Picking My Battles Unwisely
I was going to win this one. Those of you out there who are natural-born fighters understand this ridiculous parenting thought that rises up and guarantees we are going to make a poor decision. All of a sudden, we are no longer in a position of authority, but rather we have jumped into a messy fray of a fight, behaving like the children we are trying to control.
My son was about eight years old at the time and refusing to change out of his favorite outfit…like ever! When he walked by me in these week-old clothes, the smell just about knocked me over! The only time he took them off was during his bath. I tried everything I could think of to get him to put on other clothes. Finally, determined to win this battle, I came up with a plan. I filled a bucket with soapy water, and as soon as he peeled off his clothes for his bath, I threw the wretched, stiff outfit in the sudsy water.
“Mom, how am I supposed to wear those clothes now?” he asked.
“You will just have to wait until they are washed and dried,” I responded.
I was going to win this one. I felt somewhat smug and satisfied that I had come up with such a foolproof plan. I told him to finish up his bath while I found him some clean clothes to wear. When I came back into the bathroom, he had finished his bath and was standing by the side of the tub, dripping and sudsy, with the SAME clothes on – the ones I had thought so long over how to get him out of – the ones that he would have meltdowns over not wearing for two hours while they washed and dried – the SAME ones! Still, I was going to win this one, so I ignored him. All of a sudden, he looked very smug and pleased with himself. Stay a step ahead, I told myself. You have to stay one step ahead of him, but I didn’t know where to go from there, so I let him wander around the house leaving puddles and drips everywhere he went. He wore them until he was merely damp, and he wore them until they were dried all the way through.
I will win this one, I thought. So the next day was a same version of the first. I was certain he would not want to go to Walmart all soggy and dripping wet, but I was wrong. I was certain he wouldn’t want to get muddy at the park rolling around in wet clothes, but I was wrong. I was sure I could motivate him out of them by bribing him with an episode of “Curious George”, but I was wrong.
Jumping in the Ring with Children
Whenever I let my son draw me into the boxing ring, I lost before the match ever started. Me thinking there was a match flattened me on the mat before he ever threw a punch. I actually don’t remember how this issue was resolved. I remember the battle so clearly. I had been defeated by a spirited little boy with wild hair and a twinkle of challenge in his eyes. I had been crushed by him. The minute I accepted his invitation to this fight, I lost. The greatest lesson I have learned in parenting is understanding this.
And here is the thing about children who have lost so much. You can’t take anything from them they haven’t already lost. You can’t impose a consequence that is any bigger than the distress they endured before entering your home. You CANNOT outlast them in a battle of wills. They are warriors. Their little brains are much more adjusted to battle than your brain. In fact, their brains have hard-wired around survival. You won’t win this, so what should you do?
Keep the Goal in Mind
I started asking myself, “Are we learning something, and are we having fun?” These became my main goals. I had to throw out other things that most parents believe are super important. So many of those little things fell into place naturally as I stayed out of the ring.
Stay Out of the Ring
Do NOT let your children entice you into the ring. When they do, they feel too much power and a lot of anxiety. This adds to their mistrust of you and an over-reliance on themselves. They need to know that you are Ok, even if they aren’t. This really is as hard as it sounds. Our kids are masterful at pushing buttons and being in charge of our feelings which gives them an illusion of control.
Throw the Idea of Winning Out
If you win at the expense of someone you love, does that feel good? If that feels good, then there are greater issues than battles with your kids. When this happens, disconnection and the idea that you are not on the same team as your kid always follow. Those moments of satisfaction that you got in a good punch do not last long when you are a loving parent. Winning can’t be the goal. Problem solve together instead of working against each other. Ask the questions, “How can we figure this out together? How can I help you with this issue? Is this even an issue that is affecting our learning and playing?” When the goal is to win, your thinking becomes very rigid, and your desire to control increases.