The Attachment Tank Is Empty

posted in: Monkey My Son, Motherhood, NaBloPoMo 70 comments

There is behavior in my house which I am not happy with. 


My firstborn, the boy who made me a mother, the boy who occupied my every waking moment (and dreams) – has been getting on my every last nerve lately. I am not happy to admit that I have yelled, threatened, given him deathly looks, and ignored him (this hurts me the most). He pushes all my buttons. He does not listen to me, although I’ve tried asking nicely, speaking softly, being reasonable, which then went on to bribery and offering incentives, and progressively got to the point where I hate myself, because I’m not being nice to my son. 

No effect. He doesn’t care what I say or do. So I get mad and when I get mad, I get quiet. I go into my cave, and focus on what needs to get done (and my other three children). 

He’s almost 5. He’s pushing boundaries, asserting himself, and probably trying to get attention. I understand what it’s like to be one of four children. I was ignored a lot too as a child (at least, that’s how I felt), and the last thing I want to do, is to make my own children feel the same way. I’m afraid I’m failing at this already.

We are in the trenches of newborn-ness, multiply by two. I am barely keeping up with the babies as it is. My older two have been thrown into a situation not of their doing. It is unfair, I realise that. I am expecting a lot by hoping that they’ll get by without me in their face all the time. Most days, we do okay. On the rare occasion, we even do well. But the moments that stand out are for me are the ones where we have to admit that it was a bad, no good, horrid day. 

I think because he’s the oldest, and nearly 5, I expect a lot more from him. SO UNFAIR, I know. I know where part of the problem lies – it’s me. I haven’t given him enough time or attention. I read somewhere that for children to listen to us, we have to fill their “attachment tank”. We have to give them what they need emotionally, so they feel secure in their relationships with us. 

His attachment tank is empty. That’s on me. I feel terrible, and I want to rectify it. It’s not an overnight project, we have to work on it gradually. I am trying to take time daily to be with him, one-on-one, uninterrupted (and with twin two-month olds, it is hard), even just to cuddle. I’m trying to remember that the first few minutes of each day, and each night, are the most important with children. One to start the day off right, the other to make it right. As the twins get older, I hope to be able to carve out more time for my older kids. It’s a daily journey, to get where we want to be, and even then, it will be a constant work-in-progress.

I imagine that being the firstborn cannot be easy. Going from an only child with 100% of your parents attention, to 50%, then cruelly, to just 25% (if at all), is hard.

We have to fill that attachment tank again. For his sake, and mine. 

With #1

December 2012, when it was just the two of us

Alison Lee is a former PR and marketing professional turned work-at-home mother. After a 10-year career in various PR agencies, and of the world’s biggest sports brands, Alison traded in product launches and world travel, for sippy cups, diapers, and breastfeeding. Alison's writing has been featured on Mamalode, On Parenting at The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Everyday Family, Scary Mommy, and She is one of 35 essayists in the anthology, My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Leaving and Losing Friends. In 2012, she founded Little Love Media, a social media consultancy specializing in blog book tours, and because she doesn’t sleep, is an editor at BonBon Break, an online magazine. Alison lives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia with her husband and four children (two boys and boy/ girl twins).

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  • November 18, 2014 Janine Huldie

    I can only imagine how hard this is and must admit I was lucky, because Emma was so little when I had Lily and didn’t really get it completely, but I have a feeling if I added a new baby into the mix now, both girls would love the baby to pieces, but be oh so jealous. So, my heart truly goes out to you and hope you can indeed fill his attachment tank up now. Sending all good thoughts your way, Alison.
    Janine Huldie recently wrote…Bringing Back Family Game Night – Tic Stac ToeMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Thank you, Janine, I appreciate all good thoughts!

  • November 18, 2014 Shannon

    This has to be hard for both of you. Please be gentle with yourself. You’re only two months into this mother of four gig and I would imagine that there is quite a learning curve.
    I think I always expected more from my oldest, and probably still do. Being the oldest probably is hard, but I bet that there are perks to the job as well.
    Love to all of you!
    Shannon recently wrote…This is the FarmMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      The first perk that comes to mind? The firstborn is the only child who’s ever had both parents’ attention 100%, at least for a while. And thank you!

  • November 18, 2014 NJ

    I hear you on this. I will refrain from giving you advice, but I want you to know that there have been seasons of life where Malone and I didn’t connect well either.

    I know you’ll work hard to connect with him. Give yourself a little patience and grace okay? We’re our own worst critics.
    NJ recently wrote…I’m going to miss this mess.My Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      We are, indeed. It’s hard. So hard.

