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Will our hectic schedules hurt our son?
Q: I have a 2½-year-old whose behaviour problems are probably due to the fact that his dad and I overextend ourselves. Our son is the most important person to us and we don't want him to be one of the numbers of children who grow up with behaviour/emotional problems. Unfortunately, we both are in the middle of very demanding times in our lives. Dad is in the military in the midst of an important transition and possible promotion. I work full-time and am completing my master’s through an accelerated program.

I love children and want to finish my degree so I can work with them in the future. I know I’m missing the most important part of my son's life, but I only have until May to finish the mandatory classes. My question is: will the additional three months cause damage I cannot fix? I also need three more months at work and then I'll be able to spend all my time with my son. Right now he cries at every opportunity, makes it hard for us to bathe and change him and doesn't want to hold our hands while walking. When he misbehaves we say “no” or put him in time-out. We used to spank him on occasion, but we stopped since he was hitting back and pushing other kids around.
A: I’m sorry, Brenda, but I can’t make you feel comfortable about your situation. You’re parenting on the run, and your child’s reacting. You ask, “Will the additional three months cause damage I cannot fix?” And then you add, “I also need three more months at work and then I’ll be able to spend all my time with my son.” At the end of that six-month period something else may come up regarding your career. My feeling is that young couples can have it all—but they can’t have it all at once. You sound so conflicted, guilty and worried. I suggest you let your feelings be your guide and make adjustments in your life so you can be the kind of mum you want to be.

By the way, it’s very hard to be consistent with a 2-year-old. I suggest you read “What To Expect: The Toddler Years” by Arlene Eisenberg, Heidi E. Murkoff and Sandee E. Hathaway. This book is packed with information on loving, managing and enjoying toddlers. My own book, “Wimpy Parenting From Toddler To Teen,” may also be of some help to you.

At your son’s age, time-outs and spankings are not the way to go. Most of what you do at this age is managing, which is explained in the reading I have recommended. I hope things work out for you. I also hope I have not offended you. Parents often get mad at me when I tell them that they can’t have it all at one time without paying a price.
Kenneth N. Condrell Ph.D Child Psychologist