I don’t know if it’s my stubbornness, H’s stubbornness, the fact that she’s two, or perhaps I have seriously missed the parenting boat, but I feel like we are the only pair that can fight for going on 40 minutes now over asking her to sit on the potty before we turn on the TV.
She screams, “Sesame Street!” I say calmly, “You need to sit on the potty first.” Repeat.
Clearly not my kid. But you get the idea.
This fight is not and never was (really) about going to the bathroom. It’s about me asking her to do something and her doing it. The tantrum would have been the same if I’d asked her to wash her hands before we ate and she refused. It is far easier for me to just give up and let her watch Sesame Street. But, and here perhaps I’m overstating, I feel like that is the road to a spoiled child. If she screams and I give in, aren’t I teaching her that screaming is an effective method of getting her way?
Time has now past, and it’s past my bedtime, but I’m getting this down on paper anyway. It took an hour and five minutes before she sat on the potty. There was hitting; there was time out; there was crying; there were hugs. At no point did she finally relent. You know what happened? She got hungry. She calmed down enough to sit on my lap and recover slightly (while I started typing this actually), and she got hungry. We decided on a smoothie. I made her the smoothie and as she sucked down those first fruity, frosty sips, I stuck her ass on the pot. Shockingly, she did in fact have to pee. Funny, it had only been four hours since she last went.
Did I teach her that following Mom’s orders gets her what she wants? Probably not. Did I get my way? Yes. Was it fun? No. Will I be repeating this scenario in the near future, like tomorrow? Probably.
I’ve been surprised at how often I’ve struggled with deciding when I’m taking a stand for all that is good and pleasant and when I just get stuck in a bad situation and have dug myself a hole. I know that I am right in insisting that she wash her hands every single time she goes to the bathroom. Am I therefore also right in sometimes having to football hold her with one arm and wash writhing, protesting hands with the other? It’s happened. I’m not proud. But I know that she needs to wash. I know that it’s not negotiable, and I know that at some point, if I don’t make her wash, she’s going to put those hands in her or someone else’s (read mine) mouth. I console myself with the thought that at some point, she’ll decide it’s easier and faster to just wash her hands.
Some of you reading this may be surprised. “But Jamie,” you’re saying, “Your daughter is such a sweetheart.” And she is a sweetheart. She is also the single most stubborn person I’ve ever met. She’s always been this way. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve slapped clothes on a twisting, crying, screaming, banshee. Usually the only trigger is that I want to her to do something, like get changed, and she doesn’t want to do that thing.
A good friend once told me that as parents we have to say no an awful lot, so if we can say yes, if it’s not that big a deal, then why not? This has stuck with me, and there have been a number of interesting outfit and meal choices that have resulted. I strive to convince, connive, and only occasionally bribe her to do things my way. I much prefer for her to come along willingly. Before the meltdown in question, I had to play, “If you’re asleep, then I’ll just leave you here while I go to the store.” I got all the way to the garage door with my coat and purse before she “woke up.” Like a switch, she was ready to go. And that’s ok with me. A lot of the time, she plays along without the games. If every now and again I have to role play, fine.
This particular meltdown, however, was purely a struggle of wills. I’ve gotten into them with her before, obviously. I often find myself frustrated because does it really matter THAT much if she pees before Sesame Street? Probably not. But I always come back to the fact that it does matter, very much, that she do as I ask. This is even more important in light of the fact that I am often the only parent. It sounds horrible, but for all intents and purposes, this is a dictatorship, and I am Julius Caesar. When I’m the only one here, it’s a tenuous balance between letting things slide and letting behavior problems blossom.
For example, after the stress of the meltdown and the subsequent hour lag in TV watching, there really wasn’t time before bed to have a proper sit down dinner in the dining room. This is normally something I insist on. I can write an entirely separate post about the pros and cons of turning off Sesame Street at various points in the program and the subsequent level of tantrum that will result. Tonight, however, I was all tantrumed out, so we ate on the floor of the living room. If we eat 8 out of 10 dinners while Josh is gone in the dining room, I think we can spare the occasional “picnic.”
No matter how I try to balance it though, I just come back to the central question. Am I right to enforce rules that an adult would see as ultimately trivial for the sake of maintaining dominance? Am I sending the message that Mom is the boss? Or am I creating an adversarial relationship that will only lead to more tantrums? Or am I over-analyzing normal two-year-old behavior?
I’m reaching out to you, dear reader. I’m hoping that perhaps you’ve been there. Or perhaps you are there right now. Where do you draw the line? When is it ok to make a stand? When do you find yourself becoming ridiculous? How do you gracefully back out?
And when does the logic of, “If you’d done it when I asked, we’d already be watching Elmo’s World,” kick in?