  • November 18, 2014 Maureen

    Aww Alison I wish you both well may the tank be full again in no time and that this is just part of an adjustment period. Sending you much love and hugs.
    Maureen recently wrote…My Secret: Rediscovering Childhood MemoriesMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      I hope so, Maureen, thank you.

  • November 18, 2014 Nicole

    I could have written this very post 5 years ago. I have 5 year old b/g twins, an 8 year old and now a 20 month old. After we brought the twins home my older daughter had such a hard time adjusting. I felt like I broke her. Kids are amazing, and forgiving, and difficult and of course frustrating. You’ll all fall into the new normal and it can and will be amazing.
    Nicole recently wrote…5 Things Runners Think About When RunningMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Oh Nicole, thank you for sharing. It makes me feel less alone. Thank goodness children are forgiving. And resilient.

  • November 18, 2014 AlwaysARedhead

    I can only imagine how exhausted you all ready are with the twins, and having two older kids, just drains all your energy, I’m sure. As the oldest of 4 (there is a year apart between my brothers and I, then 7 years with my sister), I’m sure I probably suffered too from lack of attachment, but in the long run, I’m okay. Your boys will be okay too, especially since you are on to the problem. Even random hugs will make a difference. You are a great mom, just wickedly tired.
    AlwaysARedhead recently wrote…Adventures of Kevin, my Elf on a ShelfMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Tired is my new normal, I can’t even remember real normal. 🙂
      I am starting with random hugs, and trying to be patient in all my interactions with him.

  • November 18, 2014 Rabia

    I am dealing with many of the same things. My two boys (7 and 4) compete terribly with each other for my attention. There are legitimate times when the 4 year old needs me more than the 7 year old, and vice versa, but there are also lots of other times that they are making it a competition when it doesn’t have to be. I don’t have any answers for you; just commiseration. And hugs!
    Rabia recently wrote…#TuesdayTen: Blogging Bucket ListMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      They just like to fight sometimes, right? Same with my kids! Sigh.

  • November 18, 2014 tove stakkestad

    I totally get you! I do! It is so easy to keep saying (and thinking) “he’s the oldest. he should know better” – when fact is that they are still just babies themselves. We expect so much more of the oldest – and it’s not always fair. I find myself doing that with our 8 year old – and I hold him to a much higher standard than I do the others… again – NOT FAIR! I don’t know what the answer is – other than every day make a little progress – carve out a few quality minutes – even just MOMENTS… a little evert day DOES make a difference! Stay strong mama!
    tove stakkestad recently wrote…Don’t Miss This: “Letter to the Mom…”My Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Yes, moments. That’s what we can do so far, and that’s what I’m trying for. Thank you for your love and support, Tove!

  • November 18, 2014 Amanda

    This was so hard to read. The emotions and hopes for doing it right are so raw and potent in the months after delivery.

    I will hazard one thing here and hope that I don’t offend you. It seems to me that we do a lot of worrying that our firstborns get short shrift after we have more children. I don’t doubt that you have felt like your fuse is short, but things are supposed to change. Second babies have different infancies than first babies, thirds have it different too. I imagine twins have it different than single babies. You’ve made your first a super big brother and you are all going to figure this out. Be gentle on you, sweet mama.
    Amanda recently wrote…A Scene From a Life With Three DaughtersMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      You could never offend me, Amanda. And your perspective is true and amazing and comforting. You’re right, f course. They all have different experiences. I just hope that whatever their experience is, it’s positive, and they remember that their mother tried really hard.

  • November 18, 2014 Kerstin

    “I expect a lot more from him” – exactly that. Because I think we can expect more from our oldest child, but it’s so easy to “upgrade” his/her status to a point when they feel like it’s unfair. And it probably is – because that’s one of the biggest parenting dilemmas… You are doing the right thing – because you are already acknowledging it! Things will work out and the attachment tank levels will even out 🙂 xox
    Kerstin recently wrote…43/7My Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      I hope so, Kerstin. This parenting gig is hard. Sometimes I feel like a child pretending to be an adult.

  • November 18, 2014 Echo

    It’s rough, but you will fill that tank again. There are times where the tank between my son and I sputters on empty too.
    Echo recently wrote…There Ain’t No Elf On My Shelf!My Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      I’m sorry you have that experience too. Let’s hope we can both get through this.

  • November 18, 2014 Chris Carter

    Oh how I love your honesty, Alison. This right here is CLASSIC motherhood with multiple children and that stretch of parenting that tries so hard and yet can’t do it ALL or meet the needs of every child at the same time. Oh, mama. SO hard. Especially with your twins!!!

