself.” At that the tears started flowing faster. She tried to rub them away. I put my arm around her. “So when you think about that it feels kinda sad and scary?” She nodded. “Well that’s why we’re doing it now, so we can be nearby while you learn all these things. … And we’ve still got a lot of years together to go.” “Yeah…” she whispered (she starts whispering when she’s trying hard not to cry).

Just then our cat, Cleveland, walked in. Fenner laughed as we watched him explore the fort Charlotte had built earlier with the exercise mats. That helped her relax and get her voice back. We talked about other things for a while, like her favorite parts of her favorite TV shows, and then it was time for bed.

During my bedtime visit in her room she asked, “So what’s this week about?” I explained about the crucial C’s and how I thought it would help our family. “Well I don’t like it and you can’t change that!” she said. “No, that’s true, I can’t.” There was a long pause and then she said, “I just want to know, when are you going to care more? When are you going to start caring about what we do and what Charlotte does?” I wasn’t sure what to say. “Mom, you’re not answering my question!” “Honey, we do care, we do… We’re working on it.” She frowned and looked at the floor. Our visit time was up. “I love you…goodnight,” I said as I closed the door behind me.

Ok, I thought, she’ll be ok. And tomorrow’s another day…

Explore posts in the same categories: Week 6: The Crucial C's

6 Comments on “Tough love”

  1. Vicki Says:


    I have a strong middle. She was not all that excited about not only her little brother showing up, but her 2 additional siblings when I remarried Iain and adopted. Tough break for the middle child, BUT, she is resourceful beyond anything I could have imagined.

    Had I believed one word of her frustration, disappointment, “let’s go back to the way it use to be”, she wouldn’t be the person she is today.

    I also realized, much later, that she was afraid of her place in the family as everyone began to “step up to the plate”. If Brady became as capable, as cooperative, as responsible and respectful as she was, then what would happen to her? It took almost a year for her to recognize that:

    1. There is room at the top for everyone
    2. You need everyone to take turns being at the top so you can rest
    3. Her place in the family was never based on what she did, but who she is

    As your youngest redefines who SHE is, her older sisters are being forced to do the same. That is scary stuff.

    All I know for sure, is that when our kids KNOW that we love them and we are committed to them, they will follow our lead, even if they don’t understand where it is taking them.

    Sending you love.

    • flockmother Says:

      I was hoping you’d have some words of wisdom on this one! That’s very reassuring and makes so much sense.

      I’ll take it as a good sign that we’re shakin’ things up.

      Thank you.

  2. thoughtful reader Says:

    Fenner: “I just want to know, when are you going to care more? When are you going to start caring about what we do and what Charlotte does?” I feel Fenner’s frustration with this method of parenting. I can see how NOT saying anything -looks- like NOT caring to a kid. I am very grateful for your honesty in your blog…you & your husband have TONS of patience & forgiveness, such as with Charlotte’s scratches on his desk. I guess the invitation (even though declined) is better than making her do it against her will? Is the thought that she will feel guilty seeing her dad clean up her mess/fix her mistake? I am not following the logic. Can you help me understand?

    • flockmother Says:

      Making someone feel guilty is never the goal. This program helped me recognize those scratches on the desk as a cry for help. Charlotte was saying, “I feel disconnected and powerless and I don’t know what else to do!” Would she help fix what she did? Maybe, maybe not. I love her either way and in that case I knew it was time to pay extra attention to the crucial Cs, not go into punishment mode which would just add to the problem. Does that make sense?

      As for Fenner’s claim that clearly I just don’t care anymore, Vicki is right on with her comment. It’s not true and Fenner knew it. But she also knew that saying that might push my buttons enough to get me to go back to the way things were. Because at that time, going forward with all this was scary. She wasn’t quite sure where we were headed. Now she knows and at 15 she can see clearly that she’ll be on her own before long and the life skills and self confidence she’s gained in the last 3 years will come in very handy indeed.

      • thoughtful reader Says:

        Your reply was really helpful: it’s more important to focus on the four C’s rather than punishing & the things our kids will do/say to push our buttons. It is starting to make sense!

      • flockmother Says:

        Happy to help! Keep in touch…

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