Feb 28, 2014

Battle Chosen...

"I am strong, Mom!"

The thing about all the parenting books is, no matter which of the diametrically opposed approaches (or any combination thereof) you take, it doesn't erase the fact that we're all human, especially kids. And the thing about being human is that you mess stuff up a lot of the time--for some reason I keep forgetting this and need constant reminding--so you have to be humble enough to change your mind sometimes, and sometimes even say "sorry" to your kids, which is good because that's how they learn to apologize to others.

I've read a lot of books on parenting over the years, and honestly much of the advice has fallen by the wayside as we've become more confident in our style. But one story in particular has stuck with me along the way. There was a dad of grown children who was asked something he would've done differently when his kids were younger. He replied that he would've sweated less of the small stuff, explaining that when his son was young he had this desk chair that he loved so much, he wanted to fall asleep with it on his bed every night.  The dad would always resist because, seriously that's kind of ridiculous, having a desk chair on your bed.  And many nights the son would be sad and upset as he cried for his chair because he loved it so much and really wanted it on his bed with him.

The dad said if he had it to do again, he'd have let his son have the desk chair on his bed, reasoning that in their case it wasn't a safety issue--the worst that could happen is it would fall off the bed and make a noise--and regardless he could just go in after his son fell asleep and put it back at the desk. And on the occasions where he gave in, his son went to sleep much more quickly & peacefully, and eventually he stopped asking to have his desk chair on his bed anyway. It was just a funny little quirk that, in hindsight, was really no big deal. Perhaps a battle not to choose.

I think about that story often because we have a lot of funny little quirks in our family.  I wonder if I think about it often enough though, because honestly there are lots of things that in retrospect seem like much smaller deals than I originally thought when I said NO to them.  Still, there are plenty of times when NO is the right answer, and for plenty of reasons--safety, time, larger lessons, personal boundaries, and sometimes even convenience for Mom. 

Today at the store we needed paper towels, and at first I teased the kiddos by placing the giant, 12-roll package on the front/top of the cart so that they were holding them for me. This was hilarious to all of us for several seconds, until Tiny E felt overwhelmed and I moved it to the handy-dandy rack right below their feet. Tiny E was cool with that, but the Littler One was MAD, and let me know it. We spent the remainder of the trip reasoning and explaining why he could not be in charge of the paper towels, why it was a safety issue for his sister, and how Mom was getting frustrated at all this arguing and would put his chosen cereal back on the shelf if he didn't cool it. Because we don't reward tantrums ("Asked and Answered" is an awesome idea. I use it for my own sanity and courage even when, in practice, my children's goal is to keep arguing no matter what).  

Well, in the checkout line I had somewhat of a change of heart. My reasons for saying no were that it was a safety issue for Tiny E, and also because it was pretty likely the Littler One would drop the whole bundle. I assumed that if I let him try again, he would either drop the package repeatedly--to my great annoyance--or smush his little sister, which is clearly unacceptable (most of the time). I wondered if, instead of relying on explanation, it would be more effective to let him experience this, so we made a deal. He would take a moment to calm down, and if he did so by the time we got to the exit, I would let him hold the paper towels until we got out to the car.  But if they got in his sister's way he had to relinquish them immediately. 

So true to his word he took some time to calm down while I finished checking out and making my way to the front of the store, stopping along the way to say hi to one of our favorite workers in the kid room (which the Littler One almost never attends, but that's a story for another post). So as we neared the exit I pulled the package of paper towels up, turned them on end, and handed them over. He dropped them once, which I figured would happen, and I handed them back and said if he dropped them again they had to go down on the rack. 

But he didn't drop them again. He carried them the entire way out to the car, and even tossed them in the back of the car when I opened up the rear hatch. Another lady was walking by and, clearly impressed, called him strong, which was very kind but completely unnecessary since he kept telling me "I'm really strong, Mom" (good with affirmation, that one). I called him a big helper and told him to buckle up, or else, and that I might write a story about him carrying the paper towels. 

I don't think there was really a right or wrong answer here. I could just as easily have held firm as a lesson in keeping our temper and listening when Mom says "no." It is a good and worthy lesson, and one that gets a lot of reinforcement in our house. But today the paper towels seemed more like a desk-chair-on-the-bed issue, so that's the direction I took. 

Do you have any "desk chair" moments/memories to tell?

**UPDATE: I went back and found the desk chair story in Grace Based Parenting, by Dr. Tim Kimmel. It's written with a Christian perspective in mind, and probably my favorite parenting book thus far.

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