    I get expecting more from your child than he is able to give. I get it. I get your heart- wanting so badly to be able to fill each of their tanks… but desperately searching for ways to do just that- with an exhausted body and frazzled mind.

    Cass really had such an intense need for my attention and natural ache to be the ‘only child’ even when she knew that would never be again- she loved her brother, but for her first years of life- she had my undivided attention, probably more than most babies and toddlers because of all her medical issues… she slept with me every night during those years- because she was so sick.

    She stayed sleeping with me and Cade just joined ‘our turf’. I remember feeling so much peace (albeit, exhausted and stretched beyond repair) in having them both in bed with me every night. Cass and I had a song we sung every single night in bed and I made sure we kept that going… while I was holding Cade.

    Every time I nursed Cade- even in the middle of the night- my little girl would follow me out to the couch (my nursing ‘station’) and lie up against my side and suck her thumb and be with us. I allowed it every time- even with her stumbling in the dark next to me to the couch, both of us exhausted- but she took on this partnership role and it comforted her. She felt like her place with me was still strong and connected.

    It’s so so hard to parent more than one child. I can’t imagine doing it with FOUR and TWO of those are NEWBORNS!!! Your precious boy will grow and adapt and learn to navigate his role in your precious family. Just love him through it as best as you can. Maybe find a ‘song’ (ie: One special thing for just you and him?) that you do every single day no matter what. Or perhaps call on him to be a part of caring for your babies- every single day, that only he can do with you?

    I don’t know if any of this helps-I am rambling too much!! I just feel your pain mama- Your kids know your love- and that is what is most important. You’ve got that part down.
    Chris Carter recently wrote…Be Challenged, Changed, and Charged…To Do GoodMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Oh Christine, of course you have helped! Thank you for sharing your experience, and for giving me hope and much-needed advice, perspective. xoxo

  • November 19, 2014 christine

    Try not to be so hard on yourself. You are all going through an adjustment. And even good moms have bad days. 😉 The babies won’t be babies forever, and as they get older things will get easier and juggling the needs of four kids (FOUR KIDS!) will get more managable. I have two older girls and a four month old. It’s rough but I try to keep reminding myself that this is a stage. (And I pray my older too won’t be too traumatized that they won’t recover.) Good luck! You’re not alone!!
    christine recently wrote…Rockabye BabyMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Oh, good luck to you, Christine! We can get through this!

  • November 19, 2014 Bev

    Aw, I feel for both of you! I’m sure it’s super hard as a mom of four trying to juggle it all, and hard for him to not have the attention he is used to. I certainly cannot impart any motherly wisdom, just know you are doing the best you can!
    Bev recently wrote…5 easy things you can do to encourage your child’s creativityMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      I appreciate your support, Bev!

  • November 19, 2014 Rorybore

    I think all of us with more than one child experience this, and to some extent you do have to forgive your shortcomings because – you are only one person and can only do so much, AND give so much in a day. Of course, little ones don’t understand this — so selfish of them, really. LOL

    This is the point when I started giving my oldest a later bedtime than his two younger sisters. I would get them into bed, and then go sit in his room with him. Sometimes to read, some nights he would talk, some times we are just watching Simon’s Cat videos on YouTube. It doesn’t matter what — but just that he gets those extra moments.
    But it’s definitely a hard transition: ultimately, even at 5 years of age, they do have to come to an understanding that it’s not always about them. They have to see mommy as a Person who is just doing the best she can. And sometimes not. But that it is not connected to how much we love.
    Rorybore recently wrote…Tuesday Coffee Chat: How Big is Your Brave?My Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      A later bedtime is a great idea! Well, not right now, because Mama wants her peace when the babies are sleeping. Night time is literally the only time I get some time when no one needs me.

  • November 19, 2014 Tonya

    I could have written this! Lucas is almost 5 1/2 and he’s a pro at pushing all of my hot buttons. We are having a hard time with boundaries and listening and picking up his toys and you name it! I try to dedicate quality mommy/Lucas time to him because I feel like he’s getting the shaft when the majority of my attention is on the baby, but he’s still acts up. Luckily he’s been great at school so maybe he’s just frustrated at the end of day after being so good all day that he takes it out on me? No clue but I do know it’s gotta better. For both of us!! Hang in there. xoxo
    Tonya recently wrote…Being BusyMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Things will get better for you and Lucas for sure. I love that you did a mom/ son trip, that must have been so good for the both of you!

  • November 19, 2014 lisacng

    Our 4-yr old was acting a lot over the summer because his little sister turned one and started having milestones like walking and talking. It took me a while to realize that he was acting out for attention and that he really wasn’t getting all that he needed. You’re doing great. Recognizing it is the first step.
    lisacng recently wrote…Fall, stranger, refrigerator tetris {photos}My Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      It is indeed. Now to find the time to rectify the situation!

