It starts as soon as he wakes up. “I don’t want to watch River Monsters,” whines my 4 year-old, piercingly, desperately, as if someone were threatening to lop off his toes instead of turn on the TV. “I hate River Monsters. I don’t want to watch Wild Kratts. I don’t want to watch Octonauts.”
“You love Octonauts,” my 8 year-old says. I can hear his eyes rolling and he sighs, deeply, the sigh of someone seasoned in this battle. Here we go again.
Another few rounds of this and he is done. It’s 6am and my oldest is yelling at my youngest that he’s tired of his whining, that he always whines, that he’s a whiny baby and he needs to stop. Internally, I am nodding along. Inside, I am high-fiving my oldest, cheering him on, slapping him on the back.
Outwardly, I am practicing desperate parental conflict resolution. But, I am resentful. Because Sunny does whine all the damn time. About pretty much everything. And, it’s fucking exhausting for all of us.
A chronically whiny kid doesn’t just affect himself, after all. He’s a drain on everyone around him. Don’t believe me? Ask any mom of a chronic whiner and she’ll tell you the same. The small maneuvers that make up a family become fraught, demoralizing. Imagine telling your kids to get dressed. Their clothes are laid out. They are capable of dressing themselves. The clothes require no complicated buttons. But your smallest kid falls the fuck out, because he gets it into his 4 year-old brain that he simply cannot get dressed without help, and instead of calmly calling and saying, “Mama, I need help,” he just cries and whines and stomps.
So you, who may be in the middle of a complicated skin regime, or topless as you rifle through the clean clothes pile for a shirt, have to sigh. Collect yourself. Realize the reason for the whining, then a remedy: “Bring your clothes in here and I’ll help you.” Then you’re topless, coaching a four-year-old into his pant legs when he really ought to be able to do this himself, wondering where the line is between helping him cope with his emotions and letting him scream it out on the path to independence.
Because you know everyone blames you for this, especially if the whiner is the youngest. You created this monster, you can hear them thinking, because you babied him for too long and now he’s a total brat. This is all your fault. Except it’s not, because while you may have cuddled him more, you certainly expected him to be able to locate his shoes at the same age as the others did (something that provokes a whining meltdown, which makes everyone late and resentful). The others didn’t lose their everloving shit when you refused to buy them sticker books at every single Target visit. And somehow, this one has developed a deathly aversion to mud and muck and well, yards, and you are a muddy and mucky and in-the-yard-type family. So when everyone troops outdoors, he whines and twists and cries and claims he can’t find his rain boots and finally says he wants to stay inside, and while you may agree to that, he then wants someone to stay inside and that someone is YOU.
Say goodbye to yard work, mama/daddy, because you’re now entertaining a grouchy 4 year-old! Or, everyone else is going to listen to him scream and cry and ruin their fun. There is no good choice in these matters.
Make sure you say the word “fuck” internally, or he might pick that one up, and then people will really judge your ass.
Having a whiner is a drain on the entire family. It’s like this angry little gray cloud that suddenly appears to piss rain over the entire family. Time to go out for pizza, yay! “Me HATE PIZZA!” your little whiner belts out. Except he loved pizza last week. Doesn’t matter. Now everyone’s pissed off at him, and pissed off in general, and questioning the choice of pizza because going to pizza now means listening to him whine the entire time.
Do we give in to the tiny tyrant? Do we drag him along kicking and screaming? What’s best for all of us in the moment, for family cohesion and happiness? But what’s best for the tiny tyrant, who needs to learn that his whines don’t run the show? Again, all of these options kind of suck.
Yes, I know he’s four. And I know all about the fucking fours. I raised two other boys through the fucking fours, with all their clinginess and tantrums and tears. And whining. But dear sweet baby Jesus in a manger, neither of them whined like this child does. My beloved baby bursts into tears at all the things. Lost shoes. Unable-to-be-tied shoes. The dog moving off the couch. The wrong book, the wrong TV show, the wrong shirt or the wrong game. He’s hungry. He’s tired. He’s thirsty. And he absolutely refuses to articulate these things as polite requests, i.e., “I would like something to eat now, mama,” or “I would like to go home now, mama.” His brothers had learned to do it at his age. But my whiner? Nope. He’ll ask you over and over and over when it’s time to leave until you can’t help but round on him and yell, looking like an utter monster to all passers-by and other parents. And you feel like a monster. But you simply can’t hear “I’m ti-red,” one more damn time or your head is going to explode.
So, you hang on. You live with it, occasionally blowing up. And you hope it will get better. You hope, Because you can’t live with this for much longer. Like seriously, universe, I can’t deal with this.
For now, all you can do is savor the love and cuddles from your whiny whiner, soak them up, enjoy them — because you love him very much, but you can’t wait for him to grow out of this shit.