There is a moment in every parent's early career when, at the height of frustration, you truly feel like sprouting scales and a forked tongue, and a shrill hiss has replaced your once human vocals, and any impression of human form has swelled to match the level of rage you feel as you walk into the kitchen you just cleaned to see the peanut butter and graham cracker “snack” your kiddos have prepared for themselves across the floor and cabinets. Your kids will find increasingly creative ways to summon the MOMSTER. Try to remember that you will lose many, many battles with your children out of sheer exhaustion, so consider these things before pulling your hair out by the roots:
Is your kiddo's safety at risk?
Along with your personal parenting non-negotiables, sometimes it has to be Mom's way or the highway because there is a safety risk. One battle that I deal with at least twice a day with both girls is holding hands. My rule is that they must hold my hand when we are in a parking lot or crossing the street. End of story. My little ones are still little enough to go unseen by people driving by, and it's just not a risk I'm willing to take. I still have nightmares about the time just before Quinn was born when Evyn went sprinting away from me across the grocery store parking lot and I had to abandon my fully loaded cart and haul my 7-month-pregnant butt to catch her just in time to prevent her from being demolished by an idiot speeding by in an SUV. Now, it's not really a battle as much as me dragging two whining kids (who have decided to go limp in protest) to the car. A battle well worth the potential risk.
Is your little one challenging a non-negotiable?
As a parent, a person, a human being, we all have non-negotiables that we just simply will not tolerate. For me, it's back talk. I'll put up with a lot from my lovely little dears, but the moment I sense the faintest stink of disrespect, the MOMSTER is awakened in me. For example, Evyn almost summoned the beast last week. After a long period of asking Evyn to clean up the mess from the art project I told her not to do in the first place, she swiped the papers, crayons and glitter off her little table at me and said, “You clean it up!” I saw red, and may or may not have envisioned picking my teeth with her bones. Luckily, my daily yoga and meditation skills kicked in, and no one was given up for adoption. I did, however, look her right in the face and said, You may not talk to me like that, I am your mommy,” and wrestled her to her timeout spot followed by a proper “think it through” apology. Another battle well worth it.
Is your mini asserting their limited power in the relationship?
Some kids are just assertive. And that's the nicest way to put it. These kids will test you, exhaust you, and then require more when you finally give in to their original demands. In all honesty, these kids are my favorites. They can be unreasonable and meltdown suddenly. I am grateful that I am lucky enough to have two of them in our house. And by “lucky,” I mean kicked in the butt by karma because I was exactly the same way as a child. These kids will become future lawyers, lobbyists, CEOs, department heads, and entrepreneurs. They will convince the masses to bend to their will for good or evil depending on how they feel that day. Try to see this personality trait as a gift that needs a little tinkering. Give your assertive kiddos some authority and responsibility making sure to praise them for a job well done. Evyn at four can easily best me in a battle of wits, and I used to put my foot down and set off a tantrum of epic proportions. Now, instead of picking out her clothes or shoes and dealing with the aftermath, I lay out two or three outfits on the bed and tell her she can wear whichever one she wants. Sometimes she leaves the house looking like a motley sideshow, but she feels like she was in charge.
Is your youngster trying to express something else?
Sometimes a battle is the result of what I like to call the Unholy Trinity: hungry, tired, and needs a potty break (I once saw a bumper sticker on the back of a work truck that said “Outta my way, I gotta poop!” the sentiment is well expressed here). Maybe your youngster does a great job of listening and compromising until they enter a state of discomfort. Offer a snack or a sip of juice while you two talk it out. My girls will deny that they are tired, and then refuse to lie down for a nap until they nod their little heads and fall asleep sitting up. My go to is “come sit by me” while I do something boring like read or write . . . next thing you know, I have a drooling, snoring, little head on my lap and two hours of being trapped under it. I call that a win, nonetheless.
Are you approaching the situation with a clear head?
Because our young ones see our behavior as the basis for their own, use potential battles to demonstrate how they should react to frustration, disagreement, or especially how to assert themselves in conflict. First, give your kids the chance to make the right decision. Say “I know you like to eat ice cream for breakfast, but do you remember how bad your tummy hurt last time? Maybe we should eat something else instead, what do you think?” Second, find a compromise. Offer a deal such as a single spoonful of ice cream followed by a bowl of cereal instead of an ice cream sundae for breakfast. But know your limits. If you know that you are especially testy at the end of a long work week and your little one is demanding to stay up an extra thirty minutes to watch the end of The Little Mermaid, maybe let that one go.
Generally, if the answer is “no” to all of the questions above, it may just be one of those things you chalk up to maintaining your sanity, and just breathe through it and let it go. Remember, the apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and what child doesn't appreciate a win now and then?