  • November 19, 2014 J.Lee

    Experiencing this with just 2. My first, she is all things wonderful, but the fact that she is cautious and listens well (understanding better, even) means she has received a lot less attention than her devil-may-care little brother, who wants desperately to be a toddler forever, even though he’s in the first grade. I’m definitely doing a disservice to both by maintaining this uneven standard, but it’s difficult when he pushes the limits so much more often. But balance is my goal. Let’s push on, shall we?

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Yes, let’s! Because really, we don’t have a choice. Parenting is hard.

  • November 19, 2014 julie gardner

    I started typing a loooooong response then realized it wasn’t what you needed.
    You didn’t post this to solicit advice or answers. Besides. There aren’t any – ha!

    Just keep doing the best you can. (Even when the best feels woefully insufficient.)
    Seriously. There is nothing else to do. One day at a time.

    It’s a good lesson for all your kids to see as they grow up.

    Patience. Eruptions. Perseverance.
    Like smoke, lava and dormancy.

    Motherhood is a volcano.
    You are not alone.

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      A volcano – I love that analogy.
      I’ve resigned myself to the fact that no one child in this family will get equal attention at all times, some days, not even 50%. And that someone will always have to wait, nothing happens straightaway, because Mama is one person, and only has one set of hands. Big hearts can’t open juice bottles, unfortunately. xo

  • November 19, 2014 Janice

    I know exactly how you feel. I feel this for all my three kids right now because this pregnancy is kinda crippling me. (pain down there, limited movements, can’t play, fatigue, etc…) And then when the baby comes…who knows??! It’s really frustrating for me, especially when I can tell it’s affecting my relationship with the kids. 🙁
    Janice recently wrote…Technology :: Is A Tablet Good For Blogging?My Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Janice, congratulations on baby Lucas! I’m sure that you will do just fine, and so will all your kids.

  • November 19, 2014 Allison Carter

    I know this dilemma and I only had 1 newborn come and interrupt our flow, not twins – I can’t imagine how hard it is for your family right now. So it is OK for it to be hard and for the tank to be empty for a moment. You are an amazing mother to your son for even recognizing this and trying to do something about it – So honor that! Also, I feel like kids are pretty resilient. Mine are always forgiving of me when I am not the mom I want to be.

    If I lived down the street I’d bring you a casserole.
    Allison Carter recently wrote…9 Ways to Get Ahead of the Christmas HolidayMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      I wish you lived down the street!!

  • November 19, 2014 Greta

    You will. Things will get better. And as things get easier, he’ll get some of that attention back. It’s unfair, yeah maybe….but it happens to every single older sibling.
    Greta recently wrote…My Personal Bubble Has Been PoppedMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      It does, doesn’t it? Nothing for it.

  • I’m sorry you are feeling this way. Things will get better. In meantime I’m sending you hugs, lots of them.

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Thank you for the hugs!

  • November 19, 2014 Tracie

    I can’t even imaging having more than one child – much less four all under the age of six with two of them being newborns. That is a huge task.

    Maybe you could find a time each week that you and your oldest could leave the house (or go into a separate room) and do something special together? Something he could plan on and count on. A perk of being the oldest.

    No matter what, I know you are doing your best. And sometimes, that is all you can do. Life will find its rhythm, and as things slow down (or at least even out a bit) the two of you will find your connection again.
    Tracie recently wrote…I Am Queen of the Tunnel PeopleMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      There are plans to spend one-on-one time with both boys, separately and together. I just need to get my act together 🙂

  • November 19, 2014 Kim

    I think we all go through periods of time when we do not feel as connected with our children. And your family is adjusting to big changes, so it is only natural that things will take time to settle. I know that you and your oldest little will find your way together.
    Kim recently wrote…Flunking Happy – Could I Be Happy for 100 Days?My Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      I really hope so, Kim. That this is just a season in our lives we have to ride through.

  • November 19, 2014 Tamara

    Aww, beautiful boy.
    When Des was born, Scarlet was three and seemed huge to me. Also, she was very annoying to me. He was helpless and defenseless, and although she was 90% a great sister, she did throw a toy at his head once and I reemed her out.
    I try to imagine life for her, or even for Des, if I added twins to the family.
    A big blessing, yes, but extra hugs for all!
    Tamara recently wrote…Laughing Like Children, Living Like Lovers.My Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      I know what you mean by annoying, hah! And the reaming out too (gasp).
      There is a lot of hugging going on here. The boys REALLY love the babies, and for that I am grateful.

  • November 20, 2014 Laura

    Can I admit to being scared about this? I did this to my oldest when he became a first time brother. And as time goes on, I still parent him differently than I do my youngest. It is because Cameron doesn’t respond to gentle nudges and Gavin shuts down at harsh tones. So I parent for the child and I feel like I’m nice to one and mean to the other. It eats at me inside. AND THEN there is going to be a baby soon. And this is all going to start again.

    I think what you (and he) are going through is normal. But that doesn’t make it easy. Sigh.
    Laura recently wrote…When the Sick HitsMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      I think parenting kids differently is totally normal, okay, and even necessary. I just wish that it didn’t come at a cost as it has in my place. Also, don’t you worry too much about it now. You’ll know what to do when the time comes.

  • November 20, 2014 Courtney

    We’re going through the same thing with my 5yo, and it intensified when my 1yo started walking – meaning, I have to be on him now until self-preservation kicks in. Not only does he need one-on-one time, but I suspect mine is also watching his younger siblings get away with more, and he’s trying to make sense of it.

    Tough age – higher expectations, uneven playing field and less of me to go around.

    This too shall pass!
    Courtney recently wrote…Admitting DefeatMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Oh yes, it’s definitely a tough age. I go easier on my 2.5 year old too, simply because he’s more responsive to instruction! He actually listens to me. Sigh, this parenting thing is hard.

  • November 20, 2014 Nina

    I SO get this, Alison, in terms of my relationship with my oldest. Wish I had a magic answer. Best thought is that the gift of siblings is one that is so priceless. But yeah . . . so many changes. It’s hard on everyone.
    Nina recently wrote…November Friendship AdviceMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      That is a good thought, thanks Nina. xo

  • November 20, 2014 Kimberly

    Oooooo…tricky….I am the oldest of five but there is a four, six, ten, twelve age difference between us so we all had a good share of love…but our parents were jerks so really it didn’t matter.
    But you’re a good mom sweets. He knows that you love him and that you BOTH are trying to find a way to adjust xoxo
    Kimberly recently wrote…Because Booze Made Me Do ItMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Sometimes, I wonder if he knows. Or that he thinks I’m a jerk. Sigh.

  • November 21, 2014 Elaine A.

    This has got to be hard for you right now. But kids are really resilient. As soon as you get your head above water the two of you can go out on a mom and son date. He knows you love him and I’m sure as he watches you with his baby siblings he sees how much you love all of your children. xo

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      I hope to be able to do the date with him for his birthday in a few weeks, and make it a regular thing next year!

  • November 21, 2014 Stephanie Sprenger

    Oh, this is beautiful. Thanks for your honesty with this one- you’re not alone with these feelings. Even with just two girls, I often feel that I expect too much and don’t give back enough to my eight-year-old. She needs me too. This is a struggle for so many of us. Sending hugs- you’re doing a great job! Your children are lucky to have a mama as mindful and self-aware as you. xo
    Stephanie Sprenger recently wrote…4 Ways to Take Care of Yourself During the HolidaysMy Profile

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Thank you, Stephanie. It is a struggle for many of us. It’s so hard, isn’t it? Trying to do justice to our love for the kids. Thank you for the hugs!

  • November 21, 2014 Alexandra Rosas

    I feel this with my middle child. He is so easy going, and I take advantage of his nature. xo

    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      I can’t imagine you taking advantage of anyone. xoxo

  • November 21, 2014 sisters from another mister

    Be kind to your heart … early days and oh my goodness, you have a lot going on xxxx
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    • November 22, 2014 Alison

      Yes, there is a lot going on. Some of it self-imposed (NaBloPoMo ahem). xo

  • December 4, 2014 Dana

    Oh, I can SO relate to this post… and I only have two kids and no babies (currently)! My oldest is 6 and ever since her brother was born three years ago, I’ve also felt like I couldn’t give her as much as she needed – perhaps because she is the kind of child who naturally needs – requires – more, it’s extra hard to keep her filled.

    Even now, I have moments like yours (quite a few) where I feel like I’m always yelling, threatening, making awful faces, gritting my teeth, etc, and it saddens me to no end. But I like what you said about it being a process, there is no quick fix. So like you, I try every day to be a better mom, and when I inevitably fail, I try not to completely beat myself up, but dust off and try again, and again…
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    • December 4, 2014 Alison

      That’s really all we can do, right? To try again and again. Sigh. Thank you for sharing, Dana, and I hope you find a way with your daughter.

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Alison Profile PictureI'm Alison. Writer, a mother of four (two boys and boy/ girl twins), social media enthusiast and book lover. A believer in the power of chocolate and hugs. Chugging coffee as I type. Want to know more